Monday, December 26, 2005

The ADL is Harming American Jews and Israel

The Anti-Defamation League is a fundraising and public relations behemoth, raking in more than any other American Jewish organization and constantly getting its name into print. If this would be the entire ADL story, there wouldn't be much to complain about, except perhaps to bemoan the folly of those who mistake fluff for substance and believe that their contributions yield meaningful benefits. Alas, there is more to the picture. To sustain the image that it is doing battle 24/7 against the forces of evil that seek to defame and harm Jews, the ADL needs to fabricate an atmosphere of fear, of enemies of the Jewish people lurking everywhere. As it exploits our fears, the ADL defends its turf, irrespective of the harm caused to Israel and Jews.

For all of the narishkeit contained in ADL files and the fear-mongering promoted by its appetite for publicity, anti-Jewishness and anti-Semitism are not even a minor problem on these shores, in large measure because of the tolerance that is embedded in the American ethos and also because we have so substantially assimilated that few of us remain targets for those who wish us ill. This may, G-D forbid, change and admittedly there are problem areas, particularly for religious Jews who are distinctive in their look and practices. The discrimination faced in the workplace and elsewhere by these Jews has never made it onto the ADL's civil liberties and civil rights radar screen. In this alone, there is a strong scent of hypocrisy in the organization's activities.

As anti-Semitism has waned in the U.S., the ADL has developed a penchant for picking quixotic fights, always careful to assure that its ubiquitous and publicity-hungry leader, Abraham Foxman, is the center of the story. There was the dubious battle against Mel Gibson's Passion. Foxman could not see that his campaign sent a message to millions of Christians for whom the movie had much relevance that their going to see it was a contribution to anti-Semitism. No friend of Jews for sure, Gibson did not have the decency to send a fat check to the ADL in appreciation for the tons of free publicity.

Another example is the silly donnybrook between Foxman and Congressman Charles Rangel over incautious but meaningless words used by the veteran legislator. Indeed, incautious and meaningless language that can be interpreted as unfriendly to Jews is fundraising nirvana for the ADL. As with others who have been accused by the ADL of far greater sins than they have committed, Rangel did not back down, the lesson being that however much we may believe the nonsense that Foxman is contributing to the dignity and freedom of Jews, it is easy to stand up to him because essentially he represents his ego and little more.

Astonishingly for so large a Jewish organization, the ADL is bereft of intellectual weight. In a sense, it is all instinct and no intellect. This is in contrast to the two AJC's which together with the ADL once formed the formidable triumvirate of Jewish defense agencies. While the American Jewish Committee is engaged in serious inquiries on the state of contemporary Jewish life and the American Jewish Congress is grappling with church-state issues in a changing legal and social environment, the brain of the ADL is the xerox machine and other PR paraphernalia.

Admittedly, much - maybe most - of what the agency does is benign self-serving shtick. There is an exception. The ADL cleaves today to a single idea, that idea is hostility to religion. In this alone, there is a clear and present danger for American Jews and to Israel.

The ADL is in the vanguard of the secular American Jewish hostility toward Judaism. Perhaps this is only opportunistic because there is gold to be mined among affluent assimilated Jews who are generous toward a cause that denigrates religion. Still, it must be asked how antipathy toward Judaism fits in with an agenda that purports to defend Jews against defamation. The image promoted by the ADL clearly results in Jews being defamed as a group that is at war with religion, a group that is fanatically determined to fight bitterly to prevent any place for religion in the public square.

The message being sent to tens of millions of Christians who have no dislike of Judaism is that we don't like them. Purposefully or not, we are tarnishing them as bigots and as people whose views we must oppose as Jews. It is warped to believe that this attitude protects Jews.

As with the ideology and rhetoric employed by all kinds of groups, specifically including political and other secular groups, there are actions and language that can make us uncomfortable and which need to be challenged. I am not unconcerned over the campaign conducted by media right-wingers, the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. They have fabricated a straw man of anti-Christian sentiment and used this fabrication to beat the drums for religion. What the ADL is doing is not to challenge their campaign but to do battle against Christians generally, thereby contributing to the wrongful notion that we are hostile to the religious beliefs of other people.

We now have Foxman's denunciation of Evangelicals, they being the Americans who are by far the most supportive of Israel. His attack is mean-spirited and intolerant. It is already evident from the response of rank and file Evangelicals that Foxman has damaged Israel. Evangelicals are questioning whether the aid and comfort they give to the Jewish state is warranted in view of the attack against them by a major Jewish leader.

I imagine that none of this bothers Foxman. I imagine that his attack against Evangelicals has been a fundraising boon. The heck with the Jews. The heck with Israel. Long live the ADL.