Abraham Foxman was for decades the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and is currently its National Director Emeritus. Paul Surovell, a Facebook friend of mine, is a peace activist and Chair of South Mountain Peace Action in Maplewood, New Jersey. The exchange between them (below the fold) is both revealing and astonishing.
Revealing because despite using them all his career, Abraham Foxman literally has no idea what the word “libel” or the phrase “blood libel” actually mean. Astonishing because Surovell’s final accusation really is as obvious as he says it is: Foxman’s aversion to the very acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering seems to suggest either that Palestinian suffering doesn’t exist, or that it’s deserved even in children, or that even if it exists, it doesn’t merit acknowledgement. Why else would that be, except on the assumption that non-Jewish suffering by definition takes a back seat to Jewish suffering? How much clearer could the sheer dehumanization of Palestinians get?
For years, I’ve been on the receiving end of moral ultimatums, typically issued by American Jews, to condemn Arab/Muslim complicity in Islamic anti-Semitism (something I spent about a solid decade of my life doing). Do I or do I not (I’m asked), as a partisan of the Palestinian cause, categorically and unequivocally reject anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, accept the legitimacy of The Jewish State, reject such-and-such verses of the Qur’an, and such-and-such Muslim atrocity against Jews in ancient or medieval history? And so on and so forth. You can reject anti-Semitism until you’re blue in the face without ever quite satisfying the desire for a truly categorical rejection in some quarters.
Maybe the time has come for American Jews to start asking some questions about the morally dysfunctional–and egregiously racist–aspects of their own ethno-nationalist community. How does a person as bigoted, ignorant, and callous as Abraham Foxman rise to such prominence within that community? Why do American Jews tolerate such egregious racists, and excuse their behavior while claiming to have moral standing to accuse non-Jews of anti-Semitism for doing the equivalent thing? And how can anyone take the ADL itself seriously after its National Director Emeritus spews such delusional, racist rubbish for public consumption without a word of protest from the ADL itself?
American Jews have gotten a little too used to weaponizing accusations of anti-Semitism, often on the flimsiest grounds or pretexts, and often with the aim of silencing discourse they find undesirable. Maybe the time has come for some self-reflection? That might help to clarify the sheer distance within the Jewish-American community between the self-congratulatory image it has of itself and the ugly realities it would rather evade. But the ugly realities are there. Alas, pointing fingers of blame at others–and canceling your NYT subscription while Israel cancels the lives of Gazan children–won’t make those realities go away. It takes a little more than that: one has to act to make them go away. Might be time to start.