A tale of two cities: Is Abe Foxman ruining the ADL?
By Joel Sprayregen (03/16/2007)
While it is the best of times for the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago, it is the worst of times for ADL at its national headquarters in New York. In Chicago - where ADL was founded in 1913 in the office of a predecessor of the Mayer Brown law firm - the regional office, with a brilliant young staff headed by Lonnie Nasatir, seems to be everywhere, fulfilling its mission of combating anti-Semitism and bigotry. In New York, it is a different story. As the credibility of Abe Foxman, longtime national director, comes under increasing attack, the dictatorial nature of Foxman's rule became a subject for national media. ADL's success in Chicago, including record-setting fundraising, need not be detailed here. It is covered in the media, known in the community and confirmed on the website.
In contrast, ADL headquarters is facing a malaise brought to a simmering point by a New York Times Magazine article which dared question whether Foxman had become a liability in the struggle against anti-Semitism. Author James Traub concluded that Foxman had reduced ADL to "a one-man Sanhedrin" and that Foxman himself had become an "anachronism." The accuracy of Traub's incisive profile can not be doubted by anyone who knows Foxman, e.g., Traub reports that during a lunchtime interview, Foxman twice erupted in "shouting" and began to "choke on his gratin" when closely questioned. Until the Times published its lengthy profile in January, ADL could try to hide Foxman's eroding credibility. His pronouncements, once considered near-infallible in Jewish and human rights circles, are now denounced and frequently ridiculed by people whom one might expect to admire him.
Foxman's detractors include Holocaust survivors, pro-Israel professors, observant and secular Jews, liberals and conservatives, African-American leaders, as well as columnists for publications diverse as the Jerusalem Post, New Republic, The Jewish Press, Chicago Jewish News, Wall Street Journal and the Forward. The inspiration for Traub's article was controversy over who caused cancellation of a lecture by anti-Israel Professor Tony Judt. The Jewish Press reported: "After initially denying he even called the [Polish] Consulate urging a cancellation, Foxman now freely acknowledges that he indeed did call . . ." Foxman managed to insult 113 eminent intellectuals - including staunch supporters of Israel - who rejected his invitation to a private meeting and instead called for debate. Unable to countenance disagreement, Foxman launched into attack mode. He accused the professors of using "techniques which completely debase the values" of free expression, confirming the observation in Jewish Week that the professors "have clearly rattled the ADL." Did it advance ADL's mission to accuse 113 intellectuals of "debasing" democratic society by seeking debate?
Last year, Foxman urged Jewish organizations to join his campaign against Evangelicals, who, he claimed, were conspiring to "Christianize" America. The breadth of acerbic reaction was striking. Daniel Klinghoffer, fellow at a conservative think tank, in a column in the liberal Forward called Foxman's proposal "ludicrous," suggesting it was motivated by pressures to pay Foxman's then $400,000 per year salary. Joseph Aaron, editor of Chicago Jewish News, religiously observant and politically liberal, called it "wacko." Jason Maoz, senior editor of the Orthodox Jewish Press, added: "The national director of the ADL can barely open his mouth without inviting incredulity and ridicule from anyone not on ADL's payroll (and probably many who are)." Columnist Don Feder, participant in an ADL mission, wrote: "Abe Foxman has gone from nuisance to embarrassment to self-parody."
Jewish organizations conspicuously declined to join Foxman's campaign , about which little has been heard subsequent to the initial barrage of ADL publicity. Israeli writers have been critical of Foxman. Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner charged that Foxman spoke "recklessly" in accusing Amnesty International of anti-Semitism. Renowned author Hillel Halkin accused Foxman in the Post of "hypocrisy" for attacks on Evangelicals. These controversies are debatable. But persistent criticism of Foxman in forums not indifferent to anti-Semitism evidences Foxman's waning credibility. ADL expressed "concern" that audiences were not "sophisticated" enough to understand "Borat." Mel Gibson had played Foxman for a fool in promoting "The Passion of the Christ." Foxman's shrill attacks - and Gibson's counter-publicity - gave the movie undeserved success. Forward columnist Klinghoffer observed that Foxman's attacks were not "the least bit positive for anyone-other than ADL's fundraising efforts." The New Republic - foe of bigotry - explained the dangers of judging art by audience reaction and ridiculed Foxman: "Here's hoping the ADL's plea to keep audiences away from Borat's film works as well as it did for 'The Passion of the Christ.'"
The Mother of Foxman blunders was exploiting ADL 's reputation to wangle a midnight Clinton pardon for fugitive felon Marc Rich. Rich showed gratitude by immediately embedding himself in Iraq oil corruption, i.e., he abetted Saddam's paying Hamas suicide bombers. Only after congressional investigators revealed Foxman's role did he apologize for accepting contributions from Rich. Many supporters left ADL and never returned. William Safire's 2001 New York Times column on this scandal is instructive: "'You never made a mistake in your life?' an angry Abe Foxman shouted over the phone 'What about when you worked for that anti-Semite Nixon?'" Note that Foxman - infuriated at justified criticism - is shouting at an eminent journalist who was sympathetic to every aspect of ADL's work.
Safire's rebuke concluded: "It's time [for the ADL and other do-good organizations] to set out written policies to resist manipulation by rich sleazebags and to reprimand or fire staff members who did not get with the ethical program." A common thread in this litany of embarrassments - there are many others - is Foxman's relish in demonizing people who disagree with him. The President of the Zionist Organization of America sent Foxman a private letter objecting to an ADL speaker; Foxman leaked the letter to the Forward and stooped to calling its author "the attack dog of the Jewish thought police." Congressman Rangel said: "Abe Foxman has made a living attacking Black leaders on charges of anti-Semitism. His statements are usually libelous, divisive and serve to pit Blacks and Jews against each other while keeping Foxman's name in the newspapers." Rangel is no bigot; he exemplifies decades of co-operation between Black and Jewish congressmen. Similar views of Foxman come from left and right.
Foxman's appearance on Israeli television last summer - to discuss whether Israel targeted UN observers - was described by Tel Aviv University teacher Ran HaCohen as "an especially repulsive horror show" because Foxman used the phrase "the Jewish people" in discussing IDF actions. The fault may lie in Foxman's imperfect Hebrew, but HaCohen saw the malapropism as "following the footsteps of traditional anti-Semitism... in which the entire 'Jewish people' was blamed for whatever individual Jews had done." HaCohen called Foxman an "infuriated demagogue." If HaCohen was a lone critic, he could be disregarded. But he was onto something in observing, like Safire, that Foxman argues by shouting and becoming "infuriated." As Traub noted, this technique is no longer persuasive. Earlier this year, the Chicago Sun-Times published an article which stated: "The increasingly ridiculous Abe Foxman, head of the ADL, was swiftly located in order to ply his trademark tactic of accusing people of anti-Semitism that he knows perfectly well aren't anti-Semites." There was a time when no mainline newspaper would have allowed Foxman to be so described.
Foxman's political savvy is increasingly doubted. He positioned himself as an avid cheerleader for the Oslo Accords and Gaza disengagement , enjoying the resulting photo ops. Both initiatives cost Israel dearly in blood without achieving peace. On one mission, Foxman ordered ADL "leaders" not to criticize Yossi Beilin, architect of the Oslo debacle. In newspaper ads concerning the Lebanon war, Foxman thanked Democratic legislators and snubbed Republicans. Slighting either party seems foolish. Foxman's overseas initiatives frequently disturb local communities. Conferring an award on Prime Minister Berlusconi was condemned by Italian Jewish leaders. Turkish Jews were discomfited by Foxman's award to Prime Minister Erdogan , who was accusing Israel of "state terrorism."
An important Latin American Jewish leader recently told me he prefers to work with AJCommittee because "ADL is a one-man show." Holocaust survivors are objecting to a Foxman award to Law Professor Burt Neuborne. Survivor organizations dispute a $4.76 million fee demand by Neuborne, claiming he agreed to work pro bono and betrayed their interests. The New York Times commented, "When a lawyer's fee is excessive or inadequately supported, Courts should step in." Ten survivors told the Miami Herald: "ADL's disrespect for us and our martyred loved ones will tarnish the organization forever." Foxman's penchant for hiring flacks to procure personal awards reached a nadir in November when he prevailed on French President Chirac to award him the Legion of Honor. Foxman lauded Chirac's "friendship to the Jewish state." The Jewish Press concluded that Foxman conferred upon a chief executive "far from friendly to Jewish interests - a clean bill of health in return for 15 minutes of ego-tickling praise."
ADL's website quotes the French Jewish umbrella organization saying Chirac "has never understood Israel and the Israelis and their feeling of insecurity and isolation in the midst of a hostile Arab world." Foxman called the Jewish Press's comments "mean-spirited", i.e., he views all criticism of himself as in bad faith. Foxman's insatiable craving for publicity is exemplified by his leaving vacant the position of Director of ADL's Israel office so he can get all the headlines; other organizations employ respected local directors. Foxman's achievements, including the ability to articulate communal concerns and raise large sums of money, merit appreciation. Many Foxman gaffes are hidden from his hand-picked lay leadership which has just extended his contract, including lavish perks for him and his bodyguard, for five years. At national meetings, sanitized clips are presented showing journalists - many recipients of ADL awards - lionizing Foxman.
But Foxman could not hide criticism in the Times from ADL's leadership, so he circulated the article with a preposterous comment that "overall, we think it [i.e., Traub's article] serves ADL well." Is Foxman so obtuse that he believes ADL well-served by an article in the newspaper of record that calls him "an anchronism" and "a one-man Sanhedrin"? ADL is blessed with able staffers (though many who showed independence have left) plus impressive lay leaders. But their abilities to act are emphatically suppressed by the cult of personality which Foxman imposes. No one who stands up to Foxman will last in ADL. Traub notes, Foxman has "driven out [from ADL] potential rivals and successors." I have heard a crimson-faced Foxman-resembling the original Mayor Daley-shout down respected leaders who tactfully suggested that in the distant future, ADL might consider replacing him. He chooses lay leaders who are expected to praise him, rewarding them with titles.
ADL lacks lay leaders willing to curb the plethora of Foxman's excesses noted in this article and elsewhere or to consider the profoundly important issue of succession. The most lasting damage Foxman is causing is refusal to employ people who might be successors. ADL'S national lay leaders would not likely tolerate-in businesses they own or advise-a chief executive who arrogated to himself the lifetime dictatorial powers exercised by Foxman. On ADL missions, it is de rigeur at farewell dinners for all present to praise Foxman for the brilliance of his every pronouncement. Foxman responds by urging - with mock facetiousness - "More, more!" One first (and last) time participant, a prominent East Coast lawyer, described the chorus of praise as "bizarre ritual." Praise is expected even after stunning gaffes, such as Foxman's-at a Ramallah meeting with Arafat I attended eight days before the start of the 2000 Intifada - warmly hugging Saeb Erekat who had moments before threatened imminent "counting of bodybags."
Or after Foxman bestowed an awkward unwanted embrace on Spain's female Minister of Education. Anyone who knows ADL will confirm that concerns expressed herein are valid, though others might express them more tactfully. The cumulative weight of disparagement of Foxman by credible critics can not be casually dismissed. How much of ADL's fifty-million dollar budget should be spent perpetuating Foxman's interminable vendettas? Even his friends at the Forward noted "he's gotten into a series of pointless and unwinnable spats." How much harm is done ADL when it is known as an agency which vouches for Marc Rich while tolerating Foxman's vilifications of persons demonstrably not bigots, e.g., 113 professors or the president of the Zionist Organization or Black leaders or Dennis Prager? It is a sad irony that the Director of the Anti-Defamation League may be remembered as a serial defamer of people whose only offense was to disagree with him. It is sadder still that Foxman is so often ridiculed.
Traub observed Foxman beginning "to advance up his scale of spleen." Foxman's stridency increases as his credibility is questioned. One cannot lightly suggest it is time for him to retire. He told the Forward in 2003 "When I'm ready to make a decision that I'm ready to retire....I will notify my lay leadership." The fact that Foxman is the one-man Sanhedrin for life, and that he alone will decide when it is time to leave, demeans his legacy and subverts ADL's mission. Attorney Joel J. Sprayregen is former National Vice-Chair and Chicago Regional Chair of the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL's Foxman has been caught red-handed defending Mayor Bloomberg's
alliance with the Jew-hating cult of Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani. Below find
weblog journalist Dennis King's six-part series on Abe's latest maneuver to
suck up to wealthy politicians and businessmen at the expense of the Jewish
community. This series is absolutely devastating! If you're still in doubt that
Foxman should be fired, read these articles now! If you weren't convinced when
Foxman was exposed as the pardon pimp for Marc Rich....if you weren't convinced
when he scolded Holocaust survivors who sought restitution from German
companies that used them as slave labor during World War Two...if you weren't
convinced when he became one of the most foolish supporters of Oslo (simply to
please weathly contributors)...or when he failed to take even the most elementary
steps to defend Jews during the Crown Heights pogrom...then read this series!
Never has the cynicism and incompetence of the current ADL leadership in
relation to the organization's core mission of fighting domestic anti-Semitism been
so thoroughly analyzed. The logical conclusion? Abe the pardon pimp and his
band of do-nothing sycophants must be shown the door!
Washington Post Wednesday, November 2, 2005; A20
What the report does best is make clear that, from the Iraqi government's point of view, the purposes of the oil-for-food program were twofold: to collect money -- some $1.8 billion -- for Saddam Hussein's regime and to reward regime supporters. The report, presented by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, names for the record several American-run oil companies that it says were apparently involved in the former activity, among them Bayoil, Taurus and Coastal Corp. Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., the former chairman of Coastal, was indicted last month for paying bribes to the Iraqi government. Marc Rich, the oil trader pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2000, is described as a middleman, as is Ben Pollner, the chief executive of Taurus.
But most of those allegedly receiving rewards were not Americans. The preponderance of lucrative contracts went to French and Russian companies, on the grounds that their governments opposed the sanctions regime and favored Iraq in the U.N. Security Council. Individuals who campaigned on behalf of Saddam Hussein in the West are also said to have been rewarded. Prominent among them is George Galloway, the British politician who has made a career out of support for Baathist dictatorship, anti-Americanism and opposition to the war in Iraq. The Senate subcommittee on investigations, which Mr. Galloway treated with mocking disdain earlier this year, separately prepared a report on the British parliamentarian, alleging that both his personal "charity" and his wife apparently received payments from a Jordanian middleman doing business in Iraq on Mr. Galloway's behalf. Among the other pro-Saddam Hussein, anti-sanctions campaigners who allegedly received allocations of oil were a Syrian journalist, a French priest, the Russian communist party and a U.N. official who resigned his post to "protest" the sanctions regime. Despite the pile of documentary evidence, most of the accused deny the charges; the Russian government has dismissed the report, alleging it to be based on false documents. Because the United Nations itself is not able to prosecute or sanction them, their assertions of innocence may not be tested.
The conclusion of this exercise has to be that the United Nations should not, in the future, be allowed to run anything involving large financial transactions without better checks to prevent corruption; the oil-for-food program was badly designed from the start, with unclear lines of responsibility between the United States and other members of the Security Council on the one hand and U.N. officials on the other. The United Nations' recent management of its $1 billion tsunami relief appeal, with the help of the auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, shows that the organization is capable of doing better. But the Volcker report also underlines the urgency of reforms to strengthen the competence of the U.N. secretariat, particularly of its internal overseers. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has secured agreement in principle from the member states to get this done, but the reforms are being held up by countries that regard management renewal as a sinister plot devised by the supposedly unilateralist Bush administration. These obstructionists have their argument backward. Not reforming the United Nations is the best way to ensure that American policy will bypass it.