Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Role of the Anti-Defamation League

Following Peter Beinart's article in the New York Review of Books about the American Jewish establishment's blind support for Israeli governments (which I previously blogged about here), the NYRB has published an exchange between Beinart and Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. I have to say that most of it isn't very interesting, because Foxman repeats the same thing we've heard time and time again, and Beinart repeats what he wrote in his article, what he said in his Bloggingheads debate with Eli Lake and his answers in today's Haaretz Q&A feature (which, for some reason, I could only find in Hebrew).

However, I did find the last two paragraphs of Beinart's response to Foxman noteworthy:
The ADL was founded “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” What I have always admired about that statement is its suggestion that to truly defend Jewish dignity, one must also defend the dignity of other vulnerable groups. At home, the ADL still honors that mission, working valiantly, for instance, against racial profiling in Arizona. But how can an organization that is so vigilant in opposing bigotry in the US be so complacent about a government shaped by men like Lieberman, Effi Eitam, and Ovadia Yosef? How can it not take its rightful place in the struggle on behalf of Palestinians evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah?

When it comes to Israel, the ADL too often ignores the interconnectedness of Jewish and non-Jewish dignity. After all, the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall. And the same Israeli government that demonizes Israeli Arabs also demonizes Israeli human rights groups. To be for ourselves, we must also be for others. I hope the ADL will live that ethic again.
Of all the organizations in the so-called "Israel Lobby", the ADL is probably the most problematic, in my opinion. As Beinart points out, its official purpose is "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” However, it also acts as a pro-Israel organization. Now, both roles are not only legitimate, but important. Fighting anti-Semitism is a worthy cause that can never end as long as anti-Jewish racism exists. Advocating for Israel, the state and its people rather than the government, is also important. The problem is that those two missions should not be undertaken by the same organization, because that would suggest that being anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, or even sometimes just an opponent of the current Israeli government, is equal to being anti-Semitic, and that isn't the case.

You might say that I'm unfairly singling out the ADL, since other Jewish organizations also blend fighting anti-Semitism with being pro-Israel. I'd say there's a big difference. The ADL's main purpose is defending Jews from discrimination and anti-Semitism. Other organizations, on the other hand, focus more on the internal workings of the Jewish community, rather than anti-Semitism. That makes them less problematic than the Anti-Defamation League, but of course it doesn't make Beinart's criticism of them any less relevant.

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