No evaluation of Abe Foxman’s legacy is complete “without mention of the harm he committed to Jews,” writes Steve Salaita. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Department of Defense)
Foxman was an innovator and a tireless defender of the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, his defense of the Jewish people often entailed little more than steadfast support for Israel and vilification of anybody who would criticize even the most brutal Israeli policy.
As an innovator, he played a major role in the conflation of Jewish people with the state of Israel, thus implicating Judaic cultures in the practice of political violence.
While Foxman clearly held Palestinians in low esteem, no evaluation of his legacy is complete without mention of the harm he committed to Jews and, through his unwavering support for the practices of Israeli colonization, as financed by American capitalism, a host of other minority and Indigenous communities.
Foxman, unsurprisingly, has been lionized by corporate media and political elites. As soon as he announced his retirement, the laudation began.
The Jewish Daily Forward referred to him as the “Jewish pope” and described him as iconic, masterful, and savvy.
The Washington Post marveled, “He was a man called on by presidents. Politicians and celebrities apologized to him when they had offended Jews.”
The US Department of State posted a note on its website, authored by Secretary of State John Kerry, proclaiming, “He’s this great Jeremiah-like figure–always on watch and never afraid to speak his mind. And the cause of peace and the security of the state of Israel is [sic] stronger for his service.”
Even President Barack Obama, who more than once has run afoul of Foxman’s stringent nationalism, weighed in: “Abe Foxman has been a tireless voice against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all of its forms, always calling us to reject hatred and embrace our common humanity.”
None of these outlets reported on the evidence of the ADL’s malfeasance during Foxman’s leadership. Instead, they make passing note that he is “controversial” or “contentious.”
The problems with the ADL go beyond its transformation from an anti-discrimination to a pro-Israel advocacy organization.
While it would be reasonable to speculate that all the ADL’s behavior under Foxman originates from its ultimate desire to strengthen Israel (or weaken Palestine), the group has been involved in a number of activities intended to supplement American state power. (Politicians don’t publicly grovel to Foxman because they hate anti-Semitism.)
For instance, FBI files indicate the ADL has spied on Americans since at least 1969. At various points, the group infiltrated the American Indian Movement, the NAACP, the Rainbow Coalition, Pacifica, the ACLU, and various organizations committed to Central American revolution.
The ADL also worked with Apartheid South Africa’s notorious National Intelligence Service.
“The worst anti-Semites”
The ADL’s insistence that Jewish cultures be coterminous with Israeli violence does enough to undermine its supposed work against anti-Semitism, but it fully abdicates any legitimate claim to oppose racism against Jews by joining forces with Christian Zionists (as always, for the sake of Israel).
It’s impossible to quantify racism using vertical metrics, but if Christian Zionists aren’t the worst anti-Semites in the world, then they’re surely near the top. This only mildly bothered Foxman, who occasionally chided Christian fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee but eagerly humored their messianic Zionism.
Through Foxman’s courtship of Christian Zionists we get a clear sense of the deep cynicism inherent to an American political culture that operates through the demands of capitalist logic.
The obligations of moral probity are less important than the power that accompanies access to the economies of military dominance.
By becoming bedfellows with Christian Zionists, Foxman subsumed the fight against anti-Semitism to an ethnocratic ideology, yet another spectacular problem with conceptualizing Israel as the embodiment of Jewish people.
If Israel is a continual articulation of neoliberal values in a terribly corrupted world, then Foxman is the ideal person to articulate Israel’s value to neoliberalism.
Is the ADL a hate group?
In my book Israel’s Dead Soul I devote a chapter to assessing the appropriateness of calling the ADL a hate group.
I conclude that, yes, the ADL can rightly be classified as a hate group. Certainly the many people on whom it has spied would come to the same conclusion.
However, my analysis did not judge the ADL from a set of arbitrary standards. I based my judgment strictly on the ADL’s own criteria for a hate group.
The organization has long been considered a joke among actual civil rights organizations, maintaining its relevance purely on the strength of political and financial influence.
The ADL is basically AIPAC with cute slogans.
The ADL describes hate groups as supporting the rights of one ethnic community over others and as championing racist viewpoints through discourses of cultural superiority or biological determinism.
Based solely on its intransigent support of Israel, never mind its contributions to the domestic repression of minority activists, the ADL quite adeptly conforms to its own definition of a hate group.
Foxman’s role in turning the ADL toward Israeli advocacy cannot be underestimated. There has long been serious devotion to Israel among certain elements of the American Jewish community.
Foxman’s particular genius was to cultivate that support and then to exploit it to the benefit of the ADL.
This strategy did nothing to combat the existence of anti-Semitism. Indeed, by tethering anti-Semitism to criticism of Israel, Foxman simultaneously distilled the term to near-insignificance and increased the occurrence of so-called anti-Semitic incidents, thus increasing the relevance of the ADL.
It was a profitable formula, a self-perpetuating ritual emulated by many an enterprising huckster.
Foxman pushed the ADL gradually to the right and was arguably the most prominent public figure to embrace neoconservative ideologies as a means to insulate Israel from criticism and to provide it with additional material support.
Foxman’s words and actions constantly undermined the ADL’s self-image as a civil rights organization.
Did Foxman actually help in the battle against anti-Semitism? Close examination of the ADL’s record under his leadership makes it difficult to answer in the affirmative.
It is even clearer, though, that whatever else Abe Foxman accomplished during his career, he managed to sabotage civil rights on at least four different continents.