March 28, 2001
Rabbi calls ADL leader Foxman the Jews' 'worst enemy'
By LOU MARANO
WASHINGTON, Mar. 28 (UPI) -- Calling secular Judaism's preoccupation with victimhood "liberalism with a circumcision," an Orthodox rabbi has given the "Our Own Worst Enemy Award" to [Abraham Foxman] the head of the Anti-Defamation League.
An ADL official has dismissed the characterization.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition, a group based in Mercer Island, Wa., that describes itself as "a coalition of Jews and Christians dedicated to fighting secular institutions that foster anti-Semitism, harm families, and jeopardize the future of America." The group bestowed the "award" upon ADL National Director Abraham Foxman on Wednesday.
"The award is given to a Jewish American who exemplifies those cultural forces that most endanger Jewish continuity, substituting unhealthy values for Judaism itself," Toward Tradition said. "Children thus grow up to dismiss Jewish identity as, for example, merely with an obsession with death and persecution, or as liberalism with a circumcision."
"I think Abe Foxman means well," Lapin said. "But he's deluded by liberalism, a worldview preoccupied by victimhood."
The rabbi called attention to Foxman's letter that appeared in the March 23 editions of the New York Times. In it, the ADL leader compared the newspaper ads by conservative activist David Horowitz -- who opposes monetary reparations to American blacks for being the descendants of slaves -- with Holocaust deniers.
"Put that together with Foxman's statement last week about the 'big eruption' of anti-Semitism in New York, and so on, and you get the picture of a guy who's not in close touch with reality," Lapin said.
The rabbi was referring to a March 21 New York Times story in which Foxman was quoted as saying: "Anti-Semitism is a disease, and we have seen a big eruption of that disease in New York." Foxman based his remark on an ADL survey that says anti-Semitic incidents rose by about 49 percent in New York City last year.
David Klinghofer, Toward Tradition's editorial director, questions the survey's validity. Many of the incidents recorded are not crimes, he said, but rather "anything anybody perceived as anti-Semitic." The ADL "gets paid (by contributors) according to how much anti-Semitism it finds," Klinghofer told United Press International Wednesday.
Toward Tradition said that Foxman's "tireless efforts" to convince American Jews that they are beset by "a phantom anti-Semitism," when their own experience suggests otherwise, "have helped to confirm many in the belief that being a Jew has to do mainly with being oppressed and hated."
The American Jewish Committee's annual study for 1999 reported that anti-Semitism is the main concern of 62 percent of American Jews, up 5 points from 1998. This belief pertains "notwithstanding the strength of democratic institutions and legal protections in the United States," AJC President Bruce M. Ramer said at the time.
The study, which was summarized in a June 9, 1999, story in the Washington Times, also revealed that American Jews give a low priority to religious observance and believe recalling the Holocaust is the key to being a Jew.
In its story, the Times quoted Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, humanities professor at New York University, who believes Jews are "absolutely free and equal" in America.
"I deplore the survey results," Hertzberg said. "When you say: 'Remember, we have enemies,' it simply feeds a neurosis. I maintain that Jewish life is not fear, but affirmation."
Toward Tradition's National Director Yarden Weidenfeld also said that traditional Judaism, as taught by Lapin, celebrates life. Foxman's approach constitutes the real threat to American Jewry, Weidenfeld told UPI in a Wednesday phone interview, because young American Jews who associate their religion with death and misery are more likely to marry Gentile partners. The real danger is assimilation, Weidenfeld said.
ADL Assistant National Director Ken Jacobson dismissed Toward Tradition and its positions. "At some level, I might not want to dignify the comments," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "I don't really think that Rabbi Lapin and his organization represent anything significant in the Jewish community."
But Jacobson quickly overcame his reluctance. He denied that Foxman's letter likened Horowitz to Holocaust-deniers because Foxman did not assert that Horowitz denied the existence of slavery.
"We were concerned about the denigration of blacks and the slave experience that was implicit in the Horowitz message" opposing reparations, Jacobson told UPI. "It's only like ... the Holocaust denial theme in the sense that, in both issues, there are things that were offensive, and a newspaper isn't obligated under the First Amendment to print every ad."
Jacobson was referring to student editors of campus newspapers. Of course, the First Amendment constrains only government, not newspapers or advertisers. In response, Weidenfeld said the students' ignorance of the Constitution "is their problem" and has nothing to do with Holocaust denial.
Toward Tradition said it picked Foxman "from among other representatives of the Anti-Semitism Industry" because of his role in former president Clinton's pardon of fugitive tax evader Marc Rich.
Citing Friday's Newsweek report, the group said: "After the ADL received a $100,000 check from the Rich Foundation, Foxman wrote to Bill Clinton urging the pardon." In doing so, Foxman "joined other leading Jewish liberals who had benefited from the billionaire's largesse. The ensuing scandal was a comfort to true anti-Semites who say that Jews buy and sell justice," Toward Tradition said.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Foxman said the previous day that he was wrong to have lobbied for Rich.