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Who’s afraid of Abraham Foxman?

deadliest_lies.jpgBradford R. Pilcher sure isn’t.

In a scathing essay published in this month’s edition of American Jewish Life, Pilcher takes Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League to task for their hypocritical treatment of the genocide committed by the Turks against the Armenian people. Pilcher, who formerly ran the Jewish book blog, TribeWrite, does a pretty thorough job of attacking the moral authority Foxman might of had in writing a book like “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”

Confronting the bias in “The Israel Lobby” is certainly a noble calling, but Pilcher wonders how Foxman can manage to take a rightfully moral stand on the Holocaust and Israel while taking such a blatantly political position when it comes to the Turks. It just doesn’t add up.

In case you haven’t been keeping score at home, the ADL experienced a small crisis this summer when its New England regional director, Andrew Tarsy, criticized his bosses at the national office for their refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. Tarsy was promptly fired from his job but the public backlash caused Foxman to rehire him a little more than a week later.

That would have been bad enough but Foxman quickly sent a letter to the Turkish prime minister to express his sorrow over what he and the ADL “caused for the leadership and people of Turkey in the past few days.”  

Here’s how Pilcher described his reaction to the letter:

I was eating lunch when I read that one. My reaction involved an attempt to curse through a mouthful of very hot soup. What exactly was Foxman apologizing for? I wondered if he’d ever thought to express deep sorrow to the leadership and people of Germany. “We had no intention of putting you in the difficult position of having to answer for mass murder,” I imagined he might say, “but you did kind of kill several million of us. We would like to express our deep sorrow over the embarrassment we’ve caused you.”

This is an organization created to fight bigotry generally and anti-Semitism in particular, to make our world better by exposing hatred and holding racism, genocidal or otherwise, to account. Where exactly do they get off apologizing to genocide deniers? In two sentences, Foxman had broken the camel’s back, letting a deluge of missteps and hyperbolic statements turn into the absolute shredding of his organization’s moral authority.

The only hero I see in all this is Andrew Tarsy. His outspokenness forced not only the ADL but also the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish groups to re-examine their thinking and realign their priorities.

Those same groups ought to read Pilcher’s essay if they ever hope to understand the antipathy many Gen X Jews feel toward the alphabet soup Jewish organizations.

As for this Gen X Jew, I became very cynical many years ago about the way some of these organizations adopted the Holocaust as a fundraising vehicle and turned its memory into the focus of American Jewish life. That phenomenon is part of the reason I applauded Tova Reich and her book, “My Holocaust.”

Don’t get me wrong. I care a lot about the Holocaust and I continue to read books about its history even though it’s been covered so extensively. Part of my obsession has to do with my own family’s history. My grandfather and most of his immediate family fled from Nazi Germany before the start of the war and I have an aunt who survived Auschwitz and an uncle who was on the St. Louis.

So, I feel a certain obligation to study the Holocaust and support the efforts of people like Deborah Lipstadt who work to ensure that the accuracy of history does not fall prey to anti-Semites.

But, what concerns me is the way many of my fellow American Jews have replaced Judaism and Torah study with a secular obsession with the Holocaust and ‘combating anti-Semitism.’ It’s a shame because the former has so much more to offer and the latter will never be enough to sustain a Jewish identity.

Since Bradford actually makes this point better than me, I’ll let him have the last word:

I’m not hopeless about this. Abe Foxman and his ilk can’t occupy the stage forever. At the very least, perhaps he could get laryngitis. But I’m not particularly hopeful either. We’ve made a civic religion, eagerly adopted by plenty of Jews who can’t be bothered to meander into a synagogue more than a couple times a year, out of Holocaust remembrance. We’ve replaced a wandering Diaspora of Torah scholars with an affluent American populace of Jews holding up the flame for the Holocaust without bothering to ask ourselves what moral imperatives that memory requires of us.

If we’re not going to ask those questions, and listen to the difficult answers, then we’re probably better off not remembering at all. After all, a false veneer of moral authority in the absence of moral action may be the most immoral thing of all.

Crossposted on Jewish Literary Review.

7 Comments

  1. ck

    12/5/2007 at 12:34 pm

    “As for this Gen X Jew, I became very cynical many years ago about the way some of these organizations adopted the Holocaust as a fundraising vehicle and turned its memory into the focus of American Jewish life.”

    I knew there was a reason I sensed you’d be a good fit here. Bra-fucking-vo! Is it any wonder the bulk of American Jewish life sucks so hard in terms of stuff that’s, you know, actually Jewish? This focus on the Holocaust as the locus of Jewish identity smacks of some kind of twisted necrophilia (as opposed to normal necrophilia?). If that was the only Judaism I had, I’d drop that shit like a hot potato. I am heartened by the many secular Jews who feel the same way and have sought to recreate their Judaism into something that’s relevant to them. On the other hand, I do wish that some of this inventiveness was a little more, I dunno, Jewy?

    But whatever, great post steve!

  2. steve

    12/5/2007 at 1:20 pm

    thanks, ck.

    i don’t think of it so much as recreating judaism as much as saying there’s more to being a Jew than anti-Semitism.

    by the way, there’s an update to this story: I just saw on JTA that Andrew Tarsy has resigned.

    guess this post turns out to be timely after all.

  3. Shooky

    12/6/2007 at 5:09 pm

    You should try reading “The holocaust industry” by Norman Finkelstein. It gives many very distressful examples of how the holocaust was used cynically to make a fortune.

    Of course he had become the “enemy of the people” for many, and was sued dozens of times – but always won.

  4. steve

    12/6/2007 at 8:16 pm

    no, norm finkelstein swings too far in the other direction. he’s shrill, he takes things out of context and he can’t be trusted to tell the whole truth.

  5. Shooky

    12/6/2007 at 8:30 pm

    Steve, lets put it this way: I hope you’re right.

    The problems is, I tend to think Finkelstein DOES show a pretty clear view of how things looks, and and it’s not very good looking.

  6. Berge Jololian

    12/6/2007 at 11:07 pm

    What does the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman have in common with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinnajad?

    Both are genocide deniers.

    Genocide denial is the worst type of hate crime. Not only does it murder the historical memories of the victims but it also murders the victims a second time by erasing them from the pages of history.

    Although no one called the slaughter of Armenians (1915-23) as genocide because the word was not coined until twenty years later, the word “holocaust” has been widely used since the 17th century. Before World War II the word “holocaust” was used by Winston Churchill and others to describe the Armenian genocide.

    Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent and Holocaust survivor, created the word “GENOCIDE” in 1933 to describe what had happened to the Armenians. Lemkin explained that the Turks committed genocide with intent to annihilate.

    The Anti-Defamation League’s recent alleged acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide, describing it as “consequence” of WWI, and “tantamount to genocide”, imply that Turkey did not intend to kill Armenians. The ADL knowingly contravened the UN’s official 1948 definition of genocide which uses the word “intent” not “consequence.”

    The world doesn’t take seriously what American Jewish leaders have to say about the 6 million, not when it sees that the same Jewish leaders lobby the US congress against genocide affirmation, and silence everyone over the murders of 1.6 million other innocents.

    To deny the Armenian genocide “is like Holocaust denial,” said human rights professor Gregory Stanton, vice president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and president of Genocide Watch.

    Rabbi Hillel said it best: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

    The ADL is corrupt and morally bankrupt and has lost its authority to lecture on human rights.

    For the past 15 years the ADL has continually traded its human rights agenda with that of a bizarre foreign policy agenda. It has been exposed for what it truly is and can no longer maintain the facade of a human rights organization.

    Berge Jololian

  7. Comments

    12/22/2007 at 2:12 am

    We cannot help but ask ourselves, had the world community used its full energy and resources to speak out against the Armenian genocide (1915-23), might the Holocaust have been prevented (20 years later)?

    Similarly, I can not help but ask if the Jewish Community and the Massachusetts Municipal Association used its full energy and resources to speak out against the denial of the Armenian genocide, could we prevent Antisemitism and Holocaust denial 20 years from now?

    Excerpts from a recent publication: The Enemy of My Friend is My Enemy? The Jewish Diaspora and Genocide Denial.

    “With all due respect to the numerous Jewish-born humanists, historians, writers, individual personalities, Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger and many other that have had the courage to take a stand for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and justice for this crime, it is none the less obvious that the official representatives of Judaism and above all Jewish/Israeli politicians still have a lot to catch up on.

    Even though the internationally recognized and respected Jewish jurist and human rights activist Rafael Lemkin already concerned himself with and recognized the systematic destruction of the Armenians as a “murder of race” at the start of the 1930s, the fact remains that justice for the Armenian Genocide is still being aggressively denied by influential organizations of the Jewish Diaspora as well as by the State of Israel itself.”

    Now more than ever the denial of genocide must be responded to, for denial is intrinsic to the methodology of genocide. Genocide is denied even as it is practiced.

    From the beginning, the perpetrator seeks pretexts and justifications to conceal the real intentions. Thus, the extermination is referred to as “transporting,” as “deportation” or “resettlement” – “moving to secure places” or even as the “final solution.” A verbal code is used to camouflage and thus deny the annihilation, even as it is being committed.

    Genocide without simultaneous denial is unthinkable – yes, even impossible. The first thing that must be done is to consider what the perpetrators want to attain through denial. Denial is not just the simple negation of an act; it is much more the consequent continuation of the very act itself. Genocide should not only physically destroy a community; it should likewise dictate the prerogative of interpretation in regard to history, culture, territory and memory. As the victims- Armenians – “never exists”.

    The Turkish have not only murdered humans , destroyed an ancient culture/civilization and rewritten history, but they continue to legitimize the act as well as the racist ideology that led to the act. This includes the legitimization of any and all stereotyping of the Armenian people as a dangerous enemy, as a deadly bogeyman in the closet.

    Denial is the final step in the completion of a mass extermination – and the first step towards the next genocide. If genocide is committed in Ruanda or Sudan, it is done with the knowledge that the rest of the world will only watch and then forget.

    They look to Turkey and think themselves safe in the assumption that their actions will likewise remain unpunished! Whether in Sudan or Ruanda or any other potential hotspot of mass murder the accountable powers-that-be rhetorically ask – as Hitler supposedly did just before invading Poland – “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

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