This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and to celebrate the organisation has been holding a series of high profile events across the US. Last week, the ADL hosted a centennial conference in New York featuring US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta.
As the Jewish Telegraph Agency points out, the ADL, one of the most active Zionist organisations in the US, has a long history of hosting such esteemed speakers. In the past, the organisation has been addressed by American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.
Furthermore, in April of this year, "the ADL held a centennial summit and gala in Washington that drew Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder. President Obama also recorded a video message for the ADL's anniversary year."
According to the Washington Post, Pentagon officials said that Abraham Foxman, the director of the ADL, personally invited Hagel to speak at the New York event. Only last year, Foxman had been among Hagel's toughest critics during his acrimonious confirmation hearing as Secretary of Defence. Responding to Hagel's earlier pronouncement that he was "an American senator, not an Israeli senator", Foxman told the US web site Politico that Hagel's words constituted "pretty disturbing language which… borders onto conspiratorial". He added that, "At the very least, it's of concern to the American Jewish community, at the very most, it's very troubling."
However the Post points out that, "Shortly after taking office, Hagel hosted a meeting with a group of pro-Israel leaders, including Foxman. The two also met separately at the Pentagon in August, defence officials said." In addition, Hagel took a three day trip to Israel last April.
Since then, Bloomberg news reports that Hagel "has worked assiduously to ensure that Israel maintains its so-called qualitative military edge over its foes; he has developed close working ties with Israel's defence minister and its top generals; and Jewish groups, once wary, have embraced him." Furthermore, he made sure that the Pentagon "fast-tracked the delivery of six V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor airplanes to Israel. 'They're going to the head of the line,' he said. These are aircraft that could be used to stealthily insert commandos into such hostile and distant locales as… Iran."
Of course Hagel is not the only US politician to "flip flop" when it comes to Israel.
While in autumn 2003 John Kerry, then a senator, called Israel's apartheid wall a "provocative and counterproductive measure" that posed a "barrier to peace", by the time he was in the midst of a full scale presidential campaign the following year he had changed his opinion markedly, announcing that "Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self-defence." And to really prove his credentials as an "Israel firster", he dramatically added that "no nation can stand by while its children are blown up at pizza parlours and on buses."
And although back in 2002 Power, then an academic, suggested that the US should cut military aid to Israel and try to alienate the powerful pro-Israel lobby, which she referred to as "a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import," during her confirmation hearing last summer she mentioned Israel as many times as the US in her opening statement.
However it is important to note that not all American Jews object to this kind of honest commentary that is critical of Israel. Regarding Hagel's critical comments, Dylan Williams from J Street, the "liberal Zionist lobby" in Washington, told Politico last year that he "would be an outstanding choice for secretary of defence, and we'd be surprised by any concerted effort by anyone claiming to represent [the] mainstream of the Jewish American community raising any opposition."
Indeed, as Ali Abunimah observed last month in the Electronic Intifada, Foxman and his ilk are increasingly out of step with American Jews.
A recent major survey of 3,500 American Jews conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that 48 per cent of American Jews "do not think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement." Only 38 per cent think the Israeli peace efforts are sincere.
The survey also found that while 53 per cent of Jews aged 65 and older say that caring about Israel is essential for their Jewish identity, and 47 per cent of Jews aged 50-64 also say this, only 38 per cent of Jews in their thirties and forties and 32 per cent of Jewish adults under the age of 30 say that caring about Israel is central to what being Jewish means to them.
Foxman dismissed the results of this poll by saying that some Jews simply do not care and "I'm not going to follow this." Abunimah points out how this response illustrates not only how out of touch Foxman and organisations like the ADL are with the American Jewish community, but also the degree to which these organisations disrespect the population they purportedly represent.
Foxman has been at the helm of the ADL for 26 years, reportedly earning an annual salary of more than a half a million dollars. Nevertheless, he is no stranger to controversy.
For example, back in 2010, Foxman caused quite a stir when he criticised Glenn Beck, the infamous conservative talk show host, for attacking Holocaust survivor George Soros by suggesting that he was a Nazi collaborator. After publicly condemning these remarks, Foxman backed off when Fox News chief Roger Ailes intervened, eventually announcing that while the comments were insensitive, in the end Beck is still "a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people", conflating the two even though Beck's comments quite obviously suggest otherwise.
While the ADL defines itself as an anti-racist organisation fighting "all forms of bigotry" and supporting the civil liberties of all Americans, the organisation is clearly biased. Rather than confronting the anti-Semitism of powerful minorities in the US, for example the Christian right, the ADL fights the anti-Zionist minorities that are already discriminated against both in Palestine and in the US. One example is the public war the ADL waged against the proposed Islamic community centre near ground zero in lower Manhattan, one of many Islamophobic actions.
When recently asked during a Haaretz interview about a member of Congress's call "for the authorities to keep track of the entire Muslim community" in the US, Foxman responded that, "I don't think that's Muslim-baiting. It's a natural response." He continued by saying that Muslins are not assimilating in Europe and America, thus it is natural to question the balance "between security and freedom of expression: Should we follow the ethnic communities? Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn't Muslim-baiting—it's driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security."
According to Foxman, because of "our" fear, meaning white Judeo-Christians, Muslim Americans do not deserve the freedoms enshrined for all in the US constitution, in the same way that anybody who criticises Israel should not be granted sacred rights like the freedom of expression, assembly or religion. When commenting on the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks in lower Manhattan, Foxman said of the survivors that, "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted." Thus the director of an organisation that claims to fight bigotry is clearly attempting to justify discrimination and injustice when it comes to Arabs and Muslims.
The ADL's staunchly pro-Israel activities blatantly contradict its anti-bigotry mission, and sometimes the organisation even slanders Jewish organisations when they are critical of the State of Israel, as illustrated in its publication of the "Top ten anti-Israel groups in America in 2013", which includes the group Jewish Voice for Peace. As Jay Michaelson, a self-proclaimed "two-stater, J-Streeter, and progressive Zionist", points out in the US news site The Daily Beast, while the ADL does not technically claim that these groups are anti-Semitic, "For an anti-defamation league to put out a blacklist is to imply that those blacklisted are in the business of defamation."
Michaelson writes that: "I know several JVP supporters personally, and I know that they oppose the state of Israel for Jewish moral reasons specifically. They think it undermines Jewish values to have a Jewish state, with a Jewish military and a thousand preferences for Jews over non-Jews. And so not only are they not defaming Jews or Jewish values—they are, in the way they see fit, trying to support them." He concludes that "it is not anti-Israel to be anti-occupation. It is not anti-Semitic to be anti-Israel. And it is not the ADL's mission to defame others for espousing political views."
However, as long as US politicians continue to kneel before the ADL and the Israel Lobby, any such criticism, which is ethical and reasoned, as well as necessary, is apparently out of bounds.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.