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Why didn't Abe Foxman condemn Palin's "blood libel" slur?

Sarah Palin’s calculated use of the phrase “blood libel” is yet another example of her canny mastery over American media. Dating back to the time of the Crusaders — and used to justify centuries of anti-Jewish terror — “blood libel” stands as one of the most vile symbols of anti-Semitism ever to plague the Jewish people.

By David Kaufman

Unsurprisingly, the current media cycle has been packed with vocal condemnation of Palin by major Jewish groups — from the left-leaning J Street to the centrist/progressive Jewish Funds for Justice (JFJ). Yet one major voice — the most major major voice — was not only late in censuring Palin, but did so with conspicuous reluctance: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Indeed, hours after JFJS President Simon Greer decried Palin’s words as “totally out of line,” and J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami called for a retraction, ADL National Director Abe Foxman finally weighed in with the weakly worded statement “we wished that Palin had used another phrase.”

And that’s it.

No demands for a retraction, no charges of anti-Semitism and nothing suggesting the ADL disapproves of Palin’s overall rhetoric. In fact, Foxman essentially gave Palin the ADL seal-of-approval — decrying bipartisan vitriol and supporting Palin’s “right to defend herself against… attacks” and agreeing with the overall tenor of her original statement.

There is perhaps no American special interest group with a better built rapid response mechanism than the ADL. Back in November, for instance, Foxman was among the first — and certainly the loudest — critics of Glenn Beck when the Fox commentator accused financier George Soros of colluding with the Nazis. Invoking age-old totems of greed, disloyalty and global economic control, Beck’s statements echoed the types of anti-Semitic mythology more commonly associated with American neo-Nazis and Europe’s far right.

Few would argue, however, that Palin’s words are far more severe. Well aware of her own popularity, political acumen and the current polarized atmosphere, Palin clearly crafted her statement consciously and conspicuously. Moreover, unlike Beck — who targeted a single Jewish person — Palin’s words strike directly at the heart of the Jewish people. As such, both Palin’s statements — and Palin herself — must be decried by every Jew and every Jewish group across America, beginning with the ADL.

Foxman’s reluctance to demand Palin’s contrition not only libels the very American Jewish community he’s charged with protecting, but painfully echoes the exact words of Beck himself. Baseless and beyond the pale, Beck suggests Soros betrayed his own family to curry Nazi favor. Two months later, the question must now be asked: Just who is Foxman trying to appease by sucking up to Sarah Palin?

The answer is as unfortunate as it is obvious — the Palin-led Republican base and their Israeli counterparts over in Jerusalem. Indeed, while the conservative-Christian Palin and Holocaust-survivor Foxman may appear to have little in common, their unholy alliance confirms that old Arab maxim “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In this case, it’s a friendship rooted in unwavering support of Israel’s hard-line government, Jerusalem’s pro-Settlement policies and a vested interest in a weakened and isolated Barack Obama. Well aware of Palin’s approval — and the White House’s disavowal — of the settlement enterprise, the ADL has aligned itself with an ascendant Republican party and its most telegenic pop-star.

In doing so, Foxman has made a Faustian bargain in which Israeli Jewry may now trump American Jewry as the main focus of ADL sentiments. How else to explain defending a politician like Palin — who’s regressive, anti-intellectual, faith-based rhetoric stands in stark contrast with the core values of American Jewry. In fact, even Palin’s Settlement support is out of sync with the majority of American Jews — and Jewish intellectuals — who mostly support President Obama and his settlement freeze demands.

Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, pundits have pondered the relationship between Zionism and racism and Zionism and anti-semitism. Despite what UN Resolution 3379 might state, Zionism is not racism. Yes, racist acts have been carried out in the name of Zionism, but the quest for a Jewish state is as valid and necessary today as it was when Theodore Herzl wrote The Jewish State back in 1895.

Far more complex is the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Groups like the ADL have long traded off the notion that any anti-Israel/anti-Zionist sentiment contains antisemitic subtexts — that denouncing the Jewish State is a tacit denouncement of the Jewish people and the Jewish nation. There is some truth to this belief. For tragedies ranging from the Spanish Inquisition to Babi Yar to the Holocaust itself confirm that the lack of a Jewish homeland has been the greatest tool in facilitating mass Jewish slaughter.

Palin, however, has invented an entirely new narrative — one that must be stamped out in its infancy: The Pro-Zionist anti-Semite. Like many of her fundamentalist cohorts, Palin hypes the Jewish nation while dissing Jewish people, Jewish culture and Jewish history. Already, Palin has resorted to unbridled racism to promote her ambitious agenda. That she’s added antisemitism to her retinue was only a matter of time.

As its own mission statement makes clear, the ADL was founded to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people”. Yet this mission — at least for Abe Foxman — apparently does not extend to Sarah Palin. Nonetheless, in conjuring up the “blood libel” myth, Palin has categorically defamed the Jewish people — at least this Jewish person — and must be held accountable.

Jews — like Gays and African-Americans — are often accused of inflating the levels of bigotry against them. But no inflation is needed here — only vocal and immediate outcry from the voice that matters most: The ADL.

Because if not now, Mr. Foxman, then when?

David Kaufman is a New York-based journalist who regularly contributes to Time, The Financial Times, Monocle, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. This column was rejected by the Huffington Post.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Richard Allen

      Okay good, so I’m not the only one who was disgusted by how tepid his condemnation was. I mean, I don’t take him seriously, anyway, but many people do.

      Reply to Comment
    2. It is unfortunate and appalling that the Huffington Post refused to published this article. It is far more unfortunate, however, that Mr. Kaufman refers to Zionism and “the quest for a Jewish state” as “valid and necessary.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. I think Kaufman asks a valid question when he asks why the ADL’s response to Palin’s remarks was so anemic. The reason why he doesn’t reach an adequate conclusion is because he resorts to the same sort of ridiculous, manufactured ideas about Jewish history that Foxman does. Oh when will the liberal Jews figure out that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism? When when when will they discover that one can have noble, decent intentions and still do things and believe things that are racist? Progressive Jews, Arabs and Muslims are not interested in condemning you, we are begging you to reconsider and to look at the terrible effects of Zionism, both for the Palestinians and for Jews, because it isn’t easier to be Jewish in the world in the midst of Israel’s criminal behavior.

      Reply to Comment