Abraham H. Foxman » ADL Blogs
February 9, 2015 0

Time to Stop the Circus and Focus on Iran

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

I have recently writ­ten about the enor­mously high stakes involved in get­ting the Iran nuclear issue right. There is a broad con­sen­sus on this and on the dan­gers of a nuclear armed Iran. Yet, as the clock winds down on nego­ti­a­tions between Iran and the P-5+1, impor­tant dif­fer­ences in just how to effec­tively accom­plish the goal have emerged.

These dif­fer­ences are not about whether diplo­macy is the best way to resolve the issue — all agree it is.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu assesses the risks to Israel, the region and, ulti­mately, the world through a dif­fer­ent lens than Pres­i­dent Obama and some other world leaders.

Israel is directly in the cross-hairs of Iran­ian ambi­tions for regional dom­i­na­tion, as are the Gulf states, Egypt, Jor­dan and oth­ers. Pres­i­dent Obama and many among the Amer­i­can peo­ple are rightly wary of entan­gling the U.S. in yet another Mid­dle East war and Euro­pean lead­ers are focused on their fal­ter­ing economies, which would ben­e­fit from the reopen­ing of full trade with Iran.

This is pre­cisely the moment when there should frank, direct and open dis­cus­sion of the dif­fer­ent perspectives.

Now is exactly the time when Israel’s leader should be hav­ing those dis­cus­sions with all who have a say in shap­ing pol­icy out­comes on this issue, includ­ing the U.S. Con­gress. And the views of America’s clos­est ally in the Mid­dle East should be heard, so pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the Amer­i­can peo­ple will have the ben­e­fit of hear­ing directly from Netanyahu how he sees what is at stake and what he believes is the best way to reach an agree­ment with Iran that will ensure the long term safety of Israel, the region and the world.

Yet, this point has been nearly oblit­er­ated by the waves of con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the invi­ta­tion to the prime min­is­ter to address Con­gress. I have called it a tragedy of unin­tended con­se­quences — and it is.

Instead of stay­ing laser-focused on the very real, very com­plex and very dan­ger­ous con­se­quences of the out­come of the nego­ti­a­tions with Iran, the pub­lic dis­course is now being hijacked by pol­i­tics.

It is being dom­i­nated by mock­ing come­di­ans, moan­ing pun­dits and manip­u­lat­ing politi­cians all talk­ing about who is insult­ing whom, who will and who won’t be in the cham­ber for the speech, who may or may not be pun­ished for not show­ing up, who will get an elec­toral advan­tage from the appear­ance, and who won’t.

These are absolutely the wrong ques­tions, and this is absolutely the wrong time to be rais­ing them.

As time grows shorter, there needs to be a pause in the uproar to enable every­one involved to find the way to get back to talk­ing about what really counts — Is Iran ready to give up its nuclear plans or must the West revisit its whole approach?

The venue for the dis­cus­sions on this weighty ques­tion mat­ters much less than actu­ally hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion — and hav­ing it sooner rather than later. Now is a time to recal­i­brate, restart and find a new plat­form and new tim­ing to take away the distractions.

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January 26, 2015 0

What We Learned From Auschwitz

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

The 70th anniver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz, which will be marked Jan­u­ary 27 on Inter­na­tional Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, comes at a time when some are ask­ing: is it hap­pen­ing all over again in Europe?

We know the ratio­nal answer to that ques­tion. As bad as the resur­gence of anti-Semitism in Europe is, there is no com­par­i­son to Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.  Then, a party com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple gained total power in Ger­many and even­tu­ally con­trolled most of Europe, enabling the sys­tem­atic mur­der of six mil­lion Jews and mil­lions of oth­ers in the Holocaust.

Today, gov­ern­ments in Europe are not espous­ing anti-Semitism; they are coun­ter­ing it, even if not strongly enough.

If it isn’t the Holo­caust – and, if it isn’t help­ful to under­stand today’s immense chal­lenges by com­par­ing it to the Holo­caust — does Auschwitz present any lessons at all for today?

I would say there are several.

First is the role of hate­ful ide­olo­gies in pro­duc­ing vio­lent, anti-Semitic behav­ior. While today’s anti-Semites in Europe do not con­trol gov­ern­ments, they are able to mobi­lize indi­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to vio­lence on the basis of fan­tas­ti­cal notions about the unique evil of Jews.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s min­is­ter of pro­pa­ganda, con­vinced Ger­mans not merely to dis­like Jews but to believe that they had to pro­tect them­selves from the evil, all-powerful Jew who was poi­son­ing the Ger­man body politic. So too today, the Islamic extrem­ists, whether it’s Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, or Hezbol­lah, see the Jew as the source of evil in the world.

The Hamas char­ter not only repeat­edly calls for the destruc­tion of Israel. It claims that Jews are respon­si­ble for all the ills of the mod­ern world going back to the French Revolution.

When Al-Qaeda decided to attack the World Trade Cen­ter on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, it was only after they con­sid­ered hit­ting Jew­ish tar­gets in New York. Even the World Trade Cen­ter was seen as partly a “Jew­ish” tar­get since it was deemed that Jews con­trol world com­merce, per the “Pro­to­cols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”

Once it is decided that Jews are the source of evil, then it is almost a respon­si­bil­ity to act against them. And so attacks on Jew­ish civil­ians, who rep­re­sent evil in ordi­nary form, become permissible.

We must fight this ide­ol­ogy of hatred. We must not equiv­o­cate in call­ing it what it is and in ral­ly­ing peo­ple of all faiths against it.

A sec­ond les­son is that shame about what anti-Semitism could lead to, which man­i­fested itself with the appear­ance of the first pic­tures of Auschwitz after the lib­er­a­tion, is an impor­tant inhibitor of anti-Semitism.

It does not cure the world of the dis­ease of anti-Semitism, which is so deeply embed­ded and serves so many pur­poses, but it does affect the level and inten­sity of anti-Semitic behavior.

For decades, anti-Semitism did not explode as a phe­nom­e­non, partly because of this shame. As time passes, and the imme­di­acy of the Holo­caust recedes, it makes more impor­tant than ever the need to develop new and cre­ative ways to reach younger peo­ple about its horrors.

I remem­ber hear­ing some years ago from Rita Suss­muth of the Ger­man Bun­destag, who talked of the need for new and emo­tional meth­ods in reach­ing each gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who are fur­ther and fur­ther removed from the events in World War II. We must never give up the strug­gle to explain what anti-Semitism can lead to.

A third les­son for me is the inti­mate con­nec­tion between anti-Semitism and the health of a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. Whether it is the expres­sion that Jews are the canary in the coal mine or Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoller’s famous lines about the con­se­quences of not stand­ing up in the face of evil, Auschwitz is not only about the evils of anti-Semitism, but also how its going unchecked invari­ably endan­gers all of society.

The fight against anti-Semitism should never be seen as sim­ply a moral strug­gle. It is a prac­ti­cal one, as spo­ken so elo­quently by Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls to the French par­lia­ment after the ter­ror­ist attacks on Char­lie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket.

How, he asked, could French soci­ety not speak up and be out­raged when Jews were insulted, when van­dals vio­lated Jew­ish insti­tu­tions, when pro­tes­tors sought to invade a syn­a­gogue?  His mes­sage was clear: All of France needs to stand up early and loud when Jews are under attack. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is vital for the well-being of French society.

The mur­der­ous attack on Char­lie Hebdo inevitably fol­lows the mur­der of three Jew­ish chil­dren in Toulouse. The tar­get­ing of Jews in Nazi Ger­many invari­ably led to the efforts by Hitler to dom­i­nate and enslave the world.

So as we observe the 70th year of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz and Inter­na­tional Holo­caust Remem­brance Day on Tues­day, the impor­tance of know­ing what hap­pened there and of trans­mit­ting it to the next gen­er­a­tion is more urgent than ever.
Threats to Jews today are greater than they have been since those darker days.  And those threats, as taught by the lessons of Auschwitz, threaten all of us.

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January 20, 2015 0

Calling Radical Islam What It Is

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

If we want to win the war against rad­i­cal Islam — and in my view it should be the num­ber one pri­or­ity of the West­ern and Mus­lim worlds — we need to call it what it is. Too often, out of a mis­placed sense of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, polit­i­cal lead­ers, includ­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and French Pres­i­dent Fran­coise Hol­lande, avoid iden­ti­fy­ing the extrem­ists as pro­po­nents of a rad­i­cal Islamic ideology.

The solu­tion to the threat lies pri­mar­ily within the Mus­lim world itself. Main­stream Mus­lims must on every level, start­ing with edu­ca­tion, dis­cour­age young peo­ple from tak­ing the extrem­ist path. But if we in the West are reluc­tant to explic­itly say what it is, why should Mus­lim mod­er­ates speak and act?

I address this as some­one who rep­re­sents an orga­ni­za­tion that stands up against defam­ing of Mus­lims in gen­eral or Islam as a reli­gion. When indi­vid­u­als try to show their bona fides in sup­port of Israel by claim­ing that Islam as a reli­gion is ter­ror­ist or that most Mus­lims are, we stand up to say no.

In Europe, the hes­i­tancy to say the words “rad­i­cal Islam” may largely be the prod­uct of intim­i­da­tion or the fear of vio­lent retal­i­a­tion. That is why the com­ments by French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls before the French Par­lia­ment and in an inter­view with Jef­frey Gold­berg of the Atlantic are so important.

He pulled no punches and told it like it is. The enemy is rad­i­cal Islam. French soci­ety must stand up against the out­rage com­mit­ted by jihadists against France and against the Jews of France. The jihadist ide­ol­ogy surely does not rep­re­sent most Mus­lims and it is a hijack­ing of Islam, but the incite­ment to vio­lence and the acts of ter­ror are done in the name of Islam and influ­enced by teach­ers of fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam in schools and other insti­tu­tions through­out the Mus­lim world.

As Michael Walzer has writ­ten, it is not prej­u­dice but ratio­nal to fear Islamism, as opposed to Islam. When ele­ments within a reli­gious com­mu­nity pro­mote anti-democratic atti­tudes and anti-Semitism, and turn to ter­ror, anti-democratic atti­tudes, and anti-Semitism, it is not racist to oppose it forcefully.

There is noth­ing sim­ple about try­ing to fig­ure out how to defeat the rise of this rad­i­cal­ism within the Mus­lim world.  Social, eco­nomic and polit­i­cal forces within Mus­lim coun­tries and in rela­tions between the west and the Mus­lim world all con­tribute to it.

But what we know from past strug­gles against total­i­tar­ian move­ments, whether Nazism or Com­mu­nism, is that they require clear and prin­ci­pled think­ing to directly engage the danger.

That starts with say­ing that Islam and Mus­lims are not the enemy, they are part of the solu­tion.  We need to empha­size and acknowl­edge that there is prej­u­dice against Mus­lims because of recent events and to emphat­i­cally oppose it.

But we also must not hes­i­tate to point out that those who suf­fer the most from rad­i­cal Islam are Mus­lims them­selves. Just think of the recent news in Pak­istan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nige­ria: Mus­lims being mur­dered, mosques being attacked by extrem­ist Muslims.

The basic mes­sage from polit­i­cal, reli­gious and civic lead­ers must be that all good peo­ple are in this strug­gle together. The Islamic extrem­ists are a threat to Mus­lims, a threat to Jews, a threat to civilization.

Just like the strug­gle against Nazism and Com­mu­nism were defeated by a col­lec­tive effort and by a set of clear ideas, this 21st cen­tury strug­gle can be won as well.

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