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April 23, 2015 0

Israel’s Independence at 67: Living Up to the Ideals of its Founders

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

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As Israel cel­e­brates its 67th Inde­pen­dence Day, it is easy to fall into one or two cat­e­gories in reaction.

One entails an “oy gevalt syn­drome” — the sky is falling.  Just look at Israel, its rela­tions with its main ally, the United States.  An Israeli gov­ern­ment is on the verge of being formed after national elec­tions that looks like it will be more right-wing than its pre­de­ces­sor which may inevitably exac­er­bate rela­tions with the U.S., pos­si­bly fur­ther iso­late Israel from the Euro­pean Union, and spur expanded BDS activ­ity on cam­puses and else­where.  And Israel’s demo­c­ra­tic val­ues may be under assault from a Haredi and right-wing politi­cians who will seek hyper-nationalist leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing rights to those who express oppo­si­tion to Israeli policies.

The other per­spec­tive is one that says, despite all the com­plaints and crit­i­cisms, Israel has never been doing as well nor in a bet­ter place. U.S.-Israel rela­tions remain strong in spite of the spats between Pres­i­dent Obama and Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu. Ter­ror against Israeli cit­i­zens is way down.  The regional chaos actu­ally ben­e­fits Israel in two ways:  Dis­tract­ing Israel’s ene­mies from focus­ing on the Jew­ish State, and mov­ing the Saudis and the Gulf States into a tacit alliance with Israel based on the shared inter­est of com­bat­ting Iran­ian expan­sion and aggres­sion.  And Israel’s econ­omy remains strong led by the vital high-tech sec­tor which con­tin­ues to enhance Israel’s busi­ness sta­tus in the world.

I pre­fer to look at this moment through a lens that can both enjoy the mir­a­cle of what Israel has become and still, even on a day of cel­e­bra­tion, be aware of the many chal­lenges fac­ing the Jew­ish State as it heads into its 67th year. Para­phras­ing the old Ben Gurion line, I will rap­tur­ously cel­e­brate the won­der that is mod­ern day Israel as if there were no neg­a­tive real­i­ties sur­round­ing its exis­tence, and I will see clearly and worry a great deal about the strug­gles ahead for Israel as if the mir­a­cle of Israel’s very exis­tence and its devel­op­ment were not relevant.

Another way of putting it is that I am as deter­mined as ever, on the occa­sion of this anniver­sary to com­bat the egre­giously dis­torted image of Israel that exists in too many places in the world and on too many cam­puses and main­stream protes­tant churches in the United States.  Israel is far from per­fect as a soci­ety, in its treat­ment of its Arab com­mu­nity and of the Pales­tini­ans.  But it has always been and still is the only true democ­racy and respec­tor of human rights in the region and would have made peace with the Pales­tini­ans on many an occa­sion had it not been for ongo­ing Pales­tin­ian rejec­tion­ism.

I will con­tinue to fight the BDS folks and all those who demo­nize Israel because they are deal­ing in lies about the Jew­ish State.

At the same time, and hav­ing noth­ing to do with the dis­tor­tions from out­side, I worry about some of the direc­tions Israel is going in as an activist Jew who has spent all of his adult life fight­ing for Israel and car­ing about its future.

How will Israel remain both Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic if it can­not find a way out of the cur­rent stale­mate?  With all the legit­i­mate con­cerns about secu­rity, par­tic­u­larly regard­ing an expan­sion­ist and poten­tially nuclear Iran, what is going to be done about the severe domes­tic chal­lenges?  I think of three that demand imme­di­ate atten­tion:  Income inequal­ity, the need for afford­able hous­ing, and the quest for reli­gious pluralism.

So on this impor­tant day, I can live with these dual feel­ings:  An immense pride as a Jew in the glo­ries of the Jew­ish State, and a real­iza­tion that the chal­lenges fac­ing Israel are pro­found and require new initiatives.

Of course, my bot­tom line as a life­long and proud Zion­ist is a belief that Israel will emerge tri­umphant and that what­ever the obsta­cles it will face will be overcome.

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April 14, 2015 0

How to Deal With Iranian Expansionism

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

At the very moment that a nuclear deal with Iran is look­ing closer to real­ity, Iran is expand­ing its influ­ence through­out the Mid­dle East. To the Saudis, the Emi­rates and Israel — all of whom see Iran as the great­est threat in the region — this is a dis­turb­ing phenomenon.

Israel has reacted by call­ing on the United States to link the nuclear nego­ti­a­tions to Iran’s broader behav­ior in the region.  In his address before a joint ses­sion of Con­gress, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu said the U.S. should not sign a deal until Iran halts its ter­ror­ist activ­ity and ceases its sup­port of extrem­ist groups. More recently, the prime min­is­ter has called for no agree­ment until Iran accepts Israel’s     legitimacy.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the U.S. rejected those pro­pos­als as unachiev­able and saw them as an effort to block any nuclear deal.

The Saudis, in their usual way, took a more restrained approach, say­ing nice things about the frame­work agree­ment while decry­ing Iran’s activ­i­ties on many fronts in the region. Clearly, at this moment when the U.S. is pro­vid­ing essen­tial sup­port for the Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, they are not look­ing for a full-blown con­fronta­tion with their main ally and sup­porter, the United States.

On the other hand, the Saudis con­tinue to express in many ways their frus­tra­tion with what they per­ceive to be weak Amer­i­can lead­er­ship in the region. While not will­ing to link their cri­tique to the nuclear issue, they have found other ways to get their point across.

Their most extreme reac­tion took place in the fall of 2013 when in an unprece­dented fash­ion they turned down a seat at the United Nations Secu­rity Coun­cil. While they never stated a rea­son it was widely under­stood to be a protest over Amer­i­can pol­icy toward Syria and Iran.

Since then, Saudi con­cerns have only grown as they watch a con­tin­ued Iran­ian role in Syria and Iraq, U.S. coop­er­a­tion with Iran against ISIS and — more recently — the poten­tial for new sig­nif­i­cant Iran­ian influ­ence in Yemen through the Houthis.

Both the Israelis and the Saudis fear that lift­ing the deep­est sanc­tions against Iran through the nuclear deal will fur­ther embolden Iran­ian expansionism.

More­over, what­ever their views on the nuclear deal, they fear that the basic under­ly­ing theme, despite U.S. protests to the con­trary, is that Iran under Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani is an evolv­ing nation that can be moved toward a state of nor­malcy both at home and in its inter­na­tional rela­tions. So they worry that after the nuclear deal is signed, sealed and deliv­ered, the U.S. will be even more reluc­tant to iden­tify Iran for what is and to take action against it.

What is it that the U.S. admin­is­tra­tion can do to reas­sure its allies?

First, its rhetoric about Iran­ian behav­ior must be ele­vated by many deci­bels. The notion that such a change would jeop­ar­dize the nuclear talks does not ring true. The Ira­ni­ans have a huge inter­est in the removal of sanc­tions while also being able to main­tain its nuclear infra­struc­ture. They are not very likely to walk away because of a more hon­est and focused U.S. approach to Iran­ian behavior.

It was encour­ag­ing in that respect that Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry on April 8 on PBS New­sHour crit­i­cized Iran for sup­ply­ing the Houthis in Yemen and added that the U.S. “could do two things at once” – the nuclear deal and con­tain­ment of Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing activ­i­ties in the region.

Still, a more sus­tained U.S. approach is needed, one which rec­og­nizes that Iran remains unre­pen­tant and extreme — includ­ing recent state­ments by its lead­ers call­ing for Israel’s destruc­tion — and is the great­est threat in the region.

Call­ing atten­tion to the huge arse­nal of mis­siles amassed by Iran­ian sur­ro­gate, Hezbol­lah, is a good place to start.

Using Holo­caust Remem­brance Day on April 15 to denounce Iran’s open call for Israel’s destruc­tion, most recently by the head of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, would add to the chorus.

And finally, the president’s remarks about hav­ing Israel’s back in the face of any Iran­ian threat should be reflected in clear agree­ments. What exactly does it mean for the U.S. to be there for Israel and Saudi Arabia?

This becomes more sig­nif­i­cant than ever because of the per­cep­tion that the eager­ness for the nuclear deal was partly moti­vated by a U.S. desire to pull back from the region. And, it is sig­nif­i­cant because Saudi con­cerns about a poten­tially expand­ing nuclear Iran could lead them to seek their own nuclear weapons.  The con­se­quences for the region and the world of such nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion would be disastrous.

Even before the nuclear frame­work agree­ment, the U.S. had a lot of work to do to reas­sure its allies in the Mid­dle East.

The need for such reas­sur­ance takes on a greater urgency as the real­ity of the nuclear agree­ment and the prospect of an embold­ened Iran loom larger.

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February 13, 2015 0

A French Leader Speaks for His Nation’s Jews and His Nation

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

The hor­rific ter­ror­ism that took place in Paris at the offices of Char­lie Hebdo and at the Hyper Cacher mar­ket last month still res­onates with all of us.

When we real­ize that Ahmed Coulibaly delib­er­ately chose to attack a small and vul­ner­a­ble unguarded kosher mar­ket on a Fri­day after­noon just before the Sab­bath as his tar­get to take Jew­ish hostages, we are eerily drawn to con­tem­plate ques­tions such as: Do Jews Have a Future in France? Is it hap­pen­ing all over again in Europe? What is the rela­tion­ship between the old and the new anti-Semitism? How can this evil best be com­bat­ted, in all its forms, and hope and lib­erty restored?

As the events at the kosher mar­ket unfolded, I couldn’t help but remind myself of Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoller’s now famous com­ments as Nazi Germany’s ter­ror spread: “First, they came for the social­ists, and I did not speak out because I was not a social­ist. Then they came for the trade union­ists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade union­ist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The real­ity is that, since 1980, 17 French Jews have been mur­dered by vio­lent ter­ror­ists and the wave of attacks on Jews in France has inten­si­fied dur­ing the past ten years. Each and every one is an abom­i­na­tion, and we have always said that they are not only a threat to Jew­ish life in France, but to France itself.

This con­nec­tion between anti-Semitism and threats to demo­c­ra­tic life has a long and tragic his­tory. Unfor­tu­nately, it all too often takes ter­ri­ble events such as what recently occurred in Paris to wake peo­ple up to that real­ity. One can’t help but won­der, then, just how much the world has really learned from Niemoller’s reflection.

For­tu­nately, the Prime Min­is­ter of France, Manuel Valls, gets it more than most. In a recent inter­view with The Atlantic, Valls stated that “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Repub­lic will be judged a failure.”

In a dra­matic speech before the National Assem­bly, he went on to rein­force that truth:

“With­out its Jews France would not be France, this is the mes­sage we have to com­mu­ni­cate loud and clear. We haven’t done so. We haven’t shown enough out­rage. How can we accept that in cer­tain schools and col­leges the Holo­caust can’t be taught? How can we accept that when a child is asked ‘Who is your enemy,’ the response is ‘the Jew?’ When the Jews of France are attacked France is attacked, the con­science of human­ity is attacked. Let us never for­get it.”

Why the reluc­tance of many demo­c­ra­tic soci­eties, in Europe and beyond, to rec­og­nize that anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine, alert­ing them to the exis­ten­tial threat they face? Why does Prime Min­is­ter Valls seem more like an excep­tion than like the rule, espe­cially when he bluntly and truth­fully sources the present threat as com­ing mainly from “ter­ror­ism and rad­i­cal Islam,” as he told the French peo­ple just days after the attacks?

Partly, this hes­i­ta­tion comes out of a desire to live with illu­sions, to con­vince our­selves that things are not so bad. “Attacks on Jews are one thing, but that doesn’t mean that we all are at risk.” And, partly, it’s a rem­nant of the deeply embed­ded stereo­types about Jews that held sway for cen­turies: the Jews are the ‘other’ and the Jews “bring their vic­tim­hood upon themselves.”

This is a time for all of us to stand firmly with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity of France; rather than telling them what they should do, urg­ing them to leave or stay, we should reas­sure them that there is Jew­ish sol­i­dar­ity, that Israel and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity will do all we can to assure their safety and security.

The sim­ple, yet pro­found, act of thank­ing Prime Min­is­ter Valls for speak­ing up, for not wait­ing until they come for the non-Jews of France before tak­ing an unequiv­o­cal stand for decency and democ­racy, plays no small part in that effort.

We hope our thanks, and yours, will rein­force the resolve of France’s lead­ers and its peo­ple to take the steps nec­es­sary to ensure a safe, secure and vibrant Jew­ish life for the Jews of France.

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