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July 28, 2016

Rep. Hank Johnson, Your Words Have a History

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

Much has been said and written about our response at the Anti-Defamation League to the recent comments by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) comparing the Israeli settlement enterprise to “termites” undermining the two-state solution. (You can watch the offending comments here beginning at 34:00). Some appreciated our strong words. Others anguished over our response on Twitter, suggesting that we did not go far enough in condemning him.

This was one of those moments when 140 characters failed to fully convey our feelings.

So I wanted to take the opportunity now to put this issue into full context, to explain why the remarks were so offensive both to Israelis and Jews across the political spectrum and to elucidate what elected officials must do in such instances to assure the public that they do not support the kind of anti-Semitic notions the remark suggested for so many.

First, to the remarks themselves: As I myself tweeted, there’s absolutely no doubt that Rep. Johnson’s comments were both irresponsible and reprehensible, particularly because they played into traditional anti-Semitic canards. The image of “termites” being used to describe Jews has sordid connotations. In the annals of anti-Semitism, from the medieval period to Czarist Russia, and most pronouncedly in Nazi Germany, there is a common leitmotif of Jews being portrayed as subhuman – rats, cockroaches and other undesirable creatures. Even today, depictions of Jews in anti-Semitic cartoons that pervade the Arab press often conform to this legacy.

Surely Rep. Johnson can understand a people’s legitimate sensitivities that emerge from a long history of oppression. And surely there is room for legitimate and balanced criticisms of policy which do not resort to these prejudiced tropes.

In light of the fact that the comment – inadvertently or not – evoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, our initial tweet on the remarks calling it an “offensive and unhelpful characterization” did not go far enough in spelling out precisely why it was so objectionable. Indeed, that impelled my subsequent tweet that “yes, there was apology, but no ‘point’ justifies referring to human beings in such an abhorrent, inappropriate manner.”

Our concern about Rep. Johnson’s remarks and those of others whom we have taken umbrage with during the campaign is not about politics—it’s about an expectation of civility in our politics. ADL consistently has spoken out about inappropriate and offensive language made by candidates and supporters of both political parties. This is not new and will never change.

Because this is an election year, people tend to read more deeply into our criticism of candidates and other political pundits, suggesting our statements reflect a “hidden” agenda or trying to pigeonhole us as “left” or “right.”  Let me be crystal clear on this point. For us, it does not matter whether it is a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. It is the comment itself that justifies our response. This is not about candidates or parties – it is about ideas.

We will call out ideas that run counter to the values we believe in so deeply – civility, pluralism and tolerance – even as we continue to abide strictly by our status as a 501c3 nonprofit which appropriately requires us not to oppose or support candidates for office.

All should understand that Rep. Johnson quickly apologized and subsequently restated his apology to me and to Rabbi David Wolpe. This was meaningful because we have seen others who refuse to demonstrate any public contrition after analogous lapses. But he and others need to know that it is unacceptable to denigrate any group of human beings regardless of one’s views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Considering the where Rep. Johnson was speaking adds additional context to the situation. His remarks were delivered at an event sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a group with a one-sided view of this long-standing and deeply complex conflict, who advocate for boycotting Israel and who provide a platform for the most outrageous charges against Israel. Rep. Johnson was playing to a crowd—a crowd that eagerly applauded his remarks.

If we hope in any way to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation, we need to resist demonization of the other side, to desist from incitement and refuse to slide into slander.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an enduring one and its history is complex. It has so far frustrated the attempts of our country’s most able negotiators. Achieving its resolution will not be easy and may not happen soon. But one thing is for sure: assigning blame only to one side fails to move us any closer to that destination.

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July 21, 2016

Arizona Arrest Reminder of Link between Terror and Anti-Semitism

Mahin Khan arizona terror plot

Mahin Khan

Court proceedings have indicated that Arizona resident Mahin Khan, arrested on July 1 for allegedly plotting to bomb a DMV on behalf of ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban, had considered directing his attack against a local Jewish Community Center (JCC) before choosing the DMV as his final target. His planning, as well as anti-Semitic statements he made, serve as a critical reminder of the nexus between anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.

Khan had allegedly indicated his interest in attacking the JCC in an October 2015 conversation with an undercover FBI employee that was relayed in court on July 20, 2016. The criminal complaint filed against Khan also quoted him as requesting ammunition to target Jews, saying, “Need AK and pistols can u do that wanna take out marines and jews (sic).”

News reports suggest additional evidence of Khan’s anti-Semitism as well. A former classmate of his reportedly claimed that, “At one point he went as far as to say ‘what Hitler did was good.’ And he told me that he did not like the Jewish people.”

  • Khan is the 22nd U.S. residents motivated by Islamic extremist ideology to plot or consider an attack against Jewish or Israeli targets since 2002.
  • He is the 5th U.S. resident arrested in Arizona related to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology since 2002. Three additional Arizona residents have also been linked, but were killed or arrested outside the state.
  • Khan is the second U.S. resident to consider attacking a domestic Jewish target in 2016. The other was James Gonzalo Medina, a Florida resident arrested on April 29, 2016 accused of plotting to blow up a Florida synagogue during the Passover holiday on behalf of ISIS.

ADL has written a report about the connections between anti-Semitism and Islamic extremist ideology, which also includes a list of U.S. residents linked to terrorism since 2012 who expressed anti-Semitic motivation and a list of plots against Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide.

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July 15, 2016

ADL’s Issues for the Platform Committees

FB-DNC-RNC-Platforms

Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats convene their conventions – the equivalent of the MLB All-Star Game for political junkies. While the conventions are often a spectacle of political theater, this year it feels like the drama that has taken center stage is overshadowing important policy issues.

This hasn’t happened in a vacuum.  For years, America’s political debate has been sliding toward greater polarization and acrimony, leaving little space for the give-and-take that is vital to the public policy conversation and a healthy democratic process. Even where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground, as they do on issues like criminal justice reform, there seems to be little incentive for either party to compromise.

These diversions would be unhelpful in any election year.  But there are serious issues facing Americans today, issues that require serious debate. Americans across the political spectrum are reeling from the shooting death of African-Americans Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the mass murder of police officers in Dallas. And terrorist massacres targeting a gay night club in Orlando and government workers in San Bernardino, CA have brought home the impact of hatred and the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like ISIS. Whatever one’s views about how to address this violence and the range of intertwined issues it raises, Americans deserve a probing and constructive national debate rather than a contest to see who can score the most political points.

In formal submissions to the Platform Committees of both parties, ADL has urged that Republicans and Democrats address a range of important issues in an urgent way. Internationally, the U.S. must continue to play a leadership role in the fight against terrorism; in ensuring that Israel remains strong and secure; in promoting peace and respect for human rights across the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe; and in speaking out against a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism.  Domestically, our submission also addresses a variety of issues, for example asserting the urgent need for progress on voting rights, criminal justice reform, expanded legal protection for the LGBT community, refugee rights, and gun violence prevention.

ADL has had a longstanding practice of submitting its policy agenda to both parties, and has called on campaigns to reject character attacks and the use of bigotry in numerous campaign seasons.  This year, ADL is hosting events at both conventions that focus on finding space for substantive debate and collaboration toward progress in order to get down to the serious business of addressing the nation’s problems.

Politi­cians and can­di­dates will win or lose, come and go—but the fallout will linger unless we can elevate the quality of the debate moving forward.  It is incumbent upon all of us to raise our voices, to reject the use of bigotry or character attacks by any candidate, and to promote a public debate based on facts, evidence and civil discourse.

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