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July 28, 2016 1

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 0

Israeli Flags Burned in Cairo in Protest of Foreign Minister’s Israel Visit

Egypt­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shukri’s July 10th visit to Israel and meet­ing with Israeli PM Netanyahu was the first such trip in nine years.   In Israel, Shukri’s visit was greeted as reflec­tive of warm­ing rela­tions between Jerusalem and Cairo who signed a peace agree­ment in 1979.   For some in Egypt, the visit sparked protest against this act of normalization.

Accord­ing to reports in Arab media, Egypt­ian jour­nal­ists burned Israeli flags on Wednes­day (July 13) on the foot­steps of the Syn­di­cate of Jour­nal­ists build­ing in Cairo, shout­ing anti-Israel slo­gans. A video of the demon­stra­tion posted on YouTube by Egypt’s Al-Masrawi news­pa­per shows a group of pro­test­ers stand­ing around an Israeli flag, hold­ing addi­tional Israeli flags marked with an X. The per­son in the mid­dle is say­ing “We came today to burn this despi­ca­ble flag, the flag of the apes and pigs. We’ll also burn the pic­tures of the one called “the Prime Min­is­ter of the Zion­ists” and that of Egypt­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shukri”. The video goes on to show them shout­ing together “We’ve been repeat­ing it gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion – we’ll treat you as enemy, Israel.”

From Twitter

From Twit­ter

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July 15, 2016 0

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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