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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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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 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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