Abe Foxman, Step Away From the Election

My latest at Open Zion, about why the ADL would do well to steer clear of politics.

I wasn’t surprised that Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, got involved in Romney’s overseas campaign. Romney, after all, is visiting Poland at the behest of anti-communist leader Lech Walesa, who won Poland’s presidency in 1990 in part by calling on Polish Jews to out themselves and asking why his opponents “conceal their origins.” And though he apologized for Polish anti-Semitism in 1991, first to prominent Jews and then to the Israeli Knesset, it was a pretty lousy apology: In his speech to World Jewish Congress leader Edgar Bronfman, Walesa insisted “there never was any genuine racially based anti-Semitism in Poland” just “discrimination and differences of interests between… Poles and Jews.” Little surprise that, in a presidential 2000 election, Walesa returned to Jew-baiting his opponent, and to saying he wished he had been born Jewish, since “I would probably be richer.” Lots for Foxman to talk about.

Wait, what? That’s not what Foxman thought was worthy of comment in Romney’s tour? Crazy. Apparently, though Foxman doesn’t think the Romney-Walesa love-in deserved a press release, he had to weigh in on Romney’s blaming Palestinian economic woes on their “culture.” Which he blessed. While Jews have “a real emphasis on education, on hard work and self-reliance,” he said, “part of the problem” with the Arab world, he said, “is culture.”

Bernard Avishai and Hussein Ibish have already pointed out why Romney’s remark is nonsense. Suffice it to say that attributing Palestinian poverty to culture—ignoring, say, the occupation’s basic inequities in resources like water or its harsh restrictions of freedom of movement—takes some chutzpah. Imagine what the ADL would say if someone blamed Jewish suffering on Jewish culture. But here’s what I want to know. Under what definition of “anti-defamation” work is defending Romney’s, well, defamation a good fit, but condemning Romney’s meeting with Walesa not worth the time?

To get the answer, read the rest.

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