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Abe Foxman Rationalizes Blanket Spying On American Muslims

Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (R) shakes hands with Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman, during their meeting at the Chigi palace in Rome on November 4, 2010. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP / Getty Images)

Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (R) shakes hands with Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman, during their meeting at the Chigi palace in Rome on November 4, 2010. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP / Getty Images)

Abe Foxman Rationalizes Blanket Spying On American Muslims

by Ali Gharib (Daily Beast)

The Anti-Defamation League turned 100 this week. Renowned for its early anti-racism efforts, the group can, and should, boast of its role in American Jewry’s unabashed and unqualified rise into the nation’s establishment. There’s still, to be sure, remnants of American anti-Semitism; those strains of thought are worthy of a wary eye and vigilant marginalization. The ADL, with its vaunted anti-racist history, ought to be at the forefront of this work. But it just can’t be taken seriously in this task with Abraham Foxman at its helm, not when he uses the occasion of the group’s centennial to rationalize discrimination, that against Muslims. A man with this record—and it’s a growing record—can’t be responsible for fighting anti-Semitism as part and parcel of “all forms of bigotry,” as the ADL claims it does.

Foxman’s seeming tonedeafness to any group other than his co-religionists was on full display in a recent interview with Haaretz. Asked about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, he said, “If there is a clear violation of human rights, we will speak out.” Then immediately queried about one such violation—the disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians under Israeli military rule—he replied, “That’s not our decision to make,” passing the buck to the Israeli government. In other departments, Foxman pointed to Latinos and American blacks as lingering bastions of anti-Semitism; of the latter, he said, “The only leadership that now exists in that community is Louis Farrakhan.” Leave aside that Farrakhan is fingered as American blacks’ only leader, what astounds is that, by his own lights, Farrakhan can only put 20,000 people in the street. Yet, according to Foxman, fully one third of Americans blame Jews for Jesus’s death—a well-worn anti-Semitic trope. That doesn’t sound like a black problem or a Latino problem, but a Christian problem. Yet, as a group, Christians go unmentioned in the interview.

The most staggering ambivalence about bigotry in Foxman’s Haaretz interview, though, wasn’t about Christians or even Palestinians; it was about American Muslims. Asked by his interviewer, Chemi Shalev, about anti-Muslim discimination, Foxman sought to rationalize it. First, he argued that incidents of anti-Semitism occur more frequently than those related to anti-Muslim bigotry, as if tracking bigotry is a game in which scores are kept. But then Foxman digs deeper. The shameful exchange is worth printing in full (with my emphasis):

Shalev: You don’t think that “Muslim-baiting” is much more acceptable in the mainstream media than, say, “Jew-baiting”? There is a Congressman now who is calling for the authorities to keep track of the entire Muslim community.

Foxman: I don’t think that’s Muslim-baiting. It’s a natural response. It may be wise or unwise. But I think America’s got an issue now, and not only America. You look at France, you look at London, you look at Amsterdam—most of these incidents have come from Muslim communities that have been brought in and are not assimilating. Just like after 9/11, America is now questioning where the balance is between security and freedom of expression: Should we follow the ethnic communities? Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn’t Muslim-baiting—it’s driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.

That Foxman doesn’t balk at the premise of the question—politicians calling for all Muslims to be tracked—might be less galling if not for the fact that there are already programs for blanket spying on the basis of religion by the New York Police Department’s Intel Division. The efforts were revealed in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Associated Press. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg maintained that only direct leads were followed, but that’s impossible to reconcile with an AP report that the NYPD recommended its investigators spy on Shia mosques for no reason other than the fact that most Iranians are Shia. Another investigative report last year by the New York Review of Books chronicled the work of NYPD Intel Division, and found cases of likely entrapment (that is, actual laying bait for Muslims). After much of the AP series had already been published, the ADL gave the head Intel Division an award for—this will sound familiar—”dedication to the safety and security of one of the nation’s largest metropolitan populations.”

Bigotry, of course, can be “driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.” A desire for security is beyond a shadow of a doubt the very animating force behind Pamela Geller’s anti-Muslim activism. To be fair, Foxman has clashed with and blasted Geller, but has nonetheless sided with her on specific issues. In 2010, when Foxman hitched himself to Geller’s anti-Muslim wagon when he came out in favor of a campaign she’d spearheaded to halt construction of a downtown New York Islamic center two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. In that case, too, Foxman explicitly excused bigotry: referring to survivors of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Foxman said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.

Foxman’s become synonymous with the ADL since he took over 26 years ago. His drift from principled anti-bigotry into apology for discimination against Muslims—even by government authorities and in the halls of power—has brought the group ill repute. America may need the ADL for another 100 years, as Foxman suggests inHaaretz. But under his stewardship, the group’s unlikely to deliver. (H/T @ZaidJilani)

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Ali Gharib is a Senior Editor for Open Zion, where he writes about the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. Before joining the Daily Beast, he reported for ThinkProgress, Inter Press Service and other outlets.


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  • Tanveer Khan

    You are as sharp as ever Emir JSB. You are absolutely correct, that is the reason I asked mindy. Thank you also for your compassion.

  • Talking_fish_head

    I think we should rename it to the Pro-Defamation League

  • Just_Stopping_By

    I assumed that you did not ask me directly because you were afraid that I would throw you in a submarine prison for failure to use apostrophes.

    But do not worry, young one — you have found favor in the eyes of the Jewish emir and your orthographic trespasses heretofore have been forgiven.

  • mindy1

    Dafuq is wrong with people? They are acting in a way that is not democratic at all 🙁

  • JD

    Don’t let Israel discriminate against Americans based
    on religion

    on visa waivers for Israel would allow it to keep out those it suspects for any
    reason — including their religion,0,4732441.story

    A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would allow a foreign country, Israel, to discriminate against select groups of American
    citizens — including Americans who have expressed criticism of its policies.
    Disappointingly, the bill, S.B. 462 (also known as the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013), is co-sponsored by
    Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Those who stand to be most affected
    by this piece of legislation are Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. However,
    it may also apply to individuals who wish to visit or work in Israel and/or the
    Palestinian territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. It would enshrine
    into U.S. law a provision allowing another country to discriminate against
    Americans based on their ethnicity or religion.

    The purported intent of the bill,
    originally introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (a California Democrat) and Roy Blount
    (a Missouri Republican) at the behest of American Israel Political Action
    Committee (AIPAC), is to provide Israel entry into the United States’ visa
    waiver program, but with special allowances not afforded any other country.
    Normally, the visa waiver program permits, under certain conditions, foreign
    individuals to enter the United States without a visa. A key aspect of the
    program is reciprocity, meaning that countries admitted into this program must
    also permit Americans to enter their country without a visa. Currently, 37
    countries participate in this mutually beneficial arrangement with the United
    States. All reciprocate by allowing American citizens to cross their borders
    without obtaining visas.

    However, S.B. 462 contains
    discriminatory provisions that allow Israel to bar entry to Americans of Arab
    heritage or Islamic faith, anyone who is viewed to be critical of the actions
    of the Israeli government, or even anyone who is supportive of Palestinian
    rights — this, while Israel would enjoy the full benefit of the program for its
    own people. Rather than requiring reciprocity, the bill, as drafted, requires
    only that Israel make “every reasonable effort” to ensure that
    reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all U.S. citizens. No other waiver
    program nations are granted similar exemptions.


    Israel the only
    democracy in the Middle East my foot

  • I guess we shouldn’t be surprised; the ADL came out against Park51, then had to take it back when their supporters and members started quitting over the hypocrisy.

  • The same way I am mystified at how black Americans can be racist, I don’t understand how someone in a religious minority like Foxman can treat people the way he himself condemns being treated.

  • 1DrM

    Given that the ADL is part of “israel’s” local tentacles there’s nothing surprising about this. What do you expect from an “organization” which was caught red handed spying for Apartheid South Africa on anti-apartheid activists?

  • Tanveer Khan

    Isnt Emir JSB also jewish?
    (Im not really sure why im asking this to you mindy :P)

  • mindy1

    This Jew is frustrated when coreligionists cry bigotry, but then advocate it when it suits them politically.

  • mindy1

    Sorry-he thinks he is speaking for all jews, but he is not 🙁

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Foxman: “Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn’t Muslim-baiting–it’s driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.”

    What a perfect example of justifying bigotry. Foxman essentially says that monitoring mosques isn’t driven by a particular bigotry against Muslims, but rather is driven by fear … due to bigotry against Muslims. Only he doesn’t say the last part. Utterly shameful.

  • JD

    Fresh religious violence in Burma’s Oakkan town

    Crowds of Buddhists are reported to have attacked several Muslim properties and a mosque in Oakkan, a town near Burma’s largest city, Rangoon.

    Writing on his Facebook page, the president’s spokesman Ye Htut said the situation was now under control.

    Religious tensions are high in Burma. In March, at least 40 people died when anti-Muslim violence erupted in the central town of Meiktila.

    On Monday, an official commission reported on deadly clashes in 2012.

    It recommended doubling the number of security forces in Rakhine state, which saw two bouts of ethnic clashes last year which left 190 people dead and 100,000 displaced.

    It also said that the segregation of Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists should continue, but acknowledged that was not a suitable long-term solution.

    The Rohingyas are a stateless group who are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

    The violence in Oakkan erupted after a woman accidentally bumped into a novice monk and knocked his alms bowl onto the ground, the AFP news agency cited Ye Htut’s Facebook post as saying.

    He also reportedly said police had to fire warning shots to disperse the crowds and that despite some shops being destroyed, no buildings were burned down.

    “There were some attacks to the mosque by throwing with stones. No casualties were reported,” a police official also told AFP.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Hey LoonWatch post this please

    Massacre in Nigeria Spurs Outcry Over Military Tactics

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