Farewell to Foxman, murmurs about Oren


At Abe Foxman’s farewell, there were the hugs, there were the recollections of the hugs, and there was the sheer diversity of the huggers.

Abe likes to hug, and he hugged everyone who came out to the June 17 gala marking his retirement from the Anti-Defamation League after 50 years, the past 28 leading the civil rights agency.

So plenty of people got an Abe embrace: About 1,200 were in attendance, necessitating the use of the balconies in the vaulted Waldorf Astoria ballroom.Onstage there were tributes from Jews, Muslims and Christians, from prominent liberals and conservatives — a testament to Foxman’s blunt diplomacy and his ability to reach across divides.

At the tables, and between the tables, there was chatter about … Michael Oren.

It was the conversation opener in just about every encounter I experienced or overheard: What is the former Israeli ambassador to the United States thinking? Even Abe brought it up right after, yes, he hugged me.

The timing was coincidental: Foxman’s party occurred the same week that Oren’s publicists were peddling advance publicity for the June 23 release of his memoir, “Ally.” But the contrast was real and pronounced: Bidding farewell to the career of a man who built bridges, the crowd was contemplating the next moves of a man who seemed eager to burn them.

Oren, the U.S.-born envoy from 2009 to 2013 who had been the darling of the American Jewish community — and now a Knesset member in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition — earlier in the week had published an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal charging President Barack Obama with the “deliberate” abandonment of core principles in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Oren’s strident tone, and his willingness to cast blame, baffled a crowd of Jewish insiders whose experience of him was as a diplomat, one who was adept at keeping even-keeled during tensions between Netanyahu and Obama. The man who often said while he was ambassador that the two leaders engaged as friendly equals, as would any “two guys educated in Cambridge, Mass.”

Sideline remarks are off the record, but you get the flavor of how a crowd of ADL acolytes reacted to Oren 2.0 in the statement that Foxman released after the ex-ambassador published another article related to his book release.

Oren, in an essay that appeared in Foreign Policy, “veers into the realm of conspiracy theories, and with an element of amateur psychoanalysis he links U.S. policies in the Middle East to the president’s personal history of having a Muslim father,” Foxman said.

Then, Foxman suggests, Oren “takes it it a step further by suggesting this ‘worldview’ of Muslims and Islam has driven the president to embrace the Muslim world at the expense of both Israel and U.S. national security interests. This results in borderline stereotyping and insensitivity.”

Oren in the essay argues that Obama hoped to win over the “ummah,” the Islamic term for “a community of believers that transcends borders, cultures, and nationalities.”

“I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands,” Oren wrote. “I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”

There were no musings on abandonment at the ADL fete — it was hard to think of being left alone when Foxman’s hugs kept surfacing. I counted six references.

“He’s such a good hugger,” said Susan Rice, the national security adviser.

“Have you ever been hugged by Abe Foxman?” Rabbi Arthur Schneier asked. “It comes from the heart.”

“There’s so much hugging in the room tonight,” said Joel Klein, the former New York City schools czar, who looked a little like he needed a hug after Katie Couric, the evening’s emcee, revealed that he had blown her off after a blind date in a distant past.

Foxman, 75, received accolades from two top Obama administration officials, Rice and U.N. envoy Samantha Power, and from Tom Friedman, The New York Times columnist who has clashed with Foxman on Israel policy. Friedman revealed that Foxman had been his counselor at Herzl Camp in Wisconsin, where a highlight each year was re-creating the Dreyfus Affair.

Foxman’s retirement also merited an appearance by Roger Ailes, the Fox News Channel chief who faced Foxman’s wrath in the past over the conspiracy musings of one-time Fox personality Glenn Beck.

The entire evening was a testament to Foxman’s ability to argue, and then make up, often within the same conversation.

“Within minutes of our first phone call I felt like family,” Power said, describing their first interaction in Obama’s first term, when she was on the National Security Council. “We were yelling, interrupting one another and swearing. I think I almost ended this first phone call saying ‘Love you.’ ”

(Power also related on odd tale about butt-dialing Foxman on her way to dropping off her child at school one morning, and hearing his anguished voice emerge from her backside. The fact that in context, the story did not at all seem weirdly inappropriate testifies to the evening’s intimacy.)

Eboo Patel, a Muslim who heads Interfaith Youth Ministries, described engaging with Foxman after the ADLregistered its objections to a Muslim-led bid to build an Islamic community center and monument to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks near the World Trade Center, the site of the terrorism in New York.

Patel said Foxman reached out, and while he still believes Foxman was wrong to object to the center, Patel readily accepted an offer to work together to support the construction of mosques elsewhere in the United States. Foxman, Patel said, had the “ability to disagree on some fundamental things and work together on other fundamental things.”

That’s been my professional experience with Foxman and his headline-worthy tendency toward the controversial sound bite. If you ask him if he thinks that maybe, this time, he’s crossed a line, he admits he’s wrong, or he admits you might have a point, or he says he disagrees, but you know what, that’s OK. I’ve called him out once or twice over the years, and that pretty much characterizes the follow-up calls.

Foxman’s reach was evident in the video messages from Obama and his White House predecessor, George W. Bush, and the photo gallery on a constant loop. Most striking: Abe, grinning, one arm around Henry Kissinger, the other around the Rev. Jesse Jackson. What conversation did that photographer interrupt?

Call it the Foxman follow-up. Over 50 years, it’s helped him reach interesting places.

“Yes, I’m jealous you seem to have a lot more access to the pope than I do,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

But, Dolan concluded, “You’ve made me a lot more sensitive, a lot more aware.”

The next time Foxman and Oren meet, if they meet again, maybe Abe can deliver one of those hugs.

Charlie Sheen, John Galliano and the Jews


Expressions of anti-Semitism by public figures generally follow a certain script in the media.

The politician/actor/public figure says something construed as offensive/hostile/insensitive to Jews. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, issues a condemnatory statement demanding penance. The offender expresses regret. If he deems it sufficient, Foxman issues his kosher certification absolving the sinner.

The recent incidents involving Christian Dior designer John Galliano and actor Charlie Sheen didn’t quite follow the script.

In Galliano’s case, it was Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman, a Jewish darling and Miss Dior model, who took the lead in responding to a video of Galliano’s drunken rant in a Paris cafe extolling Hitler and disparaging Jews.

“I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments that surfaced today,” Portman said in a statement last week. “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

Galliano was peremptorily fired, and French authorities opened an investigation into whether Galliano should be prosecuted for violating France’s anti-racism laws.

Then there was the Sheen drama, whose script seemed lifted straight from the loony bin.

The actor, a notorious loose cannon and habitual drug user, unleashed a vitriolic tirade against Chuck Lorre, the creator of his hit CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men,” referring to Lorre by his original, Jewish name: Chaim Levine.

Foxman, apparently undecided about whether this was anti-Semitism or merely a personal spat between Sheen and Lorre, issued a statement declaring it “borderline anti-Semitism.”

Sheen then went off the rails, giving increasingly bizarre interviews, calling on Foxman to apologize and, after days of nonstop media coverage, announcing that he couldn’t be anti-Semitic because he is himself Jewish.

The coup de grace came Monday, when CBS fired Sheen and the actor then appeared on a Beverly Hills rooftop waving a machete and declaring himself “Free at last.”

What are we Jews to make of this?

For the most part, the Jewish reaction broke down in one of two ways: Either the incidents showed that anti-Semitism is alive and well, or they said more about celebrity stupidity—and Jewish overreaction—than about anti-Semitism.

Or both. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wryly noted “the disproportionate interest drunks and lunatics take in Jews and their meddling and mysterious ways.”

Coupling the Sheen and Galliano remarks together with Louis Farrakhan’s recent speech blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death and Muammar Gadhafi’s accusation that Israel is behind the Libyan rebellion, Foxman said the incidents are “a symptom of what we have been warning about for some time—that the inhibitions and shame about displaying anti-Semitism are eroding.”

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer said the swift reaction to the Galliano and Sheen remarks show just the opposite, “that anti-Semitism in the 21st century, despite what certain august bodies such as the Anti-Defamation League tell us, is simply unfashionable.”

The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle added into the mix Fox News host Glenn Beck’s recent remarks comparing Reform rabbis to radical Islam—an incident that followed the usual script of callous remark, ADL condemnation, apology, ADL acceptance—declaring them incidents of stupidity rather than anti-Semitism.

To “point the finger of the Jewish establishment and call Sheen anti-Semitic cheapens the weight of an ADL statement,” the Chronicle editorialists wrote. “Jews must be wary not to label every criticism, awkward comparison or stupid remark as anti-Semitic.”

To confuse matters further, Galliano reportedly told a “member of his inner circle” that he has Sephardic Jewish roots. That would give his anti-Semitic rant a Bobby Fischer-esque character—except that Galliano, unlike the late, self-hating Jewish chess champion, issued an apology by week’s end.

“Anti-Semitism and racism have no part in our society,” Galliano said. “I unreservedly apologize for my behavior in causing any offense.”

The ADL promptly declared Galliano forgiven.

“We look forward to working with him to move forward in helping to repair the damage so that he can contribute once again toward the fight against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination,” Foxman said.

Perhaps the greatest question about all this celebrity brouhaha is why the media is so transfixed by these episodes.

The same question, of course, may be asked of JTA and our decision to weigh in on the subject with a story of our own. The answer, of course, is you, dear reader: We’d probably stop writing such stories if you’d stop reading them.

Charlie Sheen’s rant ‘borderline anti-Semitism,’ ADL’s Foxman says


Read more about Charlie Sheen’s rant at JewishJournal.com/HollywoodJew.

Actor Charlie Sheen’s rant against the executive producer of his hit TV sitcom is “borderline anti-Semitism,” the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman said.

Sheen, in a radio interview Feb. 24 and in a letter posted on the TMZ website, called the “Two and a Half Men” executive producer Chuck Lorre a “contaminated little maggot,” said he was a “clown” and “stupid,” and referred to him several times as Chaim Levine.

Lorre’s given name is Charles Michael Levine.

“By invoking television producer Chuck Lorre’s Jewish name in the context of an angry tirade against him, Charlie Sheen left the impression that another reason for his dislike of Mr. Lorre is his Jewishness,” Foxman, ADL’s national director, said in a statement. “This fact has no relevance to Mr. Sheen’s complaint or disagreement, and his words are at best bizarre, and at worst, borderline anti-Semitism,”

Sheen went on the defensive over the weekend, saying his statements were not anti-Semitic. He said in his letter to TMZ that he was “referring to Chuck by his real name because I wanted to address the man, not the bulls**t TV persona.”

“So you’re telling me, anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez, I can claim they are anti-Latino?” Sheen continued, referring to his given name.

The CBS network on Feb. 25 canceled filming of the final four episodes of the popular sitcom starring Sheen and could cancel the show all together.

Glenn Beck under fire over George Soros comments


Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck spent spent several days taking aim at billionaire businessman and philanthropist George Soros, but so far—at least within Jewish circles—the barrage appears to be backfiring.

On his radio and TV shows last week, Beck portrayed Soros as running a shadow government bent on controlling the global economy. Some liberal pundits and organizations responded by accusing Beck of relying on anti-Semitic tropes. But the widest range of condemnations came in response to Beck’s Nov. 10 comments on Soros’ childhood activities during the Holocaust:

“And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off,” Beck said. “And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening.

“Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. As a 14-year-old boy, I don’t know what you would do.”

In fact Soros, then 13 and living under the protection of a non-Jewish Hungarian, on one occasion joined the older man when he was ordered by Nazis to inventory the estate of a Hungarian Jew who had fled. On another occasion, the local Jewish council had ordered Soros to deliver letters to local lawyers. Soros’ father, Tivadar, realized the letters were to Jewish lawyers and meant to expedite their deportation. He told his son to warn the targets to flee and ended the boy’s work with the council.

Soros, 80, has been slammed in some Jewish circles over his calls for increased U.S. engagement in the Middle East peace process and his strong criticism of Israeli policies. In recent months, some pro-Israel advocates and pundits have ripped J Street for accepting his money and lying about it. And during the Bush administration, it was Soros who was accused of unfairly playing the Holocaust card when he compared the Bush administration to the Nazis and communist regimes.

This time around, though, the loudest Jewish voices belong to those defending Soros from Beck’s attacks.

“This is the height of ignorance or insensitivity, or both,” said Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“As a kid, at 6, I spit at Jews—does that make me part of the Nazi machine?” Foxman said, referring to the fact that as a child he was protected by non-Jews who had not revealed his background to him. “There’s an arrogance here for Glenn Beck, a non-Jew, to set the standards of what makes a good Jew.”

Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called Beck’s attack “improper.”

“When you make a particularly monstrous accusation such as this, you have to have proof,” he said. “I have seen no proof.”

In the clearest sign that Beck may have overreached within Jewish circles, Jonathan Tobin of the conservative journal Commentary also took to the blogosphere to slam Beck.

“Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading,” wrote Tobin, who noted that he and his publication can usually be found in the camp of those bashing Soros. “There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo.”

Tobin echoed some liberal pundits in accusing Beck of taking Soros’ comments out of context, including a recording of the philanthropist discussing his efforts to undermine various governments. According to Tobin, Beck failed to make clear that Soros was talking about his support of Cold War-era dissidents in the Soviet Union and Soviet satellite states.

“In other words,” Tobin wrote, “while Soros’s current politics is abhorrent, he was one of the good guys when it came to the fight against Soviet Communism.”

Beck used the Nov. 12 edition of his radio show to defend himself against claims of anti-Semitism by describing himself as a “friend of the Jews.” He also argued that it was ridiculous to accuse him of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes since he has spoken out against efforts to demonize bankers.

Besides, Beck said, Soros is anti-Israel. Beck’s co-host, Pat Gray, added that Soros was “probably anti-Jewish.”

During the same broadcast, Beck mistakenly claimed that the ADL was accusing him of anti-Semitism regarding the comments about Soros. In fact, Foxman and the ADL never used the A-word, instead calling Beck’s comments about Soros “completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top.”

Unrelated to the flap over Soros, Foxman sent Beck an Oct. 22 letter apologizing for an ADL direct-mail piece that included Beck in a list of celebrities who had made anti-Semitic remarks over the past year.

“Even though we may disagree from time to time,” Foxman wrote, “I know that you are a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.”

During his Nov. 12 radio broadcast, Beck also discussed having directed his staff to investigate whether any of Soros’ foundations or organizations had given money to the ADL. As it turns out, the ADL has denied receiving money from Soros. The organization did, however, recently organize a fund-raising dinner to honor Beck’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

This is not the first time that Beck has found himself being criticized by Jewish groups over comments relating to the Holocaust. Several Jewish leaders confronted Beck after he said during the recent election season that terms like “social justice” lead to death camps.

In response to those complaints, Fox News president Roger Ailes and vice president Joel Cheatwood met in August with three Jewish organizational leaders: Simon Greer, the director of Jewish Funds for Justice; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Subsequently Beck sent Greer a note saying that he understood “the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in human history.” Last week, in response to the broadcasts about Soros, Greer said that Beck and Fox had made a “mockery of their professed understanding.”

Greer sparked controversy following the meeting with Fox officials by claiming that they had sided with Jewish leaders. Fox officials and other sources familiar with the meeting disputed Greer’s account, saying that Ailes and Cheatwood simply expressed sympathy for their concerns but never criticized Beck.

More on this story at JewishJournal.com/glenn_beck.

D.C. interfaith summit denounces anti-Muslim bigotry


An interfaith summit of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders denounced anti-Muslim bigotry.

In a statement released by the group, which represented the majority of the country’s Jews, Muslims and Christians, participants announced that they came together Tuesday in Washington, D.C., “to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community.”

The emergency summit was called by the Islamic Society of North America and co-organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Representatives from the Reconstructionist movement, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding founded by Rabbi Marc Schneier and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization of more than 125 Jewish community relations councils and 14 national agencies, also were in attendance.

Summit participants included the national leadership of the mainstream Protestant, evangelical Christian, Baptist and Catholic churches, as well as Muslim and Jewish leaders.

Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center is among several in the group scheduled to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to coordinate Muslim outreach efforts with the Obama administration.

The group called upon religious clergy to join efforts to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry and hate violence, saying “leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions.”

Also Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League announced the formation of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques to monitor and respond to anti-Muslim bigotry related to efforts to build mosques across the United States. The coalition is expected to begin functioning in about two weeks, according to ADL national director Abraham Foxman.

In Reversal, U.S. to Join U.N. Rights Council


The United States will seek to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, reversing its policy of shunning the council and prompting concern among some Jewish groups.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced it would participate in May elections for a seat on the 47-member council, “with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.” The Bush administration had withheld U.S. membership from the Geneva-based council for its failure to confront human rights abusers and its singling out of Israel for condemnation.

“The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organization’s genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement announcing the decision.

“Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the Council to be balanced and credible,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said. “The U.S. is seeking election to the Council because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights. We hope to work in partnership with many countries to achieve a more effective Council.”

Since its creation in 2006 to replace the widely discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the council has passed 32 resolutions; 26 have been critical of Israel, according to UN Watch. More than half of the council’s members fall short of basic democracy standards, according to Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group. And in the past two years the council has moved to eliminate its country-specific special experts investigating human rights abuses in Darfur, Congo, Cuba, Belarus and Liberia.

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about the Obama administration’s decision.

“There is no question that the U.S. can play a decisive role in making U.N. institutions more effective, but the Human Rights Council has deep systemic flaws,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “We remain concerned that the U.S. decision to join the Council before meaningful reforms are put into motion may not achieve this desired goal.”

The World Jewish Congress echoed that sentiment. “There are so many players on the Human Rights Council that do not have our interests at heart that I think it will mobilize against the things that the United States is going to fight for,” said Betty Ehrenberg, a spokeswoman for the WJC. “I’m not sure at this moment that the Human Rights Council is free enough of its past and present difficulties and complications to make this effort fruitful at this moment.”

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, said he welcomes the U.S. decision, “but only if it’s to vigorously push back against the world’s worst abusers.” He added, “The council is worse than ever before, pathologically obsessed with scapegoating Israel, while turning a blind eye to millions of human rights victims around the world.”

Zwick’s ‘Defiance’ brings heroes of Jewish anti-Nazi resistance to screen


Edward Zwick, director and co-writer of “Defiance,” which dramatizes the World War II partisan resistance led by the three Jewish Bielski brothers, confided to an audience of Anti-Defamation League delegates why he made the film.

“When I was a boy in the Midwest during the early 1950s, we used to play games emulating the heroics of our soldiers during the Second World War,” he began.

But all the time, young Zwick felt a gnawing sense of shame that Europe’s Jews, according to all accounts of the time, had gone to their deaths meekly, without fighting back.

But once he read the amazing story of the Bielski brothers, who not only fought the Nazis, but also struggled with hostile local populations and anti-Semitic Soviet troops, Zwick gradually discovered that there were hundreds of similar reports on Jewish resistance fighters.

“My greatest hope for the film is that another 15-year-old boy in the Midwest will see it and will never feel the shame I did,” Zwick concluded.

After the screening, Zwick, national ADL director Abe Foxman, and the audience engaged in a lively discussion on the film’s impact.

Foxman brought a special perspective to the discussion as a child Holocaust survivor who had actually known two of the Bielski brothers.

For the first time, he said, the film reveals the truth about the collaboration of many Lithuanians, Poles and Ukrainians with the Nazi conquerors, and exposes the pervasive anti-Semitism among Soviet soldiers.

Surprisingly, Foxman was unsure how “Defiance” will be received by Jewish viewers. “I am not certain whether we are ready to embrace fighting Jews,” he declared.

But judging by the audience applause and comments, Foxman’s fears may well be unfounded.

There’s too much religion in presidential campaign, says ADL’s Foxman


NEW YORK (JTA)—The political campaign season is now in high gear as the curtain falls on the Democrats in Denver and the Republicans in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

While much of the media’s focus has been on handicapping the candidates and their chances in November, we would like to call attention to one less-publicized aspect of the U.S. political scene in 2008, which we find troubling.

This year, there have been increasing signs that the presidential race will present the American public with a profoundly unsettling infusion of religion and religiosity.

The trend toward this growing insertion of faith into the presidential race was first evident in Denver, and then equally so in the Twin Cities.

At the Democratic National Convention, the program included panels on “How an Obama Administration will Engage People of Faith,” “Moral Values Issues Abroad,” “Getting Out the Faith Vote” and “Common Ground on Common Good.”

Members of the clergy from across the religious spectrum had a significant presence, conducting Scripture readings at a multifaith “kickoff event” and offering invocations and benedictions. There was a clear effort to be interdenominational, but it was also apparent that the Democrats felt compelled to infuse religion into their convention in order to be politically viable.

At the Republican convention, religiously themed events played a prominent role as well. Members of the clergy led the convention in prayer each day, and there was considerable time devoted to discussing subjects such as “faith-based initiatives and family values,” which one Republican spokeswoman recently identified as being “at the heart of our party.”

There was less focus on religious diversity and less of an effort to call public attention to the convention’s religious content, probably because it was less of a departure from past Republican programs.

In raising our concerns, we mean no disrespect to religion or to family values. But there comes a point when being open about faith crosses a subtle line into pandering.

Some of what we have been seeing in this campaign is excessive and aggressive. It goes beyond a candidate’s discussing how religion shapes his or her worldview. Rather, it’s saying, “Vote for me because I’m a person of faith”—and that is directly contrary to the constitutional principle that there shall be no religious test for public office.

Both parties seem to have reached the conclusion that appealing to religious voters is good politics. But what kind of message does it send, in our religiously diverse society, when the two major presidential candidates sit in a church and forthrightly answer Pastor Rick Warren’s questions about their personal relationship with Jesus?

Renewed faith-based initiatives, religious outreach teams and religious programming at the conventions all work to curry favor with those who care which party is most favorable toward the religious.

This may be good politics, but it is not healthy for our nation.

This is not to say that Americans should oppose candidates who are religious, or that candidates shouldn’t feel free to discuss their religious beliefs with the body politic. It is understandable that candidates, from time to time, will want to express their religious beliefs—and how their faith will inform and influence their policymaking. And there’s nothing wrong with a candidate expressing his or her religious perspective—especially when confronted with misinformation, innuendo and rumor.

However, appealing to voters along religious lines can be divisive, and it is certainly contrary to the American ideal of including all Americans in the political process.

It is deeply troubling when religion is no longer just an element in understanding the character of a candidate but becomes a central part of a party’s efforts to win votes or to pander to a certain religious group or constituency. Government should not endorse, promote, or subsidize religious views—and particular religious views should not be the determining factor in public-policy decision making.

Anyone who legitimately aspires to public office in the United States must be prepared to set an example and to be a leader for all Americans, no matter his or her faith, or whether he or she even has a faith.

When candidates campaign, they should be encouraging voters to make decisions based on an assessment of their qualifications, their integrity and their political positions, not on how religious they are.

The next time a debate moderator asks the candidates to discuss their personal relationship with God, it would be refreshing to hear an answer similar to the one President Kennedy gave nearly 48 years ago, when he confronted questions about his Catholicism: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Religion, he was saying, is part of him, but it does not define him, and it should not be the primary lens through which Americans view him.

In this season, it is important to remind all political players that in this religiously diverse nation, there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling.

(Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”)

Salvin Group Fights ADL


At least one issue left in the wake of the firing of David Lehrer has been resolved.

On Wednesday, the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced it had reached a settlement with Lehrer, whom ADL National Director Abraham Foxman fired last December in a move that shocked and angered many Angelenos.

Lehrer characterized the settlement as a "mutually satisfactory agreement" whereby the national office acknowledged his many years of service and contributions to the organization as well as to the Los Angeles community. The settlement bars Lehrer from commenting on details of the agreement, but the former regional director said he continues to be grateful for all the support he has received and that he hopes the local organization can now be free to rededicate itself to the important work at hand.

But if that wound has been somewhat healed, the firing left another one still open: the national office’s relationship with its young leadership in Los Angeles. The veteran members of the Los Angeles branch expressed shock and dismay at Lehrer’s firing. But in the weeks after the news broke, it was mainly the young leaders who stood up and roared.

"I am passionate about the ADL because of David’s being passionate," said Alicia Duel, 34, a consultant with the Entertainment Industry Foundation who became involved with the Jewish organization through its Salvin Leadership Development Institute, a program aimed at adults ages 27-45. "The organization had his personality. I don’t know what happened [between him and Foxman] but the way that it was done was wrong.

As Jewish organizations work hard to curry support among the next generation of leaders, the dissent is potentially very harmful to the ADL.

Duel was one of the proponents of an amendment made to a resolution voted on at a Jan. 22 meeting of the ADL’s Southwest Pacific Regional board and executive committee. The resolution, which was defeated, demanded an independent evaluation be performed to determine Foxman’s ability to lead the ADL. But the amendment, which was drafted by members of the Salvin group and calls for the ADL’s national commission to hold outside evaluations of all regional directors and the national director every three years, passed. It is unclear, however, what weight the amendment holds with the national office.

Another Leadership Institute alumni, Alicia Bleier, accomplished what even the press, with all its hounding, has not been able to do: get a response directly from Foxman. Bleier said she gives Foxman credit for agreeing to meet with her.

"It would have been very easy to dismiss my letter. I’m not a huge donor, yet I do think he realizes the necessity of the young leadership to the survival of the ADL," she said, adding that she thought the meeting was productive despite its inconclusive outcome. The national leaders "are beginning to understand the depths of frustration and the depths of the problems."

Bleier, Duel and other Salvin alumni say they believe it is imperative that Foxman, Tobias and other members of the national board come to Los Angeles and speak directly to lay leaders here. According to ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum, a trip scheduled for President’s Day weekend was canceled because of a death in Tobias’ family but will be rescheduled sometime in March.

"I’ve been speaking with a group who want to do something about de-Balkanizing this city in a real way and I’m very excited about it," Lehrer said. "Los Angeles isn’t like New York or Chicago, where everyone has a chance to walk on the street together and meet all kinds of different people. Here we get in our hermetically sealed cars and never get a chance to know each other. I want to do something to change that."

Duel said she hopes the whole incident involving Lehrer will continue to energize the young leaders to stay involved with the ADL. "The ADL does amazing things and we’re not trying to undermine that in any way. Nobody wants to leave, we just want to make the organization better."