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The Defamation League

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To delve deeply almost anywhere into the arguments over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to invite an overload of irony, but let us focus for one moment on a fracas caused by Abe Foxman, national director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League. Irony No. 1 is that a "league," as such, does not exist. Foxman is it. (When asked, for a New York Times profile, whom in the organization besides himself a reporter might interview, Foxman "couldn't think of anyone.") Irony No. 2? Under Foxman, "antidefamation" is not really the ADL's line; defamation is.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Take, for example, Foxman's recent attack on Bill Moyers (a longstanding friend and occasional supporter of my work). When Moyers broadcast a less than laudatory commentary about Israel's Gaza invasion, Foxman accused the veteran journalist and liberal icon of--I kid you not--"moral equivalency, racism, historical revisionism, and indifference to terrorism." (You can read it online, together with Moyers's response.) The incident says far more about Foxman than Moyers. As M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum observed, Moyers "is one of the most admired figures in America. This attack will harm not at all. It will, in fact, enhance his reputation just as Ed Murrow's was enhanced by the attacks on him during the McCarthy era." Still, it is demonstrative of the maximalist Manichaean mindset that characterizes so much of American Jewish officialdom. Among Moyers's myriad sins, says Foxman, was his "ignorance of the terrorist threat against Israel, claiming that checkpoints, the security fence, and the Gaza operation are tactics of humiliation rather than counter-terrorism." Now really: is it so hard to imagine that the checkpoints, security fence and Gaza operations are tactics of both humiliation and counter-terrorism? Where, exactly, would be the contradiction?

But for the likes of Foxman, any action Israel takes is de facto defensive and solely in the interests of peace, no matter how warlike. He goes so far as to attack Barack Obama's choice of former Senator George Mitchell as the US envoy to the region because--get this--Mitchell is "fair" and "meticulously even-handed," and Foxman says he is "not sure the situation requires that kind of approach." Foxman's moral compass has gotten so twisted, he has the ADL working to undermine Congressional resolutions condemning genocide--specifically, that committed by Turks against the Armenians. Foxman does not dispute that genocide took place; rather, he argues that it would be inconvenient for Turkish (and Israeli) Jews were Congress to take note of it. So we have reached a point where an organization founded by Jews in 1913 to "secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike" is now in the business of defaming those with whom its director disagrees and purposely turning a blind eye to genocide. In light of the desire of so many anti-Semites to treat the Holocaust in a similar fashion, Foxman's position strikes this Jew at least as one too many ironies to be tolerated.

What's more, the defamation of Moyers escalated further. Following Foxman's fusillade, New York Times neocon William Kristol inserted in a regular column--yet another devoted as usual to the majesty of George W. Bush's leadership--an attack on Moyers for allegedly "lambast[ing] Israel for what he called its 'state terrorism,' its 'waging war on an entire population' in Gaza." Like Foxman, Kristol also implied that Moyers was guilty of racism.

Again, read the text of Moyers's remarks. Neither Kristol nor Foxman notes his stated belief that "every nation has the right to defend its people. Israel is no exception, all the more so because Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead," or his deep concern about the growth of "a radical stream of Islam [that] now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth." Yet despite the fact that Bill Moyers is, well, Bill Moyers, the Times editors not only allowed Kristol to deliberately distort and decontextualize his remarks; they would not allow Moyers to defend himself in his own words in response. After the PBS journalist submitted a letter to the editor, he was told, "We will not print that 'William Kristol distorts or misrepresents,' and the editors will not budge." They insisted that the letter be changed for publication to read, "I take strong exception to William Kristol's characterization," and they truncated much else.

This is pathetic and ridiculous. If one were to survey, say, 1,000 journalists or even 1,000 New York Times readers and ask them whether they were more likely to trust the judgment, honesty or bravery of Bill Moyers or of William Kristol, my guess is that the result would be a landslide victory in Moyers's favor that would dwarf that of Barack Obama's over John McCain. I'd even bet the same would be true in a private survey of Times editors. Yet publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal--rather than admit their colossal mistake in giving so prestigious and influential a perch to Kristol, who was at long last ushered off the page with his next column just one week later--instead chose to empower his McCarthyite slanders against one of America's most distinguished patriots and practitioners of their profession.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the celebrated author and patriot David Grossman termed the Gaza operation "just one more way-station on a road paved with fire, violence and hatred," and added, "our conduct here in this region has, for a long time, been flawed, immoral and unwise."

When Foxman and Kristol have the guts to go after Grossman--who, after all, lost his son two years ago in a war both men supported from the comfort of their armchairs--then perhaps we might take seriously their complaints about the relatively moderate sentiments expressed by Moyers. Until then, I fear, we must chalk up their ideological fanaticism and their moral and intellectual confusion as yet another casualty of this endlessly destructive conflict.

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