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Fire Abe Foxman?

Why it’s his fault that Glenn Beck is free to be Glenn Beck

Marc Tracy
November 12, 2010
Abraham Foxman in 2005.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Abraham Foxman in 2005.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Despite grotesquely mischaracterizing George Soros’ actions as a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust; despite accusing Soros of orchestrating a conspiracy designed to topple economies and currencies and bring the world under his control; despite citing the notoriously anti-Semitic former prime minister of Malaysia and quoting someone else to the effect that Soros is a blood-sucker; despite all of this, it looks as though Glenn Beck is just going to keep on keepin’ on. The left that hates him anyway is going to say his documentary on Soros was anti-Semitic; the right that supports him anyway is going to say it wasn’t; the middle is not going to care.

Is Randy Scheunemann—a top foreign policy adviser to Sarah Palin whose firm also has Soros’ Open Society Institute as a client—a hypocrite? How about all the Jewish contributors to Fox News? The problem is that there is no Archimedean point from which an otherwise neutral observer could stand and declare, “Glenn Beck is being anti-Semitic”; there has been no universally trusted validator who can be cited to someone who denies this. So, while a part of me wants to call up Bill Kristol, and Eric Cantor, and every other prominent Jewish person of the right, and ask them where they stand, I know they will simply say, “Beck wasn’t being anti-Semitic,” and that I will have no rebuttal beyond my own opinions. I have no one to cite as definitive “proof” that Glenn Beck was being anti-Semitic. I cannot put them on the spot, because I have no spot to put them on. (I did request a comment from News Corp. yesterday regarding Simon Greer’s charge that Beck had engaged in “Holocaust revisionism.” I haven’t heard back.*)

The person that I can cite should be Abraham Foxman. The man has run the Anti-Defamation League for nearly a quarter of a century; he is as connected as they come; and on top of that, he is himself a Holocaust survivor. But the most he would say when I reached him yesterday was that certain comments of Beck’s concerning the Holocaust were “horrific” and betrayed a total lack of understanding of the Shoah. What about Beck’s use of tried-and-true anti-Semitic tropes to conjure an evil billionaire Jewish financier working in the shadows to take over the world? “People involved in global finance have been called all kinds of things,” Foxman told me. “I don’t think that’s anti-Semitism.” He reneged even further today to Salon’s Justin Elliott: “I also believe that there are certain things he doesn’t understand, which have led him to make insensitive remarks,” was the strongest statement Foxman could muster. This is not surprising: It was not a month ago that Foxman’s organization honored Rupert Murdoch, Beck’s boss, with its International Leadership Award.

Elliott correctly identifies the problem: the “tension between the ADL’s dual identities as a civil rights organization and a pro-Israel advocacy organization.” Still, imagine a scenario wherein, yesterday, Foxman had said, “I am against George Soros’ opposition to Israel’s government, and I recognize that Glenn Beck has been a friend to Israel. But Beck completely crossed the line, and made statements about Soros that can only be construed as anti-Semitic. He should apologize.” If Foxman does that, I then get to call Kristol, and Cantor, and whoever else, and I do get to put them on the spot, because Foxman is that spot: Do you disagree with Abe Foxman on the anti-Semitism of Glenn Beck?

There are pro-Israel organizations aplenty. The ADL needs to decide if its mission is still “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” as it pledged in 1913. If it does, then it needs to actually, you know, do it. If it doesn’t, then the American Jewish community needs to find someone else.

* A bizarre attribute of the debate is that even those who have called the anti-Semite an anti-Semite have focused on the Holocaust remarks, when—it seems to me, at least—the lowest-hanging fruit, by far, is Beck’s eager citation of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad—who famously said, “The Jews rule the world by proxy. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong”—as an authority on Soros’ perfidy. Ironically, the Jewish community’s famed emphasis on the Holocaust as the sine qua non of anti-Semitism has actually undermined its ability to deal with anti-Semitism that is not directly related to the Holocaust.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.