Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Abe Foxman Crying Wolf about Andrew Sullivan’s Anti-Semitism

Apparently, Abe Foxman called Andrew Sullivan an anti-Semite in his remarks to the Jewish Council on Public Affairs’ national meeting. I say “apparently” because neither I nor anyone else can confirm the veracity of the twitter feed from the meeting which carried the quote. Of course, nobody will deny its accuracy either. That’s bad.
Andrew Sullivan is many things, and some of his recent analysis of the Middle East conflict has been woefully inadequate. Lately, he finds it easier to substitute easy moral equivalence for the more complex reality in which there is blame enough to go around, without claiming that all bad acts are equally bad. But be that as it may, bad analysis does not an anti-Semite make, especially since the latter is a claim about a person’s beliefs, and inner beliefs can not be measured by a few comments; no matter how objectionable Mr. Foxman or anybody else finds them.
But a tiff between Foxman and Sullivan is not the real story here. In truth, Sullivan seems to love these dust ups – they are simply grist for his ever-churning word mill. If anything he should send Foxman a thank-you note. And the fact that Foxman labels Sullivan a Jew-hater, is hardly surprising. It’s simply one more case of the old adage that when all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.
The story here is the dangerous devaluation of a real and ugly phenomenon i.e. anti-Semitism. Equally distressing, is the fact that Foxman, one of the nation’s leaders in the fight against anti-Semitism, also leads the process of its devaluation as either a meaningful term or a genuine challenge.


There is no question that Jew-hatred persists in this country along with other racial, ethnic and gender-based hatreds, and that both Foxman and the ADL have played important and even heroic roles in combating them. But with Jew-hatred on the decline in this country, and even more importantly, becoming almost exclusively the domain of the least educated and empowered segments of society; it often appears that Foxman is nothing more than a hammer in search of more nails.
In doing so, a great man becomes the boy who cried wolf. And in a world in which real wolves remain, he not only looks foolish, but feeds the belief that ALL claims of anti-Semitism are ridiculous. After all, people will reasonably conclude, look who’s making them!
If you are genuinely concerned about real anti-Semitism, stop tossing out that charge every time someone does something which any Jew finds disagreeable. The charge of anti-Semitism is powerful, which is why people love to use it. But it is powerful precisely because it describes an ugly state of mind and the potentially deadly actions which flow from it. If regularly used to describe anything else, the term, like the boy’s cries of wolf, will lose its potency, including at those moments when real wolves approach.

  • VicAjax

    Thanks for a refreshingly honest response. I’ve long thought that it’s time for Foxman to gracefully retire rather than continuing to undermine the legitimacy of American Jewry with his increasingly shrill and politicized declarations.
    I also happen to oppose the ideology of Netanyahu and his government, but Foxman’s histrionic wolf-crying pre-dates the current Israeli administration by several years.

  • Barry

    What always strikes me as odd about Abe Foxman is this: who elected him to be a leader (much less THE leader) of the Jews? Who does he “represent”? Who does he answer to? It seems that the ADL is Abe Foxman, and Abe Foxman is the ADL. So why is he in a position to determine what’s anti-Semitic, what’s good for the Jews, etc.? I’m sure he’s a fine person, but his self-appointed role is very strange indeed. (And the quote above about his being “a hammer in search of more nails” is priceless.)

  • Larry Snider

    Dear Rabbi Hirschfield,
    I have read a couple of Andrew Sullivan’s books and a fair number of his articles over the past few years. It is important to be specific and neither I nor you know whether Abe Foxman was refering to a specific article, a characterization in an article or to Mr. Sullivan in general. Apparently there were a room full of people who came to JCPA to hear him who do know along with Mr. Foxman himself. I find Mr. Sullivan’s writing often brutally honest and at times just simply brutal to generate the response he desires from readers and pundits alike. He has seen more than his share of the ugly side of the occupation and writes from a place that is full of pain and pathos and a fair amount of hopelessness. I have seen him step over the line and show all his bias against the stong party in an asymetrical war of attrition. It isn’t pretty. It is purposely provocative. But I don’t think it’s generally Anti-Semitic. Which leaves me with my original question about the specifics……?

  • Maurice Eisenstein

    I have rarely read such nonsense portrayed as analysis. The argument between Abe Foxeman and Sullivan are irrelevant to me. I agree that Abe Foxeman is constantly attacking the wrong people who he disagrees with politically and that for him means that they must be anti-Semitic. For example, Foxman considers all conservatives by definition anti-Semitic.
    But, from where do you get the idea that Antisemitism is down? By every measurement it is increasing and continues to have a high rate of occurances? You show your complete ignorance and bias by considering being anti-Jewish with education. The reality is that most of the most severe anti-Jewish actions occur by the most educated. (This was also true of Germany.) The hatred of Jews is most rampant today on U.S. campuses being led by professor with Ph.D.’s.
    I know the liberal Jewish bias does not let one believe this. But it is the professors that hate the Jew today not the working people.

  • C. Attucks

    “I know the liberal Jewish bias does not let one believe this.”
    Wow, what a boldly anti-semitic statement. You’re the anti-semite, friend.

  • jeffrey woodruff

    Sem·ite? ?/?s?ma?t
    1.a member of any of various ancient and modern peoples originating in southwestern Asia, including the Akkadians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs.

  • e.rebus

    It is time for the Americans to tell the Jews to just be quiet. All of the attention to the concerns of the Jews is just wasted effort. If the Jews think we are anti-jewish they should go to their beachhead and wait for their G_D. Is there anyone in Congress with the back bone to tell AIPAC to just shut up. Is there anyone with the strenght of character to tell Abe Foxman to just shut up.

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