When it comes to the bitter dispute over whether the deaths of more than a million Armenians at the hands of the Turks was, in fact, an act of genocide, Abraham Foxman has a simple message for American Jews: Butt out.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League gave an Oct. 11 talk at Temple Sholom in Broomall that dealt primarily with the arguments he advances in his new book, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.
He barely touched on the Turkish issue in his lecture, but it's a matter with which he's become identified. His Delaware County appearance happened to fall on the same day that Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States after the U.S. House moved one step closer to passing a resolution labeling the deaths as a genocide, which Turkey has long denied.
"I think that, as painful as the Armenian experience was in 1915, the way to reconcile it is not with a resolution in Congress," said Foxman in an interview after his presentation. "I hope the American Jewish community will also understand that it is not only counterproductive to America's best interests and to Israel's best interests, but also the best interests of Turkey's Jewish community."
The ADL has faced heavy criticism from the Armenian-American community for publicly opposing the proposed congressional resolution and equivocating on whether or not the killing constituted a genocide.
Nearly two months ago, Watertown, Mass. — which has a large Armenian population — severed ties with the ADL and its "No Place for Hate" Program, protesting the ADL's stance vis-à-vis Turkey. Foxman even had a public spat with the head of ADL's New England office, Andrew Tarsy — who was fired soon afterward, but later rehired — over the ADL position on the Armenian genocide.
Foxman added that representatives of the Turkish Jewish community have lobbied U.S. Jewish organizations to stay out of the fray, fearing that their own positions could be compromised. According to news reports, Turkish officials have denied that Jews need fear reprisals. For their part, other American Jewish groups have come down on both sides concerning the congressional resolution.
Foxman spent most of his speech addressing worldwide anti-Semitism, as well as explaining why he felt compelled to write his latest book, The Deadliest Lies — essentially a response to the polemics of former President Jimmy Carter, as well as authors and academicians John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
The ADL director said that, while worldwide anti-Semitism is not as rampant as it was leading up to World War II, things remain as bad as they've been since that time.
Foxman cited everything from the statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the murders of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and French Jew Ilan Halimi as evidence that anti-Semitism not only simmers on the back burner, but can boil over in a deadly way.
"Daniel Pearl was kidnapped as a journalist, but slaughtered as a Jew," declared Foxman. "If you ignore anti-Semitism, if you deny it, you give it credibility, you give it life."
Citing an internal ADL poll, Foxman told the audience that one in three Americans believes that Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to the United States. He used statistics as a segue into his rebuttal to Walt and Mearsheimer's contentions about "The Israel Lobby," as well as Carter's use of the term "apartheid" to describe the current situation in the West Bank.
"There's a legitimate debate now, if you will, about a classic anti-Semitic canard" — namely, the extent of Jewish power, said Foxman.
He noted that, in response to Walt and Mearsheimer's book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, he's been asked to respond to questions about how loyal American Jews really are.
"How powerful are they? Do they control Washington, the Congress, the media? Did they lead us to war in Iraq?" he said he's been asked.
One audience member inquired about whether former Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle — who both pushed for invading Iraq — somehow need to apologize for, in essence, giving Jews a bad name. And did they add fuel to the fire of conspiracy theorists who felt the United States went to war to protect Israel, largely on the advice of Jewish officials?
"That's nonsense. Don't fall for it," he admonished. "You either agree with their advice or you don't.
"But to say we went to war because of the Jews … they did a job and what they believed was in the best interests of the United States. They are loyal American citizens."