In a scathing essayÂ published in this month’s edition of American Jewish Life, Pilcher takes Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League to task for their hypocritical treatment of the genocide committed by the Turks against the Armenian people. Pilcher, who formerly ran the Jewish book blog, TribeWrite, does a pretty thorough job of attacking the moral authority Foxman might of had in writing a book likeÂ “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”
Confronting the bias inÂ “The Israel Lobby” is certainly a noble calling, but Pilcher wonders how Foxman can manage toÂ take a rightfully moral stand onÂ the Holocaust and Israel while taking such a blatantly political position when it comes to the Turks. It just doesn’t add up.
In case you haven’t been keeping score at home, the ADL experienced a small crisis this summer when its New England regional director, Andrew Tarsy, criticized his bosses at the national office for their refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. Tarsy was promptly fired from his job but the public backlash caused Foxman to rehire him a little more than a week later.
That would have been bad enough but Foxman quickly sent a letter to the Turkish prime minister to express his sorrowÂ over what he andÂ the ADL “caused for the leadership and people of TurkeyÂ in the past few days.”Â Â
Here’s how Pilcher described his reaction to the letter:
I was eating lunch when I read that one. My reaction involved an attempt to curse through a mouthful of very hot soup. What exactly was Foxman apologizing for? I wondered if he’d ever thought to express deep sorrow to the leadership and people of Germany. “We had no intention of putting you in the difficult position of having to answer for mass murder,” I imagined he might say, “but you did kind of kill several million of us. We would like to express our deep sorrow over the embarrassment we’ve caused you.”
This is an organization created to fight bigotry generally and anti-Semitism in particular, to make our world better by exposing hatred and holding racism, genocidal or otherwise, to account. Where exactly do they get off apologizing to genocide deniers? In two sentences, Foxman had broken the camel’s back, letting a deluge of missteps and hyperbolic statements turn into the absolute shredding of his organization’s moral authority.
The only hero I see in all this is Andrew Tarsy. His outspokenness forced not only the ADL but also the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish groups to re-examine their thinking and realign their priorities.
Those same groups ought to read Pilcher’s essay if they ever hope to understand the antipathy many Gen X Jews feel toward the alphabet soup Jewish organizations.
As for this Gen X Jew, I became very cynical many years ago about the way some of these organizations adopted the Holocaust as a fundraising vehicle and turned its memory into the focus of American Jewish life. That phenomenon is part of the reason I applauded Tova Reich and her book, “My Holocaust.”
Don’t get me wrong. I care a lot about the Holocaust and I continue to read books about its history even though it’s been covered so extensively. Part of my obsession has to do with my own family’s history. My grandfather and most of his immediate family fled from Nazi Germany before the start of the war and I have an aunt who survived Auschwitz and an uncle who was on the St. Louis.
So, I feel a certain obligation to study the Holocaust and support the efforts of people like Deborah Lipstadt who work to ensure that the accuracy of history does not fall prey to anti-Semites.
But, what concerns me is the way many of my fellow American Jews have replaced Judaism and Torah study with a secular obsession with the Holocaust and ‘combating anti-Semitism.’ It’s a shame because the former has so much more to offer and the latter will never be enough to sustain a Jewish identity.
Since Bradford actually makes this point better than me, I’ll let him have the last word:
I’m not hopeless about this. Abe Foxman and his ilk can’t occupy the stage forever. At the very least, perhaps he could get laryngitis. But I’m not particularly hopeful either. We’ve made a civic religion, eagerly adopted by plenty of Jews who can’t be bothered to meander into a synagogue more than a couple times a year, out of Holocaust remembrance. We’ve replaced a wandering Diaspora of Torah scholars with an affluent American populace of Jews holding up the flame for the Holocaust without bothering to ask ourselves what moral imperatives that memory requires of us.
If we’re not going to ask those questions, and listen to the difficult answers, then we’re probably better off not remembering at all. After all, a false veneer of moral authority in the absence of moral action may be the most immoral thing of all.
Crossposted on Jewish Literary Review.