After only a day of criticism, the Anti-Defamation League has started the process of walking back an unfortunate attempt to shut down debate about Israel in next year’s presidential election. As we wrote on Monday and Tuesday, the “Unity Pledge” put forward by both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee combined some unexceptionable language about Jewish unity and support for the Jewish state with a highly questionable demand that Israel be taken off the table as an issue. Coming as it did on the eve of President Obama’s re-election effort, the only possible purpose for such a pledge was to stifle the growing dissent about his administration’s Middle East policies.
But according to ADL head Abe Foxman, it’s all a big misunderstanding. He now says in a press release that the purpose of the pledge is “to put Israel ahead of politics” while “avoiding harsh and personal rhetoric or tactics in the form of attacks on political opponents’ positions on Israel.” But if that was all it was about, then perhaps that’s what the pledge would have said in the first place. The controversy over the pledge was not the result of what Foxman calls “distortion” by his critics; the fact is, he was caught red-handed in a thinly veiled partisan ploy.
The problem with the “Unity Pledge” is it echoed Jewish Democratic demands we have been hearing for years about shutting down Republican efforts to point out left-wing animus for Israel as well as the Obama administration’s predilection for picking fights with Israel. Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel, his stand on Jerusalem and his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May were all factors in the Republican victory in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District last month. That result and polls showing a decline in Jewish support for Obama have panicked Democrats. The decision of the ADL and the AJC to issue a statement that would serve to legitimize efforts to silence debate about Israel by condemning its use as a “wedge issue” departed from not only their non-partisan status but also undermined their stance as Jewish defense organizations.
ADL’s subsequent statement in which they “strongly encourage measured and thoughtful expressions of different points of view regarding U.S. policy toward Israel” helps undo some of the damage their pledge has done. Foxman’s comments should also serve to chasten Democrats who seek to remove Obama’s record on Israel from public debate next year. As for the pledge, it should be amended to remove the line about “wedge” issues or scrapped entirely.
We can only hope the disaster the ADL and the AJC have created for themselves will serve to deter Jewish groups from ever playing politics in this manner again.