Commentary Magazine


The ADL Report

To the Editor:

Midge Decter [“The ADL vs. the ‘Religious Right,’” September 1994] argues that the Anti-Defamation League (which she refers to as “an established and highly respected organization dedicated to the protection and security of the American Jewish community”) in its recent report on the religious Right has indulged in religious bigotry and liberal broadsides against this movement. In fact, the report, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America goes to some lengths in respectfully recognizing the rights of religious conservatives and the legitimacy of their public activism. A few examples make this clear.

  • “Like anyone else, evangelical Christians have the right to organize, to run for office, to lobby, to boycott, to demonstrate, to attempt to implement their views. More than that, a healthy democracy encourages and depends on their doing so.”
  • “[C]ritics err when they imply that the religious Right poses a concern because of its religiosity rather than its platform. The problems raised by the movement are secular.” The ADL study calls the religious Right’s grass-roots organizing a “remarkable democratic exercise.”
  • “[T]hose who object to the religious Right movement too often engage [in] the intolerance and stereotyping they purport to decry. Anti-Christian bigotry may be exaggerated by Pat Robertson and others, but it is not merely a figment in the imagination of evangelicals.”
  • “[M]uch of what this movement says it wants is right: most of us value strong families, better schools, a government that upholds its commitment to religious liberty. These aims have become increasingly vital at a time when our country’s ills appear intractable and when many Americans say they feel dissatisfied, frightened, and angry, part of a society that has lost its ‘guard rails.’”

Miss Decter accuses the ADL of using “guilt-by-association” tactics in the report because we spell out who the players on the religious Right are, and who their associates are—links established by those on the religious Right themselves. In this vein, might Miss Decter herself be using “guilt-by-association” tactics when she derides the ADL report because of a list (which ADL itself supplied in its report) of liberal groups we thanked for assistance in corroborating certain information? All of the organizations we thanked are clearly beyond Miss Decter’s pale, because she sees them only as enemies of the religious Right.

The ADL is accused of dealing dishonestly with the question of stealth candidates. Miss Decter points out correctly that this has been a ploy of the Left as well as the Right. She fails to point out that the Anti-Defamation League has just as diligently bared and criticized the tactic of stealth candidates and organizations on the far Left and among anti-Israel propagandists. Should we have one standard on this issue for the far Left and another for the religious Right?

There is a disingenuous quality to Miss Decter’s criticism because much of what she points out as faults in the report or “nastiness” is just not there. The ADL does not make a case that the religious Right is anti-Semitic. We do not believe that. We pointed out some examples of anti-Semitism or insensitivity to Jewish issues by some on the religious Right—but that is hardly the focus of our report. If we believed that the religious Right was anti-Semitic, we would not, along with other Jewish organizations, have met with the organizations and leaders of the religious Right at a national gathering in November.

Miss Decter asks why we singled out the conservative Christians. First, we didn’t. As Miss Decter notes, we recognize and appreciate the religious Right’s support for Israel—but we also have important differences with them on serious constitutional issues. We have many related interests in the church-state-separation area—interests that go beyond our basic task of fighting anti-Semitism. We have published reports on the far-Right; the far-Left; Middle East policy; European affairs; legal briefs in the areas of free speech, religious accommodation; and in many other areas, such as prejudice-reduction through our program, “A World of Difference.” All of these issues are part of the ADL’s broader mission—to promote a strong, open democracy, supportive of a diverse and tolerant society which we believe is healthy for American and Jewish security. Now, Miss Decter and the religious Right may disagree with us on school prayer, tuition tax credits, creches, and other separation issues, but they have long been on the ADL’s agenda, and we have filed many amicus briefs to prove it. These differences, strong as they are, can and should be expressed in a civil manner. We believe our report does so. We have not demonized the religious Right, and do not deserve to be demonized in return.

Finally, Miss Decter accuses the ADL of using materials more than ten years old to prove “a dark and guilty underside” to Paul Weyrich, the founder and president of the Free Congress Foundation. While we did write about all of those earlier activities—not found to be inaccurate, by the way—we also mentioned Weyrich’s ongoing connection with Laszlo Pasztor who has worked with Coalitions for America at Weyrich’s Washington offices. Pasztor’s history is that of someone who at the age of eighteen joined the fascist Arrow Cross party in his native Hungary. Arrow Cross conducted a brutal reign of terror over Budapest’s Jews. Pasztor was arrested by the postwar coalition government on December 5, 1945. According to his indictment, he “wore the emblem of the [Arrow Cross] party, paid contributions to the annuity fund, gave lectures about party aims, the Jewish question, problems of minorities and landowners, and in 1942 became a district leader of the youth movement of the party, which included 48 organizations.” Because of his Arrow Cross membership and his activities as a youth-group leader, Pasztor was ultimately sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and the loss of political rights for five years.

In the fall of 1988, Pasztor resigned from the Bush campaign’s ethnic-outreach unit (along with seven others) when press accounts exposed his fascist and Nazi connections. Among our alleged sins against Weyrich, Miss Decter somehow neglected to mention that we wrote about his ongoing relationship with Pasztor.

In its report on the religious Right, the ADL did what it has always done—called the shots the way we see them based on documented facts and well-reasoned arguments pursuant to our policies and principles. We are saddened that, in this instance, Midge Decter and others feel that we have betrayed our mandate. The ADL believes that we have enhanced it.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Midge Decter has it right: the Anti-Defamation League, in an unwise move, has declared war on the Christian Right. . . . Other Jewish groups have joined the campaign. But the irony is that the organized Jewish community has launched an effort to separate Jewish children from the public arena in religious day schools, at the very time it is accusing the likes of Pat Robertson of separationist fever.

The reason for this drive is the legitimate fear of a Jewish population decline. . . . There is a consensus among scholars and activists that only a good Jewish education early in life can arrest the rate of intermarriage. Hence, to survive, the American Jewish community must leave the public-school system. But this is the system that Jewish liberals have long endorsed as essential to American democracy and pluralism. These are the schools that Jewish liberalism fiercely wants to remain secular and free of prayer. . . . The Jewish fear of intermarriage, whether day schools are prescribed as a remedy or not, is, in modern Jewish liberal terms, a kind of oxymoron. The liberal Jewish culture emphasizes universalism. Everyone is fungible. If Pat Robertson campaigned against the intermarriage of Christians and Jews, he would get another ADL book written about him. Racist and bigot would be some of the terms hurled at him. Yet Jews have made such a campaign central to their drive for continuity. . . .

There might be a solution to this conundrum if Jews were to find a way back to the religious basis of Judaism, but the ability to solve the paradox of particularism versus universalism is beyond modern American secular Jews.

Nicholas Wolfson
University of Connecticut
School of Law
Hartford, Connecticut

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Midge Decter is on the mark regarding the ADL’s report on the religious Right; I found it to be snide, mean-spirited, petty, and full of the kind of bias and innuendo the ADL usually condemns. . . .

For example, Pat Robertson, whom the report terms the “Prime Mover,” is accused of, among other things, being associated with public anti-Jewish pronouncements . . . in connection with the film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The facts are that the ADL had first been asked by Christian evangelicals, including Robertson, to condemn the film because of what they claimed was its blasphemous nature in regard to the depiction of Jesus. . . . The ADL then told the evangelicals that it could not condemn the film until it had been screened. After the screening, the ADL agreed that the film might be offensive to some Christians, but decided that the controversy was really a theological matter and a question of free speech into which it had no reason to intrude. . . . By that time, some of those who protested the film had engaged in anti-Semitic picketing (the chief officers of the studio that made the film, MCA-Universal, are Jewish). So when the ADL asked Robertson to condemn the picketing, he responded, what about our prior request to condemn the release of The Last Temptation of Christ? And there the matter ended. . . .

The ADL should have promptly condemned the issuance of the film by MCA as being insensitive to the . . . Christian community. The organization should be against the defamation of everyone, not just Jews. If a film had treated Abraham or Moses or Muhammad or Buddha in such a contemptible manner, I am sure the ADL would have issued a protest, and rightly so. . . .

The ADL’s fixation and obsession with eliminating all vestiges of Christianity from the public scene is a mistake that bodes ill for the future. I have to agree with Miss Decter that the current report is a mischievous example of bigotry toward Christians. . . .

Carl B. Pearlston, Jr.
Torrance, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Midge Decter’s “The ADL vs. the ‘Religious Right’” is an illuminating analysis, . . . but it would have been stronger if it had included a comment on the religious implications of the ADL report. Let me supply her with one.

Some months ago I attended a bar-mitzvah service in a Reform temple and listened to a short address delivered by the bar-mitzvah candidate entitled, “Why I Am Proud to Be a Reform Jew.” His pride, the young man proclaimed, stemmed from the fact that, as a Reform Jew, he would be free to practice his faith in any way he wished. He would be subjected to no rigid requirements. As a Reform Jew, he would be free to choose or discard the holidays he cared to observe, eat any food he desired, keep the Sabbath whenever he felt motivated to do so. He could live his Jewish life in this fashion, he announced, and still be received as an equal and important member of his congregation. . . . I was appalled, not only at the young man’s preparation for a Jewish life, but at the warmth with which his words were embraced by the congregation.

I am not suggesting that this incident reflects the theology of all liberal Jews, but I strongly suspect that it is what many practice. I also believe that many, sooner or later, but usually when it is too late to do much about it, become uneasy with this cavalier style of Judaism. Never having transmitted to their children a serious commitment to Jewish practice at home, they erupt in anger mixed with guilt when they hear about a plan by a group of evangelical Christians to introduce a nondenominational prayer in the local public school, or about preparations to erect a crèche on public property. . . .

Orthodox Jews rarely sit around fretting about the conspiratorial designs of the Christian Right. Secure in their adherence to Torah, they have erected an armor of religious conviction that cannot be pierced as easily as that of the liberal Jew. My suggestion to the members of the liberal Jewish community is to learn from their Orthodox brethren: that is, to worry less about the Christian Right and to spend more time raising their children in homes deeply permeated with love and appreciation of Judaism. . . . If that can be done (and I am not implying that it can be accomplished easily), the threat of the Christian Right will be viewed from a more balanced perspective as a normal and appropriate Christian response to the ills of our time.

Egal Feldman
University of Wisconsin
Superior, Wisconsin

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Of course Midge Decter is right. The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America is more about secular political concerns than anti-Semitism. Since the ADL is “dedicated to the protection and security of the American Jewish community,” it seemed to this non-Jew that the study failed in support of that mission. Instead, it needlessly raised unwarranted fears. The boy who cried wolf was not protecting his sheep, nor does the ADL in this endeavor.

Michael Warder
Executive Vice President
Rockford Institute
Rockford, Illinois

_____________

 

Midge Decter writes:

Abraham H. Foxman claims that The Religious Right respectfully recognizes the “rights of religious conservatives and the legitimacy of their public activism,” that, indeed, it “goes to some lengths to do so.” Now, setting aside the fact that no one has accused the ADL of attempting to deprive religious conservatives of their “rights” but only of having done a hatchet job on them for ill-concealed political reasons, I find it interesting that the four passages he cites in illustration of the lengths gone to by the ADL to show its respectfulness all appear before the end of page 3. One of these is from Mr. Foxman’s own foreword to the book—and all of them are torn from their surrounding context.

As for Mr. Foxman’s charges against me—that it is I, not the ADL, who engage in guilt by association; that it is not the ADL, as I claim, but I myself who am guilty of one-sidedness and distortion, and so on—they drive me into that most tiresome of authorial tasks: to repeat what I have already documented.

First, guilt by association. For reasons of space, I mentioned just a few instances of this practice out of many, involving Pat Robertson and Paul Weyrich (the two characters discussed at greatest length in the book). In these an early teacher or acquaintance—or better yet, in the case of Robertson, someone who has at some time or other appeared on his television show!—is cited as evidence that whatever they say, they really harbor certain shady, anti-democratic or anti-Semitic, views. For all one knows, Robertson and Weyrich may or may not have thought and said questionable things, and hung out with questionable people in the course of their no-longer-young lives (so, I may say, have I myself, in a youthful leftist past; Mr. Foxman, no doubt, has been simon-pure). To cite such associations as ipso-facto proof that Robertson and Weyrich are at present dangerous to the American body politic is precisely what is meant by the term “guilt by association.” This is not the same as pointing out that major, acknowledged, sources in the preparation of this book are a number of leftist organizations including, along with People for the American Way and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, feminist and homosexual-rights groups—a circumstance mentioned by me, as it happens, in the context of trying to understand how such an obviously partisan political study came to be part of the traditionally so much more reliable work of the ADL. In any case, Mr. Foxman, tu quoque is the lamest of all forms of argument.

Then there is my “disingenuousness.” This is a curious, one might even say unconsciously revealing, choice of words. What I claim to find in the book, says Mr. Foxman, is just not there: “the ADL does not make a case” that the religious Right is anti-Semitic, only that some of its representatives are “insensitiv[e] to Jewish issues.” Perhaps if one were ingenuous to a fault, one might think that the labored effort to connect Pat Robertson and Paul Weyrich to the Liberty Lobby—or the lengthy discussion of R.J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism, in strength of following and influence the equivalent of the old Jewish Freeland League—are intended only to suggest a certain “insensitivity.” And perhaps if one were ingenuous to a fault, one would also believe that Mr. Foxman’s meeting with leaders of the religious Right proves anything one way or the other.

All this aside, Mr. Foxman does raise one serious point that merits a serious answer: that the ADL has long held positions on school prayer, tuition tax credits, crèches, etc. with which the religious Right passionately disagrees, and that it is important for American democracy that these issues be debated in a civil manner. I do not doubt that, particularly in recent years, some representatives of the Christian conservative community have spoken of the issues surrounding the separation of church and state in a somewhat less than civil manner. But for his part Mr. Foxman should not in all honesty attempt, as he does, to claim that The Religious Right is a civil or respectful book. Church-state questions are after all extremely neuralgic for everyone concerned (though since for more than 30 years now the courts have almost invariably decided against Christian conservatives, an extra measure of charity ought in my opinion to be extended in the weighing of their rhetoric). To engage these questions without passion, therefore, is to sink to the level of inane “brotherhood” chat.

Nevertheless, there is a twofold problem with even the serious part of Mr. Foxman’s letter. For one thing, if what the ADL intended was a book in defense of its own reading of the First Amendment and not merely a Left-liberal attack on the Right, why were such figures as Phyllis Schlafly, America’s most effective anti-feminist, and Father Enrique Rueda, author of a book hostile to the homosexual-rights movement, brought into it? In truth, the ADL permitted itself to be used as a vehicle for a particular brand of politics; and insofar as it claims, and is seen, to be speaking for and defending the interests of the Jewish community, it associates that community with that politics. There is, to put it mildly, nothing Jewish about a commitment to such current liberal social fashions as feminism, abortion, and homosexual rights, but when the major Jewish organizations, particularly the ADL, speak in the name of these fashions, they drag the entire community, willing or unwilling, with them.

And as for ADL’s and the liberals’ reading of the First Amendment—which is, I will admit, not a mere fashion but a primary article of secular faith—it is time for the Jews to recognize that this is not the 18th or even the 19th century. Understandable as their embrace of the secularists was in days long gone by, the religion of secularism—by now as bigoted and unforgiving as in the darkest of the dark ages—is what neither the United States nor the Jews need or can afford. Instead of standing smugly on its record, then, it is time for the ADL to open itself up to a fresh discussion of what was actually intended by church-state separation and how the Jewish community might now save itself from an encroaching debilitation and isolation. Perhaps Mr. Foxman’s newfound conservative Christian friends could help him find his way.

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