11/01 Jewish Advocate: Abe Foxman criticizes local approach on Armenian issue

Abe Foxman criticizes local approach on Armenian issue

By Raphael Kohan - Thursday November 1 2007

Abe FoxmanADL national director calls out Boston's Jewish community leaders

In an interview published on Oct. 26 by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Boston’s Jewish leadership for its handling of this summer’s controversy surrounding recognition of the Armenian genocide. Foxman accused the local community of not giving proper priority to Israeli interests, singling out Combined Jewish Philanthropies President Barry Shrage and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Executive Director Nancy K. Kaufman.

In the interview, which was conducted last month, Foxman told the interviewer that he was “shocked, upset, frightened” that the Boston Jewish community had rallied so strongly against him, deciding to side with the local Armenian community rather than with the ADL.

“I got made fun of for it,” Foxman said of the ADL’s initial stance on the Armenian genocide. “[I] said we need unity now because Iran is a threat, Hamas is a threat, Hezbollah is a threat, anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America. The last thing we need now is for Barry Shrage and Nancy Kaufman to be fighting us.”

Kaufman was the driving force on a petition signed by local groups that urged Foxman to recognize the Armenian massacres as genocide.

“We have nothing to apologize for,” said Alan Ronkin, deputy director of the JCRC. “We have never personally attacked Foxman. The fact that he personally attacked us is outrageous.”

ADL Regional Director Andrew H. Tarsy was not available for comment.

Yet Foxman defended his organization’s original position, saying that he only yielded to Boston-area Jews like Tarsy and Kaufman to preserve unity. Foxman maintained that while he has had Israel’s and Jewish interests in mind for the long-term, Boston leaders chose to champion current local relations, putting the Armenian issue ahead of the interests of the State of Israel.

“It was very clear that there are two moral issues, but one trumps the other. And it was clear to me that I cannot save one Armenian human being, not one,” said Foxman. “We need a strong unified Jewish community to help Israel … I gave for the greater purpose so that we can now sit and talk together. It almost destroyed our operation in Boston.”
And what the Boston community revealed about itself during the summer controversy was disturbing, according to Foxman.

“What I didn’t realize was to what extent the American Jewish community has reversed Hillel, or at least in Boston and Massachusetts,” Foxman said, referring to Hillel’s famous adage, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Foxman attributed the Boston Jewish community’s diminished sense of self-preservation to the high instance of intermarriage and assimilation in the Boston area. According to Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s 2005 Community Study, 29 percent of all Jewish households in Greater Boston are intermarried.

Locally, CJP has made outreach to interfaith families a priority in maintaining a strong Jewish community, working closely with organizations like InterfaithFamily.com.
“I am very proud of our community,” said Shrage. “I understand Abe’s concerns, but he is wrong about the Boston Jewish community. I think he knows he is. We are allowed to disagree in our community, but he was wrong to characterize the Boston Jewish community in the way he did.”

Foxman and others predicted fallout in U.S. and Israel’s relationship with Turkey if a congressional resolution recognizing the genocide were passed. And those fears seemed to be realized when Turkey recalled its ambassador to the U.S. in October.

“This is simply a conflict between the more narrow or limited local idealistic interests which focused on local politics and acknowledging a past genocide, versus the broader and more pragmatic concerns of the national leadership which focused on support for preventing a future genocide,” said Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff.

In perhaps his most biting criticism of the local community, Foxman asserted that area Jews no longer care about the fate of the Jewish state as much as they once did.

“Israel is no longer as significant,” Foxman said. “Some of this stuff I read and hear about in Boston was, ‘Why do we have to sacrifice our relationship with our Armenian friends and neighbors for Israel?’ I heard people say to me if the [Jews in Turkey] are in trouble, let them leave. That’s what I miscalculated.”

But according to Kaufman, Foxman’s information is misguided.

“He got it all wrong,” she said. “He does not understand the Boston Jewish community at all. We are absolutely, unequivocally, passionately, and universally supportive of Israel. The Boston Jewish community should be outraged by his comments.”

The national ADL office was not available for comment.

When asked if Foxman’s remarks – despite his assertion that unity is needed among Jews – would widen the divide between himself and the Boston Jewish community, Kaufman declined to comment.

Kaufman added: “While Abe has been an incredible Jewish leader nationally, he does not know how to behave locally.”

Source: http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/this_weeks_issue/news/?content_id=3928