Abe Foxman has become a willing participant in the campaign to tear down Barack Obama. Larry Cohler-Esses reports in this week’s Jewish Week that following two investigative pieces (first and second) published by the right-wing Newsmax site, Foxman denounced Obama’s long-time pastor and spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright as a “black racist.” Wright’s congregation publishes a magazine which made an award to Louis Farrakhan. Before the award was given, Wright said the following about the Black Muslim minister:
When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens. Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen. … His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest.
“Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience,”
While clearly this statement is disappointing and even depressing considering who Wright is praising, there is certainly nothing racist in it. But Wright also supports Palestinian rights and is highly critical of the Israeli Occupation about which Cohler writes quoting Wright:
According to a New York Times profile last April, Rev. Wright has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.” Kessler, the Newsmax journalist, quotes Wright saying, “The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for over 40 years now. Divestment has now hit the table again as a strategy to wake the business community and wake up Americans concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism.”
Kessler, who did not interview Rev. Wright, gives no source for the quote…
All of which led Foxman to say this about the pastor:
“I would say he is a black racist. Certainly he has very strong anti-Israel views.”
The worst I would say about the above Wright quotation is that in talking about 9/11 he makes a common error of seeing every major national event through the prism of his own particular ethnic experience, whether it is really relevant or not (one could say that even Abe Foxman is guilty of the same vice in seeing anti-Semites under every bed). To say that 9/11 was in any way connected to the legitimate grievances of black America is downright foolish. But racist?
And as for Wright being “anti-Israel,” c’mon–that statement is no more anti-Israel than anything a center-left Israeli politician or journalist might say or write. What really irks Foxman is that a black minister affiliated with a politician who might become president of the United States holds independent views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–views that have not been spoon fed to him by Foxman himself or AIPAC. In this, Wright is the uppity black pastor who won’t follow the cues provided by the Israel lobby.
Cohler-Esses notes that last April, Foxman said the following about Wright:
“He’s for Africa for Africans. But nothing I’ve seen would make me call him an anti-Semite.”
Either Abe has changed his mind or he’s now merely calling the minister “anti-Israel” and “racist,” but not anti-Semitic. The distinctions might be lost on the general public. He must’ve thought better of some of his incendiary rhetoric because he called Cohler-Esses back after the main interview and left this statement saying that while Wright:
“embraces, awards and celebrates a black racist. I think ‘racist’ is going a little bit too far.”
Only a “little bit.” If one were cynical, one could say that this backpedaling might be a deliberate strategy on Foxman’s part. You level a stinging punch using an incendiary term like “black racist” to get the most mileage for your PR buck; and then you backpedal to protect your hiney in case the Black community lashes back at you. Then you can have it both ways: you’ve damaged Wright and Obama, while you can point to your stepping back from the original statement. Personally, I don’t think it washes and I’m hoping the only people convinced by an attack like this are those in the Republican Jewish Coalition.
I found it amusing Abe is setting the terms for Obama to get back into the ADL’s good graces. Jewish penance consists of the following:
“I think the next step for Obama is to challenge his minister on these views,” he said. “He may change his minister’s view, in which case, very good. If not, I think he has an obligation to leave.”
This is where it gets really ugly. When Abe Foxman tells you you have to turn your back on the mentor you’ve known for years and the church which formed you as a spiritual person, you know you’re delving into deeply personal and low-down mean territory. Of course, were Obama to do what Foxman suggests, within a week or a month the ADL would be making some other preposterous demand of the candidate. It’s called the Israel lobby ‘conditioning treatment.’ If you step out of line or even appear to be considering stepping out of line, you get demerits and they want to send you to Israel re-education camp for further indoctrination (better known as an AIPAC-hosted Israel junket).
Obama has denounced Farrakhan. He has said that he disagrees with his mentor’s praise of the Black Muslim. That should be enough for any fair-minded American, Jewish or not. We shouldn’t let the ADL or right-wing scandal sheets set the tone for a Democratic presidential primary or general election.