Right of Reply: Watchdog organizations don't compete with Jewish education

Michael Freund ignores the role they play in making America a better place for Jews.

Abe Foxman 224.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Abe Foxman 224.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Michael Freund, writing recently in these pages (June 18), engaged in a simplistic and hardly original attack on Jewish watchdog organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League whose mission is to fight anti-Semitism. The argument as it goes is fairly straightforward: The contributions that help to fund such efforts would better serve the community if they were spent instead on promoting Jewish identity and education. No one doubts that the challenge of Jewish identity in America is profound, and that finding ways to get the Jewish community to care more about it and properly fund activities to sustain Jewish education is important. To suggest, however, that the reason there aren't sufficient funds in this area is because money is being diverted to Jewish defense organizations is a pipe dream. The truth is American Jews have great wealth, with only a small percentage of it going to Jewish causes. When people decide to give to ADL to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred they do so because they see anti-Semitism as a real threat, and they see ADL as an important agency that can do something about it. This is reflected in the fact that in survey after survey, American Jews deem anti-Semitism as a significant threat to Jews in the US and abroad. One can agree or disagree with this perception. But what is relevant is that those who support ADL and other organizations Freund derisively faults for "pouring so much time and money into the issue" - the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress - see their money as going to deal with their main concerns. Jewish identity issues may not interest these individuals the same way. Even if the anti-Semitic issue did not exist, the analogy is to money raised for Israel. When pressure grew on federations to raise more money for domestic Jewish concerns than Israel, many discovered that without the focus on Israel, far less money in total was being raised. FREUND DOESN'T have the slightest clue what ADL does or the many sources of our funding, and where that funding ultimately is allocated in terms of programming, outreach and advocacy. ADL's strength is its priority to combat anti-Semitism, but it also works in a broader arena to combat all forms of hatred. We run community programs through 30 regional offices across the country. We train law enforcement officers on extremist threats. We provide security awareness seminars for synagogues, JCCs and community centers. We conduct diversity and peer-training workshops for teachers and students in public school districts… and the list goes on. The beauty of this approach is that it is both instrumental - i.e., in fighting against all forms of bigotry, we are creating a society that is less likely to be anti-Semitic; and it has value on its own terms - in working for equal rights for all groups it leads to appreciation for what we do not only on behalf of Jews, but on behalf of other minorities as well, indeed on behalf of American society. This results in support from both the Jewish community and from the broader public. There is nothing for us to apologize for here. We see an interaction between the well-being of our broad society with well-being for Jews. When Jews are being treated well, it usually means society is functioning well. And when rights are generally protected, Jews benefit. This is an approach that has withstood the test of time and continues to bring benefits both to Jews and others. Freund also misses the point that what organizations such as ADL have been able to achieve: An environment for societies to exist around the world that are user friendly for Jews who want to be Jews. By raising awareness to anti-Semitism, by fostering Holocaust education and remembrance and by helping societies to combat hate crimes and promote an appreciation for and acceptance of diversity, ADL helps in every way to protect the environment so that Jews who consciously want to be Jews - and proudly and visibly express their Judaism - can do so at every level. If Freund were really interested in finding ways to get greater support for Jewish education, he would use his talents to argue that case and come up with creative ideas without denigrating organizations like ADL. Like most critics, he ignores the role we play in making America a better place for Jews and then hits us over the head by suggesting that there's little need for our work because things are OK. I'm very comfortable saying that the work of ADL is as important and maybe in a troubled world, more so, than ever.At the same time, I support strongly any constructive effort to enhance Jewish identity and education to combat the other threat to Jewish well-being and continuity. Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.