In October, the Anti-Defamation League honored News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch with its International Leadership Award. The ADL was founded in 1913 "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all." Rupert Murdoch is the owner of Fox News. If that sounds incongruous to you, it should.
The ADL, as many noted at the time, was calling into question its self-proclaimed commitment to combat "all forms of bigotry," by honoring a man who promotes and profits from many forms of bigotry. The revelation today that Fox News president Roger Ailes referred to the employees of National Public Radio as Nazis should cause the ADL to realize it made a mistake in honoring Murdoch and withdraw its award, unless he fires Ailes. Instead, the league has accepted Ailes's tepid apology. Unless the ADL takes a stronger stand, it will continue to diminish its stature as a group promoting tolerance and civil rights.
On Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported that Ailes told Howard Kurtz in an interview that he considers what is a respected American news organization to be part of the German political movement responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews. Ailes said, “They [NPR executives] are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism." This kind of casual equation of anyone's political opponents with Nazis is deeply offensive and hurtful to Jewish people. For Ailes to suggest that NPR firing Juan Williams—which was the proximate cause of the Fox exec's comment—makes you a Nazi is to equate the value of millions of Jewish lives with one pundit's paycheck.
Nor is this an isolated incident. Fox News has disrespectfully twisted the memory of the Holocaust before. Just last week, Glenn Beck attacked 80-year-old Holocaust survivor George Soros for his behavior as a teenager during the Holocaust. The ADL criticized Beck, but as Kurtz reported Tuesday, the group softened its stance after Ailes complained to the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman. Foxman called Beck, in a complete non sequitur, "a strong supporter of Israel."
Fox has fanned the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry, most recently with its incessant demagoguery around a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan that it inaccurately referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque." Fox also has been responsible for encouraging homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Latino racism.
In light of Fox's disreputable history of promoting bigotry against many groups, including Jews, you might be wondering why the ADL would even consider honoring Murdoch. The answer is Israel (hence Foxman's defense of Beck). Among the ADL's commitments is support for Israel's right to exist, and Fox's coverage of the Middle East is to the league's liking. Fox aggressively promotes the neoconservative foreign-policy agenda. The news channel was the Iraq War's chief cheerleader, leading its viewers to believe, incorrectly, even as late as 2003, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had been responsible for the attacks of September 11. Fox treats Palestinian and Israeli deaths unequally, and use propagandistic language, such as referring to suicide bombers as homicide bombers.
The ADL has, for years, been placing its support for Israel ahead of its other values. Recently it made common cause with Fox in criticizing the downtown Islamic Center. Peter Beinart, a pro-Israel orthodox Jewish writer, criticized the ADL for having abandoned its opposition to bigotry in that case because the victims of said bigotry were Muslims. When the ADL honored Murdoch, Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, who is vociferously pro-Israel and even more hawkish on foreign policy than Beinart, called the decision "preposterous."
"But if you define your values in a purely sectarian way," Chait wrote, "then a figure who advances an illiberal agenda that defines Jews as one of the 'good' nationalities is right up your alley." Chait should not be so quick to assume that Fox looks so kindly upon Jews. Political support for Israel can coexist with anti-Semitism. Various conservative figures and organizations that have trafficked in anti-Semitism are currently supporting Israel for any number of reasons, all of them creepy. Some Christians believe that the Jewish state must be restored to bring about the Rapture. Some conservatives may simply like Israel because they like any enemy of Arabs and Muslims. Consider Pat Robertson, who encourages support for Israel while also making claims as insensitive as Ailes's comment. (For example, he said, "Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians.")
The ADL has repeatedly placed its alliance with Israel's supporters over its stated reason for existence, and excused inexcusable instances of bigotry, even anti-Semitism. The most recent example is the league's quick forgiveness of Ailes. The Fox boss apologized in a letter to the ADL, writing, "I was of course ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word, but I was angry at the time because of NPR’s willingness to censor Juan Williams for not being liberal enough.” The ADL has already accepted Ailes's apology, with Foxman calling it "sincere" and "heartfelt." On the contrary, the fact that Ailes seems to think his anger over Williams's firing is any kind of excuse, or even explanation, is troubling. Would Foxman be so quick to forgive, say, a Muslim cleric or an African-American politician for making such a statement?
The ADL was right to see opposition to anti-Semitism as inseparable from other forms of bigotry, and Zionism as not incompatible with a commitment to civil rights throughout the world. Indeed, the existence of an organization that stands for that is critical to combating the rise of anti-Semitism on the left that is fueled by anti-Zionism. By decoupling support for Israel from the group's other supposed values, and prioritizing the former above the latter, the ADL is doing the Jewish people a disservice. It should take this opportunity to restore its integrity and credibility, before it's too late.