That’s right: Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has written a forceful essay attacking what he sees as a tendency among Jews to see enemies everywhere and overlook signs of friendship, and thus to risk missing opportunities for peace.
Foxman frames his thesis around the Carmel fire and the outside help that Israel sought and received. Some Israelis found it humiliating to depend on the kindness of others, given the country’s image of self-reliance, Foxman writes:
Now Israel had to admit that it wasn’t capable of dealing with the blaze alone. More than that, for some in Israel there is a reluctance to admit that Israel is not isolated, that not everyone is against Israel. The willingness of nations and peoples to rush to Israel’s side, including the Turks and the Palestinians, challenged this assumption.
Foxman maintains his familar stace that anti-Israel sentiment is intensifying in various parts of the world. He sounds an unfamiliar, nuanced tone, though. Some of the anti-Israel rhetoric (that is, some but not all) is expressed “in ways that even suggest a heavy dose of anti-Semitism within it.”
The picture, however, is more complicated, and the response of many nations to Israel’s plea for help this week is the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious that not only does Israel have a special relationship with the United States, but it has excellent bilateral relations with states throughout the globe, including some that routinely vote against Israel at the United Nations.
That goes for the Arab world, too, in ways that are too often ignored:
It is true that what we all want, an acceptance by Arab leaders of the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the Middle East, has not been achieved. Having said that, on practical grounds there has been progress over the years in the acceptance of the reality that Israel is here to stay. Indeed, that notion is so strong in the Arab world that Ahmadinejad feels it necessary to harp on the idea that Israel will disappear in an effort to get the Arabs to turn back the clock to a time when they not only rejected Israel’s legitimacy but envisioned ways to achieve Israel’s demise. Arab acceptance of the reality of Israel is not insignificant because it then forces an answer to the question of how one deals with an entity that’s here to stay. Anwar Sadat’s answer after the Yom Kippur war was to make peace.
Which brings him back to the Carmel fire.
The fact that both Turkey and the Palestinian Authority provided assistance to Israel is not insignificant. It obviously does not negate the problematic aspects of Turkish and Palestinian policies toward Israel. But it should alert Israeli leaders to openings, to shades of gray, to possibilities that things don’t always have to remain the same, to the idea that resentment can also be overcome. The great challenge for supporters of Israel in the period ahead is not to lose sight of either of the two tracks. There are immense dangers to Israel up ahead, as reflected in the delegitimization efforts, and we must do our all to combat them. But there are opportunities as well, and the mark of leadership is to explore them and seed them while never ignoring the landmines that lie beside them.
The essay doesn’t seem to be an afterthought — it’s been the lead item on the ADL homepage for upwards of a week, suggesting it’s meant to attract attention. Most readers will find it to be a change in tone for the organization. Now we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Foxman and ADL are going to follow through and exercise the kind of leadership he’s touting.
It was published initially on December 8 at JTA.org, but at this writing it hasn’t yet gotten any responses there.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).