A newspaper advertisement bearing the signatures of 400 rabbis who criticized Fox News host Glenn Beck for his televised statements about the Holocaust has itself been criticized by America’s best-known Jewish communal relations group.
Though the advertisement cited statements by the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, it was sponsored by Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ), a left-wing group with little history of making public statements on issues like Holocaust discourse. The ad filled a full page of The Wall Street Journal on January 27, and two full pages of the Forward’s February 4 issue.
The spat between the ADL and JFSJ over the propriety of the letter reveals an emerging rift between a group that has long served as a voice for the Jewish community and one that is positioning itself as a left-wing alternative. The ADL has chosen to navigate a nuanced path around the right-wing lightning rod of Fox News — reflexively loathed by many nonconservatives — and this has created an opportunity for JFSJ, which has made Fox the target of an ongoing campaign.
“The ADL is not the only organization that has the ability to speak out on a range of issues,” said Mik Moore, chief strategy officer of JFSJ. “The truth is, the Jewish community in some cases does do a good job at lifting up its voice, but we definitely heard from the folks we spoke to that what was out there was not enough.”
The JFSJ letter revives a widespread critique of a series of radio and television programs that Beck aired in November attacking George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire and supporter of progressive causes. In one radio broadcast, Beck alleged that Soros helped “send the Jews to the death camps” while a child during the Nazi era in Eastern Europe. The letter also called out Fox News Channel’s president, Roger Ailes, for a statement he made in defense of Beck, and for likening NPR executives to “Nazis” for their firing of news analyst Juan Williams.
The advertisement was signed by 400 rabbis, including leading figures in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements. Some Orthodox rabbis also signed.
“The terrible exploitation of the Holocaust is something that I’ve been concerned about for some time,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and leader of the Reform movement. “The fact that it’s being used in that sense and at least seemingly being exploited for political purposes is wildly inappropriate and offensive to Jewish sensibilities.”
Yoffie noted that there had been some ambivalence about criticizing Beck, as he and others didn’t want to be seen as taking a partisan position against Fox. But he also noted concerns about attacking an outlet that’s in line with the Jewish community on some issues. “Fox News has generally been supportive of Israel, and we appreciate that,” Yoffie said. “But you need to have a consistent moral perspective here.”
Foxman has already issued his own criticism of the Beck remarks quoted in the JFSJ advertisement. But the ADL chief also publicly forgave Ailes for his likening of NPR executives to Nazis, which was also cited in the ad.
“I welcome Roger Ailes’s apology, which is as sincere as it is heartfelt,” Foxman said in a November press release. “While I wish Roger had never invoked that terminology, I appreciate his efforts to immediately reach out and to retract his words before they did any further harm.”
In a letter submitted by Foxman to the Forward days after the publication of the JFSJ advertisement, the ADL leader condemned JFSJ for singling out Beck, Ailes and News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch for condemnation over the use of Holocaust imagery on their network.
“ADL does not support this misguided attempt to embarrass Fox News,” Foxman wrote. “In a world where Holocaust denial is accepted in much of the Arab world, where anti-Semitism is a serious concern in Europe and Latin America, and where the Iranian president has openly declared his desire to ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ surely there are greater threats to the Jewish people than the likes of Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch, who are professed and stalwart friends of the Jewish people and Israel.”
The ADL granted Murdoch its International Leadership Award at an ADL dinner in October. Ailes also attended the dinner.
In his letter to the Forward, Foxman criticized JFSJ for quoting him in the advertisement and leaving the false impression that he supported the effort. He also maintained that liberal pundits, and not just conservatives, were guilty of similar statements. (Foxman did not respond to an interview request by press time.)
JFSJ, for its part, said that it had chosen to adopt a more public posture after consultations with its supporters last year. “One of the pieces of feedback we got was that a lot of people thought there was not a prominent Jewish voice that they thought was articulating their values in the public sphere,” Moore said. “Historically, this has not been a role that we played. We made a decision last year, because of the feedback we’d gotten, that there was a real vacuum here.”
Moore said the initiative that culminated in this advertisement had not begun as a means to target Beck and Fox News over their use of Holocaust rhetoric. In March of last year, JFSJ asked supporters to write haiku about Beck’s advice that listeners “run” from churches that use the term“ social justice” on their websites. Then, over the summer, JFSJ’s president and CEO, Simon Greer (who was on vacation and unavailable to comment for this article), and other Jewish leaders met with Ailes to complain about Beck’s use of Holocaust rhetoric.
“We felt like they really heard us in the meeting,” Moore said. But after Beck’s November special about Soros, which many accused of employing anti-Semitic tropes to criticize the billionaire, JFSJ decided to re-engage. “Despite the good conversation we’d had last summer, it was clear the network didn’t get it,” Moore said.
In a statement quoted by media outlets, Fox News dismissed JFSJ’s advertisement as politically motivated.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.