This interview first appeared in Frontpage Magazine on March 1st, 2010.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Dr. Charles Jacobs, a columnist for the Boston Jewish Advocate who is concerned about the failure of leadership in America and in the Jewish community to deal with anti-Semitism. He has done a series exposing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for failing to deal with Islamic anti-Semitism. He’s been widely published, including in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Jerusalem Post, and the Encyclopedia Britannica. He has appeared on local and national television and radio, including NBC, CBS, NPR, CNN and PBS. He received his doctoral degree in social policy from Harvard. In 2007, he was named by the Forward newspaper as one of America ‘s 50 top Jewish leaders.
FP: Dr. Charles Jacobs, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about the series you are doing on the ADL and its failure to deal with Islamic anti-Semitism. What have you discovered?
Jacobs: Thanks, Jamie. Let me provide some context. The Jewish community has come under siege. We have had a wonderful 50 years after the end of WWII but the world has changed and unfortunately some of our leaders seem not to have recognized this. Given our small size and our sizeable foes, the Jewish community has always valued unity. Unity is important, but I reluctantly decided to become critical of some of our leaders because of the seriousness and urgency of the current situation.
A few months back, I decided to break what is in effect a gentlemen’s agreement among Jewish leaders not to criticize each other in public. At the end of an op-ed about Wafa Sultan, the courageous Muslim reformer who risks her life daily to fight real threats posed by Islamists to us all, I chided ADL for its relative silence on this, the greatest threat to Jews today. When Abe Foxman responded with a letter to my home town Jewish paper attacking me, I began a series of articles on the ADL’s failure, and I proposed a list of key principles for beginning a serious effort against Islamic anti-Semitism.Bernard Lewis explains that anti-Semitism is a virus that morphs over time. After the Holocaust, it became no longer acceptable for most in Western societies to hate Jews for the old reasons – either because of our religion (as “Christ-killers”) or because of our race – the Nazis taught we were racial vermin. Instead Jews were coming to be hated in the West because of their state. As you know, this animus against Israel comes mostly from the Left. At the same time, Radical Islam, with its virulent, theologically based anti-Semitism, surges throughout the Muslim realm. So Jews now are in a New Time, a daunting situation that can be described as a perfect storm. Unexpectedly, we became targeted simultaneously by two powerful world currents – anti-Israel Leftist “Palestinianism” and Islamic anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, Jewish leaders and their organizations, for the most part, have not responded effectively to this new situation.
For years, as President of the David Project, I had been writing articles and speaking with top Jewish leaders behind the scenes about this, urging them to call the Jews to order, to announce and explain the “New Time” and the new threat profile, and to create strategies to effectively respond. It was extremely frustrating. I recall several years ago the American Jewish Committee published a powerful pamphlet authored by Robert Wistrich on Islamic anti-Semitism. It was shocking and could have been an effective tool to awaken the Jewish community to what Wistrich showed was a looming existential threat. Yet in Boston that pamphlet stayed mostly on AJC’s shelves. I ordered copies from their New York office and used it in our summer training programs for college bound Jewish students. It should have – and could have – become a tool for AJC to run a national mass educational campaign about the realities and dangers of Islamic anti-Semitism. That didn’t happen.
Two years ago I attended a three day conference in Jerusalem on Global Anti-Semitism sponsored by Israel ‘s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Senior leaders of American Jewry were present. We all heard how Islamic anti-Semitism – theologically based, was spread with Saudi funding to mosques and madrassas throughout the Islamic world, instructing tens if not hundreds of millions of people that Jews were the sons of monkeys and pigs and that to kill us is a holy deed. It was a breakthrough conference: Hundreds of Jewish leaders, teachers, scholars sat through days of powerful presentations. Everyone agreed. I sat right behind Abe Foxman. But ADL made no significant change. Attending conferences is necessary but not sufficient. Talk is cheap. We must become activist in fighting against the new anti-Semitism. We must go beyond talking to each other and wringing our hands.
FP: Tell us about this “gentlemen’s agreement” between Jewish leaders about not being critical of other Jewish leaders.
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Jacobs: Yes, there is a sort of “inside baseball” aspect to this. There are very practical economic, social and political reasons that Jews who head organizations, or who are otherwise vulnerable to powerful push-back, are essentially blocked from issuing even very responsible and important criticisms of other Jewish leaders who they think are doing foolish or even harmful things. In the case of the ADL, I know several prominent Jewish leaders who agree with my criticism 110%, but could not speak out publicly without great risk. First of all, they might have people on their boards or important donors who also donate to ADL or who think that their criticism of ADL would hurt their own organization. There is also the fear of counter criticism. Then there is the possibility that such a powerful organization as the ADL would speak badly of you, might even block your access to some Jewish audiences. And you run the risk that there are many Jews, who while they might agree with the criticism, still don’t like “our dirty laundry” out in the public.
This is a structural problem, harmful to Jewish interests because this code of silence, this Jewish omerta, blocks public discussion of Jewry’s most urgent and serious matters: where is our leadership is taking us, how are our limited communal resources allocated? In this case, it was widely understood by people deeply knowledgeable that the ADL failure to adjust to the new threat profile was extraordinarily harmful, but nobody could break the silence. I myself only could do it after I left the David Project and became freed of organizational constraints. By the way, all the people who knew but couldn’t say are rooting me on.
FP: Abe Foxman, ADL’s head, has responded to your criticisms and there is an emerging dispute in the Jewish community. Can you talk a bit about this debate and dialogue that has emerged?
Jacobs: Yes, Foxman has been writing letters – to the Jerusalem Post and to the Boston Jewish Advocate, countering my criticism. These letters are factually wrong and they skirt or misstate the issues. Actually they unintentionally prove my point.
For example, Foxman wrote a sharp and somewhat defensive response to the Advocate which tried to show how much the ADL was doing about Islamic anti-Semitism but which only could cite one specific public “action” – a speech he gave almost four years ago. The only other examples he provided were private briefings, which cannot be checked or assessed for their effectiveness.
Meanwhile, other Jewish newspapers have picked up the debate. The Detroit Jewish News editor, Robert Sklar, wrote a long editorial citing my concerns and inviting more discussion. The Connecticut Jewish Ledger devoted an entire page to the debate, publishing my first column alongside Abe’s response, and offering its pages for future discussions. I’ve been hearing from other editors and also from ADL insiders. Finally, I was sent a recent video interview on NewsMax  where Abe now says that “fundamentalist extremist Islam is the greatest threat” we face. Good. I hope it’s a start.
FP: Why do you think most Jewish leaders and organizations are so hesitant to confront the threat of radical Islam?
Jacobs: There are three reasons: First is a fear of being attacked as racists, bigots and Islamophobes – a line of attack that has been particularly effective against Jewish organizations.
Second is a fear of being targeted for “defamation” suits like the one launched against activists and media outlets in Boston who reported on, or asked questions about the radical connections of leaders of the Saudi-funded Islamic Center in Roxbury. The Boston ADL branch was itself targeted with a threatening subpoena by the Islamic Center after the ADL had the temerity to speak out against an anti-Semitic Islamic Center trustee. Sadly, and to my point, after being subpoenaed by the Islamic Center, the ADL deserted the issue completely and has to this day remained silent – even though the greatest threat to Boston’s Jews comes from this new base of Radical Islam in our city. Even after Boston’s Jewish establishment leadership educated itself about the Islamic Center and boycotted its grand opening, the ADL, the Boston ADL, on orders from Foxman one imagines, remains silent.
But I think the real reason that our leaders are silent is that they simply don’t know what to do. Rather than admit this, they stay mum and mostly limit their public efforts to issuing reports, posting articles on their Web sites and speaking about the matter in private or to small groups. Finally, I think that encouraging a public discussion of these matters may influence Jewish leaders to reconsider their public silence on this significant threat to the community and the American public.
FP: Expand for us a bit about the common ground that the Left has found with Islamists in hating Israel and Jews.
Jacobs: Some of the best analyses of the Left/Muslim alliance have been done by David Horowitz who was himself a radical in the 60’s and knew the left from the indise. In brief, he and other writers point out that The Left and Radical Islam find common ground: both are anti-Western ideologies and they share common enemies: Western capitalism, traditional Judaism and Christianity, and individualism. Both are totalistic belief systems intending to govern the social/religious as well as the economic aspects of society. Both are “utopianist” – guided by a vision of a perfect social order, the one under “scientific socialism,” the other under Allah. Both drive towards a state governed by a unitary power – the dictatorship of the Caliphate, or of the “Proletariat” or of the Socialist State apparatus. The “left” thinks it can ride the Islamist tiger. It believes its own theory that “religion is the opiate of the people” – an “epiphenomenon, not a real force, but an illusion used by those in power, a narcotic for the masses. But if the left – Heaven help us – partners with Islamists to drive Western, that is to say, Judeo-Christian, civilization over a cliff, every leftist will be devoured before the Islamists come to believe Marx was right about Allah being an illusion.
Radical Islam is a more intractable adversary than any secular totalitarianism. In the aftermath of WWI, three world ideologies emerged from a devastated world order: communism, fascism and Islamism. The West defeated the first two… by force and free speech. Islamism will be much harder to defeat, first because its adherents are willing to die for Heaven. (No Nazi ever blew himself up to kill a Jew. There are Muslims who would do it every day.) Though people have called communism a “religion,” it only sort of is a religion. A real religion, with an eternal, Heavenly G-d, has the power to demand much more from its adherents. To rehearse this truth on a larger scale: as everyone has heard by now, Western threats to massively retaliate after a Soviet nuclear attack worked because Russian communists did not want to die for Marxism. But it seems the rulers of Iranian Muslims don’t mind dying at all. In fact, they may be speaking truthfully when they tell us they yearn for martyrdom for their heavenly religion.
FP: What can Jews and non-Jews do to help confront the New Time anti-Semitism we now face? And what do you recommend to Jews who want to do something but have been quiet up till now?
Jacobs: Let me set forth, in draft form, a brief summary of a 4-point program for Jews who have come to understand that we live in under a new threat profile – that radical leftists have teamed up with Islamic anti-Semites, themselves driving a global jihad and that Radical Islam has now penetrated American society.
1. The first and most important thing is a Wake-Up Call. World Jewry needs to be educated about the threat: We live in a “new time” and we must respond – with focus, energy and Jewish creativity. Most Jewish establishment leaders have failed to mobilize a response. A new kind of leadership must emerge and rally the people, a leadership that is willing to speak out honestly. You note that I have criticized Abe Foxman of the ADL, but this criticism pretty much extends to most of Jewry’s American leadership. The one notable exception would by Mort Klein of the Zionists Organization of America. I also notice that David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, speaks more about this…and yet I do not see the sort of alarm bell needed, no “call to order” of American Jewry.
2. Develop Alliances. Islamic anti- Semitism forms part of a more general attack on the West. Therefore Jews have potential allies around the world who – out of their own self-interest – will join them in this effort. Anti-Jihadist alliances are already emerging in the United States. In New York, the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam (HRCARI) – a rainbow coalition of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, gays, women, atheists, Muslim moderates and apostates from Islam – is holding rallies and protests against Islamist assaults on any and all targeted peoples around the world.
3. Analysis of religious texts and teachings. The enormous, life-saving reversals in Christian theological teachings about Jews could not have been achieved without years of intensive Jewish critique of Christian Biblical texts and traditions. It was the sensitive sharing of these studies with Christians of good will that turned the tide. If the Muslim world is ever to experience theological (and social) re-interpretations of its “teachings of contempt” about Jews – which predominate but are also contradicted in the Islamic canon – then Jews will have to confront, study and speak about the theological anti- Semitism embedded in Muslim holy books. (The ADL flees from this task: It criticizes Jew-hatred in the Arab media without reference to the Islamic sources.)
4. Activism on behalf of the community. Jewish activists seem to prefer almost every cause in the world, except what is in their own community’s interest. These talented people need to be enlisted – to sponsor conferences on Islamic anti-Semitism and Islamist penetration of American society; to expose the Saudi lobby and its impact on silencing scrutiny of anything Islamic; to lobby our elected officials about the dangers facing the country; and to campaign for implementation of sensitivity training for university students who come from lands with anti-Semitic cultures.
FP: Dr. Charles Jacobs, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.