On June 9th, 1994 the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) published unsubstantiated and scurrilous slanders against more than a dozen major Christian leaders including Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Dobson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Donald Wildmon, Phyllis Schlafly, Jay Sekulow, and David Barton.
The title of the now thoroughly discredited publication was “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America.” Its contention, expressed in incendiary and intemperate language, was that adherence to Christian faith represented an “assault on tolerance and pluralism in America.”
David Cantor, the ADL researcher who wrote the report, and soon thereafter sought employment elsewhere, admitted to the New York Times that he never contacted any of the individuals or groups he slandered for their statements or reactions. Furthermore, he confessed that his report comprised almost entirely statements about the selected Christian leaders that had been written by their opponents. In a flagrant violation of journalistic ethics, he conducted no direct interviews of his subjects.
The abhorrence felt toward this baseless attack upon some of Judaism and Israel’s staunchest friends provoked a firestorm of criticism against the ADL in the mainstream Jewish community. A number of ADL leaders and board members made their objections widely known or resigned their positions in protest. This included well-respected leaders like Carl Pearlston, Phillip Aronoff, Fred Zeidman, and Houston attorney Gary Polland who later told New York magazine that “the liberal Jewish community is the enemy” and “the intellectual backbone of everything that’s wrong in this country.”
On August 2nd, responding to the ADL, the organization I had established and was privileged to lead, Toward Tradition, placed a large paid advertisement on a page of the New York Times. The headline read “Should Jews Fear The Religious Right?” and continued, “We are a group of Jews who wish to make it known that we reject the implications of this report and deplore its publication.” This national indictment of the ADL was signed by eighty-nine prominent Jewish leaders and made clear that most American Jews condemned the Anti-Defamation League for engaging in defamation of its own in its attack on leaders of the religious right.
In response to a vigorous protest by Pat Robertson, on August 3rd, the ADL’s National Director, Abraham Foxman wrote a letter to the evangelical leader in which he admitted to major inaccuracies and slanders in the report. Foxman’s letter also retracted the accusation found in the ADL report that in a 1980 staff meeting Robertson had referred to Jews as “spiritually deaf” and “spiritually blind.”
Syndicated columnist, Mona Charen, wrote, “The ADL has committed defamation. There is no other conclusion to be reached after reading its new report, The Religious Right: the Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America. It is sad that an organization with a proud history of fairness should have descended to this kind of character assassination and name calling.”
During the summer of 1994, Minnesota Senator, Rudy Boschwitz, who had been an honorary vice-chairman of the ADL wrote: “I always believed that the ADL considered diverse opinions permissible …. Indeed, they have just produced a scathing report about a group they maintain doesn’t allow such diversity. Could it be that our own ADL is itself assaulting pluralism and tolerance in America?”
The Jewish newspaper, The Forward, reported that William Kristol, son of Jewish intellectual Irving Kristol, and who was Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, said, “It is so shortsighted and self-destructive for a Jewish organization like the ADL to unjustly and gratuitously alienate Christian conservatives.” Kristol also said that the ADL is part of the Democratic Party’s strategy to “demonize religious conservatives.”
Herb Zweibon, head of Americans for a Safe Israel said the ADL report is a “slap in the face” to friends of Israel and indicated “that the ADL has veered off course and adopted a new ultra-liberal agenda that has nothing to do with ADL’s stated purposes.” He praised the Christian right for standing by Israel when others turned out to be “fair-weather friends.”
The September 1994 issue of Commentary magazine published by the American Jewish Committee carried a stinging denunciation of the ADL and its, by then, notorious report. It was written by Midge Decter the distinguished fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
A son-in-law of Midge Decter, Elliot Abrams who had served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations termed the ADL report “despicable.”
By the end of 1994, virtually the entire Jewish community had rejected the report as not only false and evil but also as stupid and a self-serving act of unconscionable ingratitude to some of the Jewish community’s greatest friends.
Originally created to combat the extensive anti-Semitism prevalent in the early twentieth century, ninety years later the ADL had become enormously successful with an annual budget of about fifty million dollars. Many have asked how the ADL could possibly have embarked upon this ill-advised adventure, defaming the friends and allies of the Jewish community and bringing embarrassment to itself. The answer offered by most Jewish commentators and by former members of the ADL is that by the 1990s, active anti-Semitism in America was largely extinct and the organization was becoming irrelevant.
In order to redesign its purpose and rediscover relevance, it repackaged itself as a national advocate of secular liberalism. It was chiefly responsible for popularizing the equation that Judaism equals liberalism, thus allowing the demonization of all anti-liberals (conservatives) as anti-Semites.
For this reason, the ADL declined to support then Jewish Dr. Laura Schlesinger in the attempts by the homosexual community to destroy her broadcasting career. The ADL also flouted Jewish tradition and values by taking public positions in favor of homosexual marriage and in favor of aggressive gun control, arguing against the conventional understanding of the 2nd Amendment. In the attack against the Boy Scouts of America mounted by the homosexual community, the ADL backed the homosexual plaintiffs all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In its nationwide partnership with Barnes and Noble in the program Hate Hurts the ADL endorsed the books Heather Has Two Mommies and Steve Has Two Daddies as suitable tools for teaching tolerance to young children. In short, as anti-Semitism declined in America, the ADL found a new reason to exist and a new reason to raise large sums of money for its headquarters and staff. (Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL earns annual compensation of about half a million dollars and was disgraced by his role in persuading President Bill Clinton to issue a pardon for tax fugitive Marc Rich, a major ADL contributor.)
In conclusion, few of prominence and respectability in the Jewish community today regard the ADL as a responsible voice for Judaism. Wags dismiss the ADL as the circumcised wing of the Democratic Party.
The reputations of all those maligned in the hateful 1994 report have suffered no setbacks and if anything, the Jewish community looks toward those named with appreciation and gratitude for their staunch defense of those values that have made the United States of America the most tranquil and prosperous haven Jews have experienced in the past two millennia.
As someone who has been a rabbi and Jewish community leader for several decades, the undersigned wishes personally to thank David Barton of Wallbuilders along with the other leaders defamed in that sixteen-year-old mistake for all they have done for Judeo-Christian values in America and to express his willingness to be contacted personally by anyone seeking further information on this shameful episode in the history of a once proud and valuable organization, the Anti-Defamation League.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The American Alliance of Jews and Christians.