Memo To:Howard P. Berkowitz, national chair, Anti-Defamation League
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your irresponsible national director
Howard, in all honesty, I think you have to offer Abe Foxman an early retirement or flat out fire him as national director of the ADL of B’nai B’rith. He has now spent a bundle of your funds buying full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post warning Tim Russert, “Meet the Press,” and NBC television that if they even think of having Louis Farrakhan on the show again, they can expect to lose lots of advertising from friends of the ADL. You know as well as I do that the ads are meant to do exactly that, with a block-letter headline: “Hate Has Another Outlet. NBC’s Meet the Press.”
I mean, Howard, this is disgusting. Abe has become drunk with power, swinging his weight around knowing he can label anyone who challenges him an anti-Semitic bigot. And what sets it off this time: For the third time in three years, "Meet the Press" invited Minister Farrakhan on the program on the anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March. Foxman’s letter to Bob Wright, president of NBC, has the nerve to argue that: “While an interview with Minister Farrakhan at the time of the Million Man March could be deemed a legitimate and timely news item, featuring him as a moral authority on national issues on such a prestigious program is as ironic as it is outrageous.”
You know through mutual friends in the Jewish community, Howard, that I have spent the last two years trying to figure out the source of the tension between Farrakhan and Foxman. I’ve spent several dozen hours with Farrakhan, corresponded with Foxman and former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, and devoted another hundred hours reviewing the history of the feud. I’ve met dozens of men and women who belong to the Nation of Islam, attended a number of their conferences, and prayed with them in their Chicago mosque to the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad. I've conclued beyond any reasonable doubt that there is not an ounce of anti-Semitism or bigotry in Farrakhan, that he is unusual only in that he publicly criticizes some Jewish political agendas and tactics when he believes they come at the expense of his people. My conclusion is that Foxman is in the wrong, not Farrakhan, that the ADL has spent the last 15 years using its political and financial clout to demonize Farrakhan and financially destroy the Nation of Islam. It has, for example, now succeeded in getting federal and state governments to terminate all contracts with the NOI to provide tenant security in public housing projects.
Tim Russert did not make Farrakhan a moral authority. The million black men who showed up at their own expense on the Washington Mall on October 16, 1995, proclaimed him a moral authority by their presence. They did so because of the Farrakhan message of individual responsibility to family, to community, and to God. Foxman knows Farrakhan has consistently renounced anti-semitism, bigotry and hatred in all its forms -- although reserving the right to condemn the actions of the ADL which has spent a fortune trying to destroy him and the financial underpinnings of his religious institution. I can post a defense of Farrakhan on the Internet, as I do with this missive to you, but there is no major news outlet that would entertain such a defense, wary of being condemned by Foxman as an agent of hate -- as he has done to NBC.
In the 40 years of his ministry, nobody has ever accused the Nation of Islam of a hate crime against Jews or Christians. No member of the Nation of Islam has ever been accused of the physical abuse of a Jew or a Jewish place of worship. Members of the NOI are forbidden to carry guns. Farrakhan has given dozens of speeches every year for the last 15 celebrating the contributions of the Jewish people, the law of Abraham and Moses, the wisdom of the Torah, and the insistence that his flock turn the other cheek when insulted by Foxman or his lieutenants.
The only reason I got involved in this controversy, Howard, is through my belief that the racial divide between blacks and whites can not be resolved until the division between blacks and Jews is first resolved. Abe Foxman’s way of viewing the black community as beholden to his organization and the consensus of Jewish leaders that he oversees is obsolete, which is why I think it is futile to try to work things out with him. At the time of the MMMarch, Farrakhan was asked several times if he would be willing to sit down and work out differences with Foxman. Each time, he said that if Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Shamir could meet across rivers of blood, he and Foxman should be able to meet when there has been no blood at all pass between them. I got involved at this point by recommending to my friend Jack Kemp that he call Foxman and try to set up a meeting leading to reconciliation. Foxman said flat out that he was not interested.
On the first anniversary of the Million Man March in 1996, the site for the theme of reconciliation was the UN Plaza in New York City. Prior to the event, Minister Farrakhan called Foxman and the American Jewish Committee, offering to meet with them in advance to begin a process of reconciliation. Were you part of the decision back then to reject Minister Farrakhan’s invitation, with the tabloids actually running stories congratulating Foxman for not meeting with the NOI? I hope not. Foxman has persuaded himself that he is the high and mighty, justified in throwing megabuck thunderbolts at the likes of Russert and NBC’s Wright in order to get them to knuckle under. You should not kid yourself that he has right on his side.
Howard, I confess I was the guy who persuaded Minister Farrakhan to do "Meet the Press" last week, on the grounds that Russert and the staff of the program had come to appreciate his straightforwardness in answering their questions. Russert is a national asset in that he has the courage to deal with these topics on national television. Farrakhan has no special interest in getting on the show. He has no press secretary and no public-relations person. I urge him to go on network television so we will see what is on his mind, as he does represent black Americans more truthfully than any other black leader, political or spiritual. Read the script and you will find no softball questions from Russert.
The answers are what Foxman complains about. He does not want to hear that black Americans believe their institutions are heavily influenced by Jewish money, Jewish political power and Jewish intellectual agendas. Howard, ask for a private meeting, behind closed doors, with the members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Ask these questions, and you will get the same answers Tim Russert got from Farrakhan. The only difference is that Farrakhan is willing to say publicly what other black leaders only say privately. Which is why Farrakhan got so angry at Milton Coleman, a black reporter for The Washington Post, who reported Jesse Jackson's "Hymietown" remark at the end of a long day, over a dinner table in a small town hotel, where Coleman sat as Jesse Jackson's guest during the 1984 presidential campaign. It was the equivalent of snitching on a fellow inmate in the slavemaster's penitentiary.
Ask Rep. Charlie Rangel to level with you, Howard, and tell you what he thinks of Abe Foxman. Not that Foxman is a bad man, but that he is driven by his own demons into demonizing Farrakhan. Ask Bill Buckley at National Review what he thinks of Abe Foxman and he will tell you as he did recently in the magazine, that he would prefer to hear from Abe only once every two or three years. I've never met the man, but that is not for lack of trying. I've written him several times, respectfully I might add, offering to meet to discuss these matters. He is simply not interested. He is Ariel Sharon squared. He won't shake Farrakhan's hand nor will he shake the hand of a lifelong supporter of Jewish interests and causes and admirer of the Jewish people and their culture and contributions as am I.
You co-signed the full page ads, Howard, but knowing you, I suspect you know much less about all this than you think you do. The tag line on the ad, for example, read: "Worse yet, Tim Russert did not challenge Farrakhan and no one countered his views. For the life of us, we can't figure it out. Is there no moral responsibility at NBC News anymore?"
Now think about it, Howard. If Tim were to call you tomorrow and say he is going to devote an entire hour of "Meet the Press" to a face-off between Farrakhan and the ADL, would you like to represent the ADL, or would you send Abe? You know that Abe would decline to go on the show at all, but would be happy to go on by himself to tear into Minister Farrakhan. Look over the script. Farrakhan did not go on the show to talk about his relationship with the Jewish political community. It was Russert who prodded him into it, and I'm glad he did. The original purpose of the interview came both because of the Farrakhan speech at Howard University the previous Friday — on the third anniversary of the Million Man March — and because Farrakhan had written a letter to the President offering him spiritual comfort and advice on the Lewinsky matter. This was in much the same way that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Billy Graham have counseled the President.
The bottom line, Howard, is that Abe Foxman has pushed this button to the limit, now dragging you into a confrontation with the major news media on who is allowed to come on their television shows and who cannot. Foxman has gone past the point of diminishing returns with these kinds of threats and appeals. Other black leaders now are being condemned if they speak their minds as honestly as Farrakhan has his. Martin Luther King III has come out of the closet for Farrakhan. There's little chance you will be able to get Foxman to budge on this, but maybe that means you should do it yourself. Minister Farrakhan would be happy to sit down, man to man, with the national chairman of the ADL, Howard Berkowitz, if not its national director. If Netanyahu and Arafat can sit down together across rivers of blood that have flowed between them, why not Farrakhan, a guy from Chicago, and Berkowitz, a guy from New York? Answer me that, Howard. Why not?