When The ADL Gave White Nationalism A Free Pass, Did “Pro-Israel” Politics Play A Role?

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

With the Cordoba House controversy, the mainstream press has suddenly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League is more than willing to give sanction to bigotry. But the ADL has a long history of allowing cynical political calculations to trump its professed concerns about racism.

In a virtually unknown and unreported event in 1999, the ADL pointedly refused to condemn Richard Quinn, a leading white nationalist publisher who had come under fire for his history of promoting racist screeds before taking a job as a consultant for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Though the ADL initially expressed concern about Quinn’s role on the McCain campaign, it backed off for reasons that appeared to relate to the calculated “pro-Israel” line of Quinn’s magazine.

The episode began after John McCain’s surprising victory in the 1999 New Hampshire Republican primary. Controversy ensued when the New Republic’s Benjamin Soskis revealed that McCain had hired the longtime editor of Southern Partisan Magazine, Richard Quinn, as a consultant. Quinn came under fire from Soskis and many others for editing a neo-Confederate magazine that promoted white nationalist themes. For his part, Quinn had authored an editorial in his publication denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “vitriolic and profane;” attacked Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “bad egg;” and wrote the following about the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard-cum-Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate: “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”

As the bad press piled up, and reporters discovered gems like the ad in Southern Partisan for a t-shirt emblazoned with a Republican elephant logo that read, “Lincoln’s Worst Nightmare!” Quinn began to work his contacts. Finally, his friend  Sam Tennenbaum, who served at the time on the ADL’s advisory board, intervened in his defense, ensuring that the ADL did not condemn the Southern Partisan or disturb the McCain campaign about employing an avowed neo-Confederate.

In the 4th Quarterly issue of the Southern Partisan in 1999, editor Christopher Sullivan detailed the ADL’s deliberations and ultimate refusal to condemn Quinn [see the full article here and here]:

Even the Anti-Defamation League, trusting the information that had been conveyed in the media, wrote McCain a letter requesting an explanation. Regular readers of the Partisan know that we have never published anything that even suggested anti-Semitism. In that regard, a friend of Richard Quinn’s [Sam Tennenbaum, a South Carolina businessman and a prominent Democrat] happens to serve on an advisory board to the Anti-Defamation League. Tennenbaum called the League’s national leaders and persuaded them that the attack on Quinn was unfair and undeserved.

Why did the ADL let the Southern Partisan off the hook when it had been so zealous in assailing other white nationalist organizations? A pro-Israel screed authored by Sullivan in 4th Quarterly issue of Southern Partisan in 2001, right after the 9-11 attacks, may offer an explanation. In an article called “Whose Fault?” [read full version here] Sullivan wrote:

Does anybody, however, really thing that if George Bush had come into office and renounced American support for the state of Israel that bin Laden’s sleepers would have packed their bags, settled their bills and flown back to Arabia? Of course not. They hate Jewish Israel and they hate Christian America. If the radical Arabs and Palestinians were successful in their murderous dream of annihilating every last Jew from The Levant, it would only mean more free time to scheme up another plot to destroy the West.

Within neo-Confederate circles, and by extension within the paleoconservative movement, Israel is a generally unpopular cause. Thus the Southern Partisan stood out in its roaring defense of the Jewish State’s value to the United States.

Ed Sebesta, one of the country’s leading researchers on the neo-Confederate movement, suggested to me that the Southern Partisan’s unusual pro-Israel bent helped explain why Quinn was able to marshall the ADL as his ally. “One of the leading figures in the neo-Confederate movement is Frank Conner whose book, ‘The South Under Siege: 1830-2000,’ has chapters of anti-Jewish writing. It is representative of neo-Confederate thinking. Frank Conner is a figure respected in the Sons of Confederate Veterans [the nation's largest neo-Confederate group] and was the author of multiple articles for the Sons of Confederate Veterans educational foundation publication, ‘Southern Mercury.’ What is interesting is that the paleoconservatives and neo-Confederates are very critical of Israel. But the Southern Partisan was always the publication of Richard Quinn, a Republican party consultant who needed to earn a living.  So its position on Israel is anomalous relative to the neo-Confederate movement.”

The ADL’s refusal to condemn Quinn was a telling episode. Foxman and company may have been willing to ignore all the racist propaganda Quinn and his associates promoted (the Partisan ran a glowing review of the pornographic anti-immigrant tract, “Camp of the Saints,” in the same issue in which it defended Quinn) because the magazine maintained a strict “pro-Israel” line. There is hardly any other explanation for the ADL’s strange silence. In contrast, the Southern Poverty Law Center has repeatedly taken on the Southern Partisan and the figures behind it. The SPLC is able to take a sincere and principled stance against bigotry because, unlike the ADL, it does not have a foreign policy.

11 thoughts on “When The ADL Gave White Nationalism A Free Pass, Did “Pro-Israel” Politics Play A Role?

  1. poyani

    According to the ADL, prominent racists like Richard Quinn are A-Okay, but prominent anti-racists like Bishop Desmond Tutu (one of the prominent activists against Apartheid) are classified as racists.

    The organization is called the “Anti Defamation League” and its charter states that its primary purpose is to “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens”.

    Yet the primary activities of the ADL are the defamation of anti-racists and the promotion of racist bigotry. ADL is the closest thing in existence to the ministries of Love, Peace and Plenty in George Orwell’s 1984.

  2. redredwein

    As a fundraiser working for a fund raising company in the early 2000′s, the main hook in the pitch for the ADL was that the organization needed funds to bolster its network for monitoring anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet. The network which, the pitch noted, worked hand in hand with the FBI, was particularly focused on catching white supremacists who might be planning acts of anti-Semitic terrorism. In that light, this report is particularly disturbing, but not surprising.

    The reason I (and others) came to a point of refusing to raise any more money for the ADL – which option I was grateful for – was that the org seemed to nurture a culture of anti-Islamic hate. Donors to this ostensibly anti-Hate organization – especially but not exclusively after 9/11 – would spew the most contemptible hate-filled garbage on a regular basis. Then there were the periodic reports about Abe Foxman’s unshakable defenses of Israel and anti-Palestinian orientation, all of which continues to this day.

    It comes down to this and I think it’s more than just that the ADL, as Max notes, has a foreign policy. It’s that the ADL is an unequivocally pro-Zionist organization which fact is completely out of step with a principled reading of the First Amendment. Zionism as realized in the State of Israel is first and foremost a marriage of Church (or Synagogue) and State. So for American Zionists a great hypocrisy poisons the root of any defense of the First Amendment or condemnation of Hate Speech before the conversation even begins. The First Amendment, with its principle of Separation of Church and State, and Zionism are mutually exclusive.

  3. hophmi

    This is another in your series of patently ridiculous conspiracy theories. There is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER to support your theory, and the no reason to believe that the ADL would back off on criticism of some Southern Partisan writer because of a pro-Israel editorial. If you really believe that, then you must believe that pro-Israel editorials are very hard to come by in this country.

    Your “evidence” is apparently the opinion, nay, suggestion, of Ed Sebesta. That’s not evidence.

  4. tom-104

    Any discussion of the extreme right must include the role of Christian Zionism. It is the Biblical superstition that the establishment of a Jewish state means we are in “the last days” and any thing Israel does is OK. At the same time as a leading Christian Zionist Rev. John Hagee makes anti-semitic sermons he shares the stage with Netanyahu (see http://www.youtube.com/user/mblumenthal#p/a/u/2/tYW9pAZfKLE) For more information on this aspect of the extreme right see this article http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/8/3/161839/8594/Front_Page/Christian_Zionists_Fighting_to_Win_Support_of_American_Jews on Talk to Action.

  5. poyani

    hophmi “Your ‘evidence’ is apparently the opinion, nay, suggestion, of Ed Sebesta. That’s not evidence.”

    Are you kidding? Of course there is evidence. It is very clearly spelled out for you in the article.

    Some people argue that the ADL’s primary concern is exposing racism. Others argue that it is essentially a vehicle for promoting pro-Israeli bigots and for assaulting people who criticize Israeli policy.

    It is typically impossible to scientifically experiment to deduce answers to questions like this because it is impossible to isolate the variables.

    Fortunately in this case, events seem to have provided a perfect experiment.

    The ADL came across Richard Quinn, a white-supremacist supporter of Israel.

    If the ADL considered its mandate to be denouncing racism then it clearly would have denounced him.

    If the ADL considered its mandate to be supporting Israel and all its crimes, then it would have remained silent.

    It remained silent, therefore the ADL’s mandate (as its members see it) is to support Israel.

    Q.E.D.

    We now how rational, scientific evidence of the ADL’s true nature and the principles its members adhere to. We have clear evidence that the ADL doesn’t give a rat’s ass about racism and only uses the word “racism” (and its subset “antisemitism”) as a cover to silence the critics of the crimes of a government.

  6. hophmi

    “Are you kidding? Of course there is evidence. It is very clearly spelled out for you in the article.”

    The only thing spelled out in this article is innuendo. I’d call it hearsay, but it isn’t even that. I don’t see one fact to support the theory that the ADL went soft on a bigot to get the Southern Partisan to write a pro-Israel editorial.

    “The ADL came across Richard Quinn, a white-supremacist supporter of Israel.

    If the ADL considered its mandate to be denouncing racism then it clearly would have denounced him.

    If the ADL considered its mandate to be supporting Israel and all its crimes, then it would have remained silent.

    It remained silent, therefore the ADL’s mandate (as its members see it) is to support Israel.

    Q.E.D.”

    Nice. Now, if it wasn’t laden with faulty assumptions, it might be worth something.

    The ADL does not condemn every single white supremacist in the world. There are too many. If we are to take the Southern Partisan account at face value, the ADL declined to issues formal press release on Quinn because a friend of his on the board intervened on his behalf. That is not proof that there was a quid-pro-quo, a tenuous argument under any circumstances when the editorial comes two years after the incident. It’s garden variety organizational politics at worst.

    And every student of logic would understand that even if the ADL considers supporting Israel as part of its mandate, it does not follow that every time it remains silent on an alleged white supremacist it is because of Israel.

    Your argument is faulty, your presentation smug, and your ignorance of the ADL and logic obvious.

  7. walt kovacs

    maybe the adl turned a blind eye because they wanted mccain to win the nomination

    cuz we all know how that turned out…dont we

    way to go max

    now we find out that you have been a bush supporter all along

  8. poyani

    hophmi said “The ADL does not condemn every single white supremacist in the world. There are too many.”

    The ADL does not condemn EVERY SINGLE white supremacist, because they cannot possibly become aware of EVERY SINGLE white supremacist. As the article above notes, they were aware of Quinn, who was an adviser to a major candidate for the US presidency (in 99).

    The ADL does condemn every politically significant white supremacist in the US. They certainly smear EVERY politically significant critic of Israel in the US.

    hophmi said “And every student of logic would understand that even if the ADL considers supporting Israel as part of its mandate, it does not follow that every time it remains silent on an alleged white supremacist it is because of Israel.”

    No one is making this argument. It’s your strawman, not mine!

    hophmi said “Your argument is faulty, your presentation smug, and your ignorance of the ADL and logic obvious.”

    Sorry if I sound “smug” but we are debating what is considered general knowledge. It doesn’t take any argument to prove that the ADL’s mandate is to justify every crime Israel commits. All it takes is a quick visit to ADL’s “advocacy” page.

    http://www.adl.org/israel/advocacy/

    As I said before, this issue is just common sense. Nearly everyone, regardless of his/her position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, is aware that the ADL is primarily a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda. The notion that it is committed to fighting racism is just a strategy for accomplishing the mandate mentioned above.

    The strategy is to smear every critic of Israel as being secretly antisemitic and involved in some world-wide antisemitic conspiracy. By also commenting on a few other (obviously) racist individuals, the ADL can give itself the guise of being a legitimate organization fighting racism.

    But the guise is thin, and as I said above, most people (on either side of the conflict) see right through it.

    There is actually an excellent documentary on the ADL made by an Israeli film-maker called “Defamation”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation_%28film%29

  9. lpca520

    I hope you have a nice day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.
    xiaoxiao123 09 04

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