Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman arrived in Israel in mid-October on the heels of several controversial decisions that prompted a hail of criticism in the United States. Foxman may have hoped that while in Israel he would have been able to avoid sensitive issues like his condemnation of the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero; the ADL’s honoring of right-wing media kingpin Rupert Murdoch; or the ADL’s release of a blacklist of “anti-Israel organizations.” And for most of his trip, Foxman was able to propagate his message to the Israeli public and international media without any background noise from the US.
Then the great macher agreed to an on-camera interview with David Sheen, a young writer and videographer who splits time between the center-left Israeli paper Haaretz and independent documentary projects. Sheen, an Israeli citizen who is a friend and colleague of mine, makes no secret of his strong views about issues ranging from the occupation of Palestine to animal rights. He submitted his questions to Foxman days before the interview at the request of the ADL’s press handler. But Foxman did not bother to review the questions. Instead, he walked into the interview expecting to be handled as he was by the rest of the Israeli media: gently and with a degree of deference.
This may explain why Foxman appears so shocked when Sheen confronts him with pointed questions about the ADL’s honoring of Murdoch (Foxman calls him “a media genius”) and his endorsement of the “bigoted” positions of opponents of the Park 51 mosque (Foxman claims the reporter who quoted him defending the anti-mosque crowd’s bigotry “didn’t know history from borscht”). As Sheen presents Foxman with a litany of concerns of his growing legion of detractors, who have accused him of turning the ADL into a smear machine that has nothing to do with its stated mission of promoting civil rights, Foxman furiously lashes out at his interviewer, accusing him of staging a “set up.”
On at least four occasions, Foxman threatens to end the interview, claiming the questions are “not productive” and that he has better things to do. But each time he remains in his seat and berates Sheen. As the interview progresses (or deteriorates), it is clear that Foxman has little interest in promoting the work of the ADL, or even in rebutting his critics. He is far more interested in screaming at Sheen. It is one of the strangest and most embarrassing interview performances I have seen since Sarah Palin campaigned for Vice President.