Mr. Abraham Foxman
823 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
August 4, 2010
Dear Mr. Foxman:
Enclosed please find all ADL address labels your office has ever sent to me in the hope of receiving a contribution.
After the Anti Defamation League’s opposition to the construction of the Park 51 community center complex (usually, if inaccurately, refered to as the “ground zero mosque”), I cannot imagine ever again using an address sticker with my name on it that associates the ADL with “Diversity,” “Tolerance” or “Acceptance.” I also have no desire to see my name associated with that of the ADL, even on an envelope paying my electric bill that no one will bother looking at.
Furthermore, I hereby request that I be expunged from your mailing lists and databases. I also revoke the permission you may have thought you had to give or sell these names to any person or organization.
I note that, in the wake of the approval of the Park 51 project by the relevant authorities, you have backed off somewhat. And I appreciate the fact that you apparently will not be joining Rev. Pat Robertson in the perpetuation of this exercise in histrionic bigotry. Nonetheless, you went much too far in stirring up and fueling Jewish paranoia, lending your voice to the din of intolerance generated by the right wing media and exploited by right wing politicians.
Since you like to collect and retell anecdotes about holocaust survivors and their sensitivities, let me share one with you. Some months ago I took my mother to a synagogoue in Delray Beach, FL, to say kaddish [the memorial prayer for the dead] for my father on the anniversary of his passing, in a congregation made up primarily of elderly Jews.
At one non-crucial point in the service, I needed to use the ladies’ room. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one who had this idea, and I had to wait behind a couple of elderly women. When I was first in the queue, I saw a trembling arthritic woman who had just washed her hands struggling to get a paper towel out of the dispenser so she could dry them. I took 3 or 4 steps toward her and got her a towel.
At the very moment I did so, two stalls became available. The two women waiting behind me promptly swooped into them. I resumed waiting for the next vacancy. Two more women entered and got behind me.
At this point, another woman came into the ladies’ room. She immediately came over to me, rolled up the sleeve of her sweater, revealing the concentration camp number tattooed on her wrist, held it up to me, and whined, “I hate standing in lines.”
I stared at her, shrugged, and then, ignoring her, went into the first available stall.
How could I be so lacking in “sensitivity”? First, three women waiting to use three toilets is a queue, not a “line” like one would have found at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Second of all, had the woman simply said, “This is really an emergency!” because she had a bladder control issue, most likely I would have graciously let her in ahead of me. Had I noticed that she had any difficulty standing or walking, I would voluntarily have yielded my place to her without her even asking.
But her waving her wrist in my face had exactly the opposite reaction than what she had hoped for. Instead of feeling sorry for her, I was disgusted. How dare she cheapen and insult the holocaust by using the tattoo on her arm in this way?
Mr. Foxman, without pressing the analogy too far, I had a very similar response when I read your argument against the Cordoba Institute’s plans to build a center in lower Manhattan. Yes, you’re a holocaust survivor, and you claim to be protecting the “sensitivities” of 9/11 survivors, whom you equate with holocaust survivors.
But in doing so you put yourself, and the American Jewish community you claim to speak for, in a very similar position to the whining woman in the ladies’ room: rolling up her sleeve, as she most likely has been doing for the past sixty some-odd years, showing off the number on her arm, and using it manipulatively.
I’m really glad ADL lost this round to Mayor Bloomberg and the relevant New York city authorities. I’m also grateful that rabbis like Marc Schneier, Irwin Kula, Joshua Stanton and numerous others spoke out in favor of Park 51’s being built.
And now you can take my ADL Diversity, Tolerance and Acceptance address labels and stick them wherever you like.
Dr. Marsha B. Cohen
UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria, of CNN and Newsweek, has written to Foxman, returning the Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize he was awarded by the ADL in 2005. “You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization,” Zakaria wrote in the letter, published in Newsweek. “Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.” Zakaria returned both his plaque and a $10,000 honorarium.