Rush and The ADL: The Controversy Which Isn’t

In a bizarre permutation of traditional political alliances, Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is catching flack from his usual allies on the right for calling out Rush Limbaugh’s anti-Semitic slurs last week.

By taking on the face of modern conservatism, Foxman either bit off more than he could chew or  pulled off some carefully orchestrated political jujitsu to harden his—and the ADL’s—position as moderates.

The ADL’s attempt to position itself as the mainstream arbiter of what qualifies as “anti-Semitism”–and their frequent willingness to conflate opposition to hardline Israeli policies with anti-Semitism–have served as useful tools in defending Israeli Likud party policies both in the U.S. and around the world.

Recently, South African judge Richard Goldstone was denounced by the ADL for his report detailing Israeli and Hamas war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, and retired diplomat Charles Freeman came into the cross-hairs of the ADL for his comments questioning unconditional U.S. support of Israel. Freeman, who had been nominated to chair the National Intelligence Council, was forced to withdraw his name from nomination after he was targeted by the ADL, the Zionist Organization of America, the Middle East Forum, and, more discreetly, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

On January 20th, Limbaugh made comments which cut a little too close to negative stereotypes about Jews and money.

He said:

“There are a lot of people, when you say banker, people think Jewish. People who have prejudice, people who have, you know — what’s the best way to say — a little prejudice about them. To some people, bankers — code word for Jewish — and guess who Obama’s assaulting? He’s assaulting bankers. He’s assaulting money people. And a lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish. So I wonder if there’s starting to be some buyer’s remorse there.”

Abe Foxman fired back the next day.

“Rush Limbaugh reached a new low with his borderline anti-Semitic comments about Jews as bankers, their supposed influence on Wall Street, and how they vote.

Limbaugh’s references to Jews and money in a discussion of Massachusetts politics were offensive and inappropriate.  While the age-old stereotype about Jews and money has a long and sordid history, it also remains one of the main pillars of anti-Semitism and is widely accepted by many Americans.  His notion that Jews vote based on their religion, rather than on their interests as Americans, plays into the hands of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.

When he comes to understand why his words were so offensive and unacceptable, Limbaugh should apologize.”

The ADL’s decision to demand an apology from Limbaugh sparked an uproar from the far-right.Filling in for Limbaugh, Mark Steyn said:

“Abe Foxman attacked Rush last week for his anti-Semitism. I have never heard anything more stupid and more contemptible from a Jewish organization than doing this stupid assault on one of the best friends in the United States of the Jewish people and of the state of Israel.”


“We are witnessing across the planet the biggest resurgence in anti-Semitism since the second World War, and this boob, this pathetic, contemptible, cowardly man thinks it’s his job as spokesperson for a major Jewish organization to attack Rush. This is beyond pathetic. It is actually self-destructive.”

Norman Podhoretz rushed to Limbaugh’s defense, writing:

“Rush Limbaugh has been subjected to a vile attack by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Of course, Mr. Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past forty years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned.”

Also jumping to Limbaugh’s defense were Michael Ledeen, The Zionist Organization of America, and blogger Pamela Geller.

But Foxman is hardly a mouthpiece of the left—despite the best attempts of the whose-who of right-wing notables to paint him as such—and his policy positions seem most closely aligned with the U.S. far right-wing and the Israeli Likud party.

Foxman has no shortness of vitriol for professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and charged that Jimmy Carter was engaging in anti-Semitism by writing his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Regularly labeling those who oppose Israeli government actions as anti-Semites isn’t even where Foxman’s lean to the right ends.

In September, 2008, Foxman declined to condemn Sarah Palin’s church for hosting an event by the highly controversial Jews For Jesus.

It is hard to believe that the far right-wing of the GOP and their de facto leader—Rush Limbaugh—have any meaningful beef with Foxman, but these periodic spats with the ADL serve to grant greater legitimacy to Foxman and his efforts to conflate anti-Semitism with opposition to Israeli militarism and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

While the right-wing attacks on Foxman will be renewed every time he criticizes Geert Wilders, Rush Limbaugh or other figureheads of the far-right, his position within world of mainstream Jewish organizations may end up being reinforced.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Foxman is pro-Israel, obviously. When it comes to U.S. domestic politics he is, as head of the Anti-Defamation League, on the lookout for anti-semitism. Or rather, he scans the landscape and condemns anything he considers to be anti-semitic. It isn’t a question of left or right.

    Now, are we seriously to believe that all Jews vote “strictly on their interests as Americans” — in other words, no American Jew — not one — ever thinks about how his or her vote will affect Israel? Come on. Can we be grownups here?

    I have no brief for Limbaugh, who though occasionally entertaining is basically just a fat bloviator (Oh no, am I going to be labeled a defamer of the obese for saying Limbaugh’s fat?). But jumping on people and shouting, “Anti-semite!” will achieve the opposite of what’s intended. At some point American gentiles are going to just throw up their hands.

    Anti-semitism IS increasing in America. Hysterical finger-pointing at every remark somebody like Limbaugh makes is just going to make things worse.

  2. Sen Chuck Schumer..quote…:

    “A vote against Bolton is a vote against Israel”

    I’ve already thrown my hands up…I don’t vote for the dems nor the repubs, I write in a name, any name.
    Let the Israeli fanatics and other special interest have their way with America.
    They will destroy it soon enough and then we can start over.

  3. This sounds a lot like Harry Reid’s, “light skinned, negro with no real dialect.”

    Abe is such a one note that even he can’t see to yield for one of his comrades. Since when do the MIC and Zionists care if someone is totally on-board with their own agenda. The nexus between the Jewish settler movement and the Evangelical Christians is more sordid than this.

    Maybe Abe is just so hypersensitive he wails at every slight.

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