Talk by N.Y. Times Friedman spurs ADL-ZOA political fuss

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In a letter to Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, Klein described Friedman as a man "who regularly defames Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," and asked that the journalist's appearance be cancelled.

Klein appended a list of 13 alleged anti-Israel statements and actions by Friedman, starting with a recent Friedman observation that "all Netanyahu has done is polarize Israeli society and lead it into a dead end," and dating back to 1974, when Friedman was a student at Brandeis University.

In a sharp response to Klein, Foxman said the ADL was proud to present Friedman, "a responsible, knowledgeable, and incisive commentator" on the Middle East whose "opinions are always expressed within the context of support for the State of Israel."

Furthermore, Foxman upbraided Klein for his repeated personal attacks, not only on Friedman and the ADL director himself, but also on U.S. diplomats Strobe Talbott and Martin Indyk, and writer Leonard Fein.

In his next move, Klein fired off an "Action Alert" to ZOA leaders and "Friends of Israel Around the U.S.," urging them to protest Friedman's appearance to the ADL.

That sealed the matter for Foxman, who urged that Klein be expelled from the organized Jewish world.

"Mr. Klein can invite anyone he wants, but we don't need this kind of thought police in the Jewish community," Foxman said in an interview.

"He has lowered the discourse to a new level of personal intolerance and it is time that people stood up to this kind of behavior."

In turn, Klein characterized Foxman's statement as "hysterical."

In the latest development, eight present and past ZOA leaders asked the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to reprimand Foxman for his criticism of Klein and to ask Foxman to apologize to him.

The letter charged that Foxman had violated an agreement, signed last year by most Jewish organizations, to assure "civility of debate and behavior" and refrain from "verbal violence and demeaning characterizations [that] violate basic Jewish tenets."

Signatories to the letter, including five past national ZOA presidents, found it "ironic that an organization devoted to fighting defamation is now itself engaged in defamation."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said the matter had been referred to a committee that was recently formed in part to arbitrate differences between member organizations over their roles and responsibilities.

"We would like to see it contained rather than have it escalate further," Hoenlein said.

What began as a tiff between two outspoken men of different political views took on an international flavor when David Bar-Illan, Netanyahu's communications director and one of the prime minister's top aides, also inveighed against Friedman.

"Friedman's whole history is that of an anti-Zionist," Bar-Illan said from Jerusalem. "Any organization that purports to be Zionist should not give him a platform.

"His whole writing indicates a patronizing attitude toward the `natives,'" Bar-Illan said, referring to Israelis. "It would perhaps be palatable for the ADL to present him in a debate with a pro-Zionist."

As editor of the Jerusalem Post before joining the Netanyahu administration, Bar-Illan wrote a column, "Eye on the Media," which was generally highly critical of the way the foreign media covered Israel.

Friedman, as the Jerusalem-based Israel bureau chief for the Times, had been among Bar-Illan's targets.

Told of Bar-Illan's latest remarks, Foxman responded that "it's a sad day for Israel when the prime minister's spokesman issues an advisory on who is or isn't an appropriate speaker" in the United States.

"Is he ready to issue an enemies list? And were we wrong to give a platform to Mr. Netanyahu when he was in opposition to the Israeli government?" Foxman said.

Friedman himself declined to discuss the dispute for the record, saying he did not want to elevate some "fringe individuals" by getting into a public debate with Klein.

He said he looked forward to speaking at the ADL dinner, at which 1,500 guests are expected.

Friedman drew a full house in San Francisco in October at a fund-raiser for the local chapter of the American Associates of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He warned that peace between Israel and all the Arab states with which it now has peace will "crumble" if the Oslo peace process fails.

Meanwhile, Klein's attacks apparently are having some effect. Foxman said he was being deluged by an organized campaign of phone calls, faxes and e-mail opposing Friedman's appearance.

In Los Angeles, David Lehrer, the regional ADL director, said he had received a few anti-Friedman calls "from the usual suspects."

In addition, two full-page ads, both quoting from the ZOA's indictment of Friedman's "anti-Zionism," are scheduled to appear in the Dec. 6 issue of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

But according to Foxman, with few exceptions, ADL supporters on the East and West coasts appeared to back their leadership in inviting Friedman.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent