When asked to stop denying the Armenian Genocide, the ADL leader Abraham Foxman, in his own words, had “sleepless nights.”

But it wasn’t the thought about the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians that kept Foxman awake; nor the reflections on murdered children scattered all around the Syrian desert. In fact, the suffering of the Armenians was the last thing Foxman had in his mind.

What had “shocked” him, says Foxman, was that many Jews in Boston had “criticize[d] us” – the Anti-Defamation League.

He was shocked that Jews would protest a Jewish organization for denying the Armenian Genocide. Now try to convince me that Foxman is not being an anti-Semite in his statement. He thinks that there is a Jewish conspiracy that cares about nothing else but the good of Israel? He thinks that the Jews of Boston should tolerate genocide denial by the ADL because the latter supposedly works for Israel? Read his interview and make up your own mind.


JTA: Did you do anything wrong in the controversy over whether to describe as genocide the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks?


FOXMAN: I didn’t do anything wrong. I miscalculated. We said it is a massacre, an atrocity, we’ve said it for 40 years. The Armenians wanted us to say genocide. To me it was sufficient for us to say I’m not a historian we don’t adjudicate all the issues. What I miscalculated was the Jewish community. I respect the Armenian community for wanting their memory, their pain, their suffering to be recognized globally in the most sensitive way or the most meaningful way. So we said it is an atrocity and it is massacre, but we just don’t think that Congress should adjudicate it. What I did not suspect was where the Jewish community was.

I was shocked, upset, frightened by the fact that this was an issue where Jews were attacking us. It’s one thing for the federation director or the CRC director or for Jewish pundits to support the Armenian position, but to criticize us, to organize against us, that shocked me….

We are a community in transition. I believe in Hillel; I think this agency is an expression of the Hillel thesis [If I am only for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?]. In fact, our founding fathers had this vision in 1915, to defend the Jewish people and to protect the right of all individuals. But there is one and two. To me, it was very clear; there are moral imperatives here, the moral imperative to feel somebody else’s pain, to recognize their anguish, and the moral imperative that is the safety and the security of the Jewish community.

I don’t believe that the Turkish government tomorrow will go and take it out on the Jews. But the Turkish Jewish community came to the United States, met with Jewish representatives, and asked them to transmit a letter on this issue. It was very clear to me what the interests of the Jewish community in Turkey are. It was also very clear to me that after the United States the most important ally Israel has is Turkey. It’s a country that not only has promised to provide Israel with water until moshiach comes, but it’s a country that permits Israel’s pilots to do maneuvers over its land. And, so, to me, it was very clear that there are two moral issues, but one trumps the other. And it was clear to me that I cannot save one Armenian human being, not one. But if I do what the Armenians want me to do, I will put in jeopardy the lives of Turkish Jews and Israeli Jews.

What I didn’t realize was to what extent the American Jewish community has reversed Hillel, or at least in Boston and Massachusetts. That comes out of a changed demography, sociology. When we talk about assimilation, when we talk about intermarriage — you know what, that’s what it is.

So that’s one thing I misread. Two, I misread something else. Israel is no longer as significant. Some of this stuff I read and hear about in Boston was: “Why do we have to sacrifice our relationship with our Armenian friends and neighbors for Israel.” I heard people say to me if the [Jews in Turkey] are in trouble, let them leave. That’s what I miscalculated.

Then I turned around, and I got made fun of for it, and said we need unity now because Iran is a threat, Hamas is a threat, Hezbollah is a threat. [There’s] anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America. The last thing we need now is for [Boston Jewish leaders] Barry Shrage and Nancy Kaufman to be fighting us.


JTA: Given your concerns about Turkey, why did you reverse yourself on the use of the word genocide?


FOXMAN: I need, you need, we need a strong unified Jewish community to help Israel. And if we begin splintering…. I gave [in] for the greater purpose so that we can now sit and talk together. It almost destroyed our operation in Boston. And in the greater scheme of things, to go from massacres and atrocities to genocide, OK.

You know what? I’ve had sleepless nights about it.