NEW YORK (Aug. 21)
In continuing fallout from the clash between the Anti-Defamation League and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the chairman of ADL’s Southwest regional board has been forced to resign.
The resignation came after Gary Polland signed an Aug. 2 advertisement in The New York Times castigating the ADL for what the ad described as defamation of the Christian right.
The ad was signed by 75 Jews, none of whom listed their organizational affiliations. It listed as a contact Toward Tradition, a Seattle-based group formed in response to its perception of a liberal bias in Jewish organization life.
The group of Jews placed the ad in response to the June publication of an ADL study, which blamed the politically ascendant Christian religious right for posing a threat to pluralism and tolerance in America.
The ad stated that “Judaism is not, as the ADL seems to suggest, co-extensive with liberalism.”
On the day the ad appeared, ADL’s national chairman, David Strassler, sent Polland a letter telling him that his name on the ad posed an “irreconcilable conflict with your position” as chair of the Houston-based Southwest regional board.
Two other members of the ADL’s Southwest regional board, Phil Aronoff and Fred Zeidman, also signed the advertisement, but were not asked to resign.
According to Jonathan Bernstein, director of ADL’s Southwest office, Polland was singled out because of his role as chairman.
Nonetheless, Aronoff, a Republican Party activist, decided to resign on his own. Zeidman did not. Another board member, Robert Epstein, who did not sign the ad, reportedly decided to resign from the board over the imbroglio.
Aronoff and Zeidman declined to speak to a reporter about the issue, and Epstein did not return phone calls.
Polland, a Houston litigation attorney who is active on behalf of both Jewish and Republican causes, said the issue was one of free speech.
“ADL is a big enough organization with broad enough perspectives to allow differences of opinion. It can handle dissent without excluding it,” Polland said.
“I like ADL and I wanted to stay; they didn’t want me to,” he said. “I guess they thought I should slink off into the sunset. They were requiring ideological conformity.”
But Bernstein disagreed. “This has nothing to do with free speech. It’s also not about a disagreement over the book’s content,” he said, referring to the ADL study. “We welcome and encourage an open exchange of differing viewpoints.”
However, Bernstein said, “it boils down to Gary’s failure to work as an organizational leader rather than push his own agenda.”
Polland said he had been a board member of ADL for 16 years and an officer for the last seven. As a Republican activist, he said he has served as a delegate to the last four state Republican conventions and works as an adviser to local Republican candidates.
According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, both Polland and Aronoff are supporting the Houston-area Republican congressional candidate Gene Fontenot. Fontenot recently served on the advisory council of Citizens for American Restoration, a group that seeks to advance Christian biblical teachings in government.
Aronoff is also a co-chairman for the gubernatorial campaign of Republican George W. Bush, the son of the former president who is seeking the Texas post.