NEW YORK, Sept. 20 (JTA) — He is an elderly gentleman, a $5,000- a-year contributor to the Anti-Defamation League, who is said to be such a true believer that he will bequeath his sizeable estate to the agency.
But when the ADL publicly criticized vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman for an Aug. 29 speech in which he appeared to blend religion with politics, the man wasn’t satisfied with firing off an angry letter to the ADL.
He vowed to withhold his $5,000, and have his lawyer remove the ADL from his will.
“While he agreed with us in principle, he thought the timing was off and wondered why we couldn’t wait until after the election,” said Peter Willner, ADL’s associate national director, responsible for development.
After a recent 35-minute conversation, though, the man “came around” and said he wouldn’t make that call to his lawyer after all.
“That’s why I think this has been a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community, to explain why we took the position we’ve taken,” said Willner.
But ADL officials concede they have not won over all of their irate supporters; some are “serious donors” who let their donor dollars do the talking.
While the ADL boasts roughly 400,000 financial supporters, the agency has received some 400 letters, phone calls and e-mails in the weeks following the highly publicized ADL rebuke. The ratio is 2-1 against the ADL position, said spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum.
Not all have threatened to withhold donations, she said.
The criticisms, said Shinbaum, have generally fallen into three categories: those who feel “you don’t criticize a Jew, no matter what”; others who were partisan, as in “Democrats who said, ‘What are you trying to do, we’re trying to get him elected.’ ” (Republican Jews, meanwhile, “applauded us,” said Shinbaum with a laugh); and others who misunderstood, believing “we were criticizing Lieberman for being too Jewish when we were criticizing him for bringing religion into the public policy arena.”
Willner said it is still too early to tell whether the “serious donors” will follow through on their threats, as the traditional season of giving begins in December.
On the other hand, said Shinbaum, it is not uncommon for an angry caller or writer to threaten to withhold their contribution, when in fact they have never given to the ADL. A few betray their empty threats when they pledge to revoke their “membership,” when the ADL is not a member organization.
All in all, though, the ADL said it does not regret its actions.
And as Shinbaum noted, the Gore-Lieberman campaign seems to have toned down its emphasis on religion.
“Whoever made that decision or why, they now seem to be focusing on issues, and not religion in government,” she said.
“And that’s exactly what we wanted. We thought religion should not be used on the campaign stump.”