WASHINGTON (JTA) – Abraham Foxman said Russell Simmons’ likening of the Anti-Defamation League’s national director to Louis Farrakhan was "outrageous and ugly."
Simmons, appearing in Jerusalem at this week’s Israel Presidential Conference with his Foundation for Ethnic Understanding co-founder Rabbi Marc Schneier, defended his friendship with the Nation of Islam leader by saying that just as Farrakhan had alienated Jews, Foxman had alienated African Americans.
"What’s surprising is that Simmons did it in Jerusalem," said Foxman, who also attended the conference, although it was not clear if he attended the session with Simmons and Schneier. "What’s disappointing is that someone who has a history of having a blind spot to one of the most vociferous and ugly anti-Semites would be given a platform in Jerusalem. And what’s outrageous is how divisive and ugly his attack on us was. And, finally, what’s shocking is that his colleague and partner, Rabbi Marc Schneier, stood by in silence."
Schneier, in an interview with JTA, said Simmons, the founder of the Def Jam hip-hop label, was "winking" when he said it, and that it was in "jest," which the audience understood.
"I find it sad that Abe would expend so much time and energy in attacking Russell Simmons, who is one of the greatest friends of the Jewish people and a tireless advocate of the State of Israel," he said.
Schneier said he had "profound disagreements" with Farrakhan, but also that it was the objective of his foundation to engage with people who have such disagreements.
Foxman has publicly praised Simmons for his outreach work between African Americans and Jews, but also has faulted him for his praise of Farrakhan, who has likened Judaism to a "gutter religion" and for years has peddled anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Simmons has said his admiration for Farrakhan derives from his efforts to promote black self-respect.
Foxman in his statement noted the ADL’s decades of involvement in civil rights battles.
Speaking of Schneier’s silence, Foxman said, "Where was his defense of this 100-year-old organization that has not only defended against anti-Semitism but has worked alongside the African-American community on some of the most important civil rights struggles in our nation’s history? Shame on Simmons, and shame on Schneier."
Schneier said he and Simmons were in Israel not only to attend the conference, but to bring their mosque-synagogue twinning project to the country.
The annual twinning project, launched in the United States but now occurring in a number of other countries, brings together the Muslim and Jewish faith communities for shared projects.