NEW YORK (JTA) — Abraham Foxman, the former longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he will not be attending a Zionist Organization of America dinner because the event has been “politicized.”
Foxman had planned to attend Sunday’s dinner, which will feature a speech by Stephen Bannon, a senior adviser to Donald Trump whose appointment has stirred controversy. Bannon formerly ran Breitbart News, a website Bannon called “the platform for the alt-right,” a loose movement of the far right whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”
Foxman said in a statement Wednesday that he would not be going to the gala, a decision he said came after the ZOA publicized the former ADL leader’s intention to attend.
“ZOA manipulated and abused my trust when they announced my decision to attend without my permission because they have politicized this event,” the statement said. “My intention was solely to be in attendance to honor Bernie Marcus, and not to make any political statement.”
Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, is being honored at the dinner. On Tuesday Marcus, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, published a statement supporting Bannon’s appointment. Bannon has come under fire from a number of Jewish groups, including the ADL, which for years was nearly synonymous with Foxman’s name.
On Thursday, ZOA President Mort Klein accused Foxman of lying in his statement. ZOA has attacked ADL a number of times in recent years for its stance on laws prohibiting Israel boycotts and over accusations that ADL supports the Black Lives Matter movement, parts of which have endorsed an Israel boycott.
“He knew Bannon was going to be there,” Klein said. “He lied and says we misled him. What did we mislead? [Bannon] asked me if he could come, I said OK.”
ZOA has been one of two Jewish groups, along with the RJC, to support Bannon’s appointment. Klein claimed that when Bannon called Breitbart a platform for the alt-right, he meant to expose and demean the movement, not promote it.
“He gave them a platform, in his opinion, to expose what lunatics and haters they are,” Klein told JTA. “You can disagree with that. It doesn’t make him an anti-Semite or a homophobe or an Islamophobe.”
The ADL, now led by CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, this week decried Trump’s appointment of Bannon as a top White House adviser, saying Bannon’s association with “unabashed anti-Semites and racists” is disqualifying.