After a brief truce, the Anti-Defamation League and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition have resumed their ongoing war of words.
At issue is a recent ADL report, “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America,” which conservative Christians and their Jewish supporters have attacked as defamatory.
In what seemed like a move toward conciliation, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman apologized in an Aug. 3 letter to Robertson for two inaccuracies in the report.
Foxman expressed hope in his letter to Robertson “that you and I can move forward with added empathy for each other’s religious and civic responsibilities.”
He added, “Pat, I hope that you are assured of our good faith.”
He promised that the two inaccuracies would be corrected in a forthcoming second printing of the book.
A day later Robertson accepted Foxman’s “apology and corrections in the spirit of good will in which I know it was intended.”
The spirit of good will does not seem to have lasted long.
The same day Robertson wrote his letter to Foxman, the Christian Coalition sent out a 29-page refutation of the ADL report to its members, Congressional leaders and the media.
The refutation is titled “A Campaign of Falsehoods: The Anti-Defamation League’s Defamation of Religious Conservatives.”
Attached was a memo from the Christian Coalition’s communications director labeling the ADL book “a partisan attack on people of faith.”
Also attached was a copy of an Aug. 2 advertisement placed in The New York Times signed by 75 Jewish conservatives, who saw the ADL report as an assault on the views of one of Israel’s and the Jewish community’s best friends.
The ad called the ADL publication “defamation” and “bigotry.”
A FIRESTORM OF CRITICISM
It was published under the auspices of Toward Tradition, a group based on Mercer Island, near Seattle, which was founded two years ago by Rabbi Daniel Lapin in order to provide a forum for Jewish conservatives and a response to the “radical liberal” positions of Jewish communal organizations.
In response to the Christian Coalition’s Aug. 4 mailing, the ADL fired off an Aug. 9 news release rejecting the implication of the Coalition and its Jewish backers that evangelical Christians cannot be criticized because of their support for Israel.
“ADL genuinely values the support of Israel these (Christian) leaders have demonstrated,” the ADL statement said. “But this support cannot be used as a shield from legitimate criticism.”
The June 9 publication of the ADL report on the Christian right launched a firestorm of criticism from political conservatives.
The report details the political ambitions of religious right groups and has become the centerpiece of an election-year political firestorm over the growing power and influence of the religious right.
The publication paints the Christian right’s conservative political agenda — most notably its stated opposition to the separation of church and state — as a threat to religious pluralism in America.
In Foxman’s correspondence with Robertson, he admitted two inaccuracies in the report.
The first was an assertion that Robertson never denounced David Duke during the former Ku Klux Klan leader’s 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial bid.
In fact, Robertson did so on his “700 Club” television show three days before the election.
The second inaccuracy was the ADL report’s statement that at a 1980 staff meeting of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Robertson said that Jews were “spiritually deaf” and “spiritually blind.”
The quotes were not challenged by Robertson in his point-by-point refutation of the ADL report, but the ADL discovered during its own double-checking of its information that there was no proof that Robertson had actually made those remarks.
Foxman, in an Aug. 9 interview, defended his group’s work.
“Two mistakes out of 166 pages, well, none of us is immune from human error,” he said.
“The big crime (Robertson) said we committed was saying he did not denounce David Duke, and we finally found one place where he did, but that’s far from the role a moral minister should have taken,” Foxman added.
‘SAVE YOUR PRAYERS FOR YOURSELF’
The conciliatory tone of the latest letters between Robertson and Foxman was in stark contrast to earlier correspondence between them.
In a July 14 letter, in the heat of the controversy over the report, Robertson wrote to Foxman that “it is painfully obvious that you are a deeply troubled individual who has somewhere along the way lost your Judaic roots.
“Please know, Abe, that I will pray earnestly that you may indeed meet personally the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Foxman quickly responded by writing to Robertson to “save your prayers for yourself.
“It’s just like you to decide for others what their spiritual needs are or should be. I have met my God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and do not need your guidance, prayers or intervention. May God be with you.”
In an interview several days after Foxman’s letter of apology to Robertson, Christian Coalition spokesman Mike Russell said, “we remain disappointed at this obviously partisan attack” by the ADL.
Foxman, for his part, said, “Ideological disagreement is still there. They not only believe they have the truth as opposed to a truth, but would like to impose their truth” on everyone. “Part of their truth is the concept of a Christian nation.”
The dispute between Foxman and Robertson may yet have a constructive outcome, however. Plans for an October meeting in Washington between Jewish and evangelical groups, including the Christian Coalition, are under way.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.