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Jewish Activist Charges ADL Head, Jewish Journalist with Defamation

July 1, 1998
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Jewish activist Morton Klein is charging the head of the Anti-Defamation League and a Jewish journalist with defamation, but appears to be backing away from the perceived threat of legal action.

In letters from his attorney, Klein demanded apologies from abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, and J.J. Goldberg, a Jewish columnist, for what Klein called “defamatory” language in describing his pattern of political activism.

Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, is seen as one of the most outspoken activists in the Jewish community, spearheading campaigns on issues as diverse as Palestinian accountability and who makes an acceptable speaker at a Jewish event.

The current imbroglio stems from Klein’s effort to remove John Roth, a Holocaust scholar who was appointed to head a new research center at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Klein, who lives in Philadelphia, mounted a campaign to call attention to some of Roth’s controversial writings, including an article that compared Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.

Bowing to the pressure, Roth this week resigned from the post.

In the midst of the debate over Roth, Goldberg wrote a column, published in a handful of Jewish newspapers, criticizing Klein’s tactics in advancing some of his political causes. He accused Klein of employing a strategy “marginalizing other Jews by dredging up old, out-of-context quotes, ignoring other evidence.”

He cites as examples Klein’s past criticism of U.S. State Department officials Martin Indyk and Aaron Miller.

In his column, Goldberg quotes Foxman as saying that one of Klein’s tactics is to label his ideological opponents “as traitors in the hope that nobody will give them a platform.”

In a telephone interview this week, Klein denied the characterization and said, “The tone of Foxman’s language is to diminish me, to demean me and to reduce my credibility.” He accused both Foxman and Goldberg of “having a vendetta against me.”

Foxman and Goldberg denied the accusation.

While Klein has not expressly threatened to file a lawsuit against Goldberg, he said that if Goldberg does not apologize, “we’ll see” what happens.

Goldberg, fearing a lawsuit, has retained an attorney, but said he stands by his column.

He also called Klein’s decision to bring in a lawyer “a little chilling.”

Meanwhile, Klein has decided to change course in his effort to force Foxman to apologize.

Klein said he was turning to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body.

Last year, the group found Foxman at fault for calling Klein “an attack dog of the Jewish thought police” for his criticism of ADL for hosting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said the group’s committee on rights and responsibilities would review a complaint next month if Klein filed one.

During a particularly vitriolic period, prior to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, members of the conference signed a statement promising to avoid “demeaning characterizations” of other Jews.

But Foxman said he would oppose any move by the Conference of Presidents to consider Klein’s charges.

“It’s not the conference’s business or jurisdiction,” he said.

Foxman stood by his criticism of Klein, saying that “he accuses people of being enemies of the Jewish people to disenfranchise them. These tactics are unacceptable.”

Klein’s efforts to deflect Goldberg’s column about him have already had some effect.

The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent carried an editorial last week headlined, “Clearing the Record: We Apologize to Morton Klein for Factual Errors.”

The paper also carried a letter to the editor from the president of the Jewish Publishing Group, which publishes the Exponent.

“It would be a gross understatement to say that we erred” in publishing Goldberg’s column, wrote Gary Erlbaum.

“I openly apologize to our readers for publicly ridiculing and causing embarrassment to an outstanding member of the community,” Earlbaum wrote after slamming Goldberg’s column as a “shaded, simplistic, inaccurate, sarcastic and underhanded hatchet job on a respected local Jewish leader of international influence.”

At the same time, on the other coast, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal opted to run the same piece even after controversy about it had erupted.

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