The Anti-Defamation League

Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Defaming Jews

   Recently the president of the United States, George W. Bush, lit a Menorah in the White House and invited the children of his Jewish associates to a Chanuka party. This may seem ordinary to some who know little of American Jewish history. However, those who know the name Leo Frank will agree that the 87 years which have passed since Frank was brutally murdered in Georgia for being a Jew have made an enormous difference in the position of the American Jewish community.

    At the time of the Frank murder, the Virginia “aristocrat” Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States. Slander of Jews in newspapers was common and Jews were then the butt of so-called comedians who imitated “Jewish” accents and repeated endlessly all those idiotic canards which were associated with so much cruelty and brutality towards the Jewish people in Europe.

    Leo Frank was lynched by hate mongers in 1915 who pretended that he was responsible for the killing of Mary Phagan, an employee at the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, Ga., of which Frank was then the manager.  Frank was convicted of this crime despite lack of evidence in an atmosphere of hate punctuated by a mob screaming in the streets, “hang the Jew.” The jury, fearing for their lives and inspired by anti-Jewish bigotry found Frank guilty and condemned him to death.

    When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rectify this injustice, the Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton, commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment with the result that a lynch mob entered the prison and hanged Frank.  None of the lynchers were ever apprehended for this brutal murder.

    Gov. Slaton left office in 1915 and moved out of Georgia for fear of his life and that of his family who were threatened by the murderers of Frank. The names of the killers are known and have been published in recent months.

    The most important consequence of the murder of Frank was the founding of the Anti-defamation League of B’nai B’rith. That league was the idea of Sigmund Livingston, a Chicago lawyer who defined the objectives of the League “to stop…………….. the defamation of the Jewish people”.  Since then the ADL has been very successful in preventing the use of vulgar epithets towards the Jewish people in the media, in using the law to fight blatant discrimination against us and in standing up to Arab propaganda against Jews and Israel.

    The ADL has offices all over the United States (not in Buffalo), and has grown into a major, well funded organization during the nine decades of its existence. As a consequence of this growth, the ADL has also developed a huge bureaucracy. That bureaucracy is today topped by ambitious national directors,  executives, associate  executives, assistant executives, and a host of other “machers” who now feast on the success of past generations.

     Today, large salaries, vast offices, numerous secretaries, expense accounts, social honors and other emoluments accompany incumbency in one of the offices of the ADL and many of our other Jewish organizations. Consequently we are also plagued by the in-fighting and rivalries which always occur when power is involved.

    Therefore, the Los Angeles regional director of the ADL, David Lehrer, was fired on January 6 of this year. Lehrer has worked for ADL for 27 years and is highly regarded as a great fund raiser and innovative defender of the Jewish people in the western United States where a greater and greater number of Jews are now settled.  His success evidently worried the New York establishment.  Lehrer symbolizes the growth of the western Jewish community in this country, a growth which challenges the New York establishment. In short, Lehrer was fired because it was feared that he would lead the Los Angeles Jewish community out of the domination by the New York bosses.

    There are those among us who now say that we no longer need all the “top-heavy” Jewish organizations which compete for our money so that they can pay salaries upward of $400,000 to so-called “executives”. The firing of Lehrer seems to confirm such a view. We do need an anti-defamation organization, but do we need dictatorial executives who rule for life over organizations originally set up to service the Jewish people? Do we need self-appointed elitists who collect our money for their private purposes?

   Consider this. If the president of the United States cannot serve more than ten years (that is right - ten years. Look at the Constitution again) and normally serves only four or eight years, why should not the executive of a Jewish agency be rotated every four or five years? “Power corrupts,” said Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

   The split between east coast and west coast Jewish organizations became visible in 1994 when the University of Judaism became autonomous from the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York and opened its own rabbinical school.

   The issue which the Jewish community must confront today is the corruption of our organizations into power bases for ambitious “executives” who place their own income and Napoleon complex ahead of the needs of the Jewish people. Therefore we must abolish the custom of appointing any executive for more than five years. Let us take a lesson from our American constitution. Give democracy a chance in Jewish life and abolish the pernicious practices which lead to personal rivalries and in-fighting. Read the book by Freedman, Jew vs. Jew, and insist that your money not be spent on wasteful ambition but on the needs of the Jewish community. Good words are not enough. Good examples are needed. Bonis exemplis, magis impetramus, cum bonis verbis.

Shalom u’vracha.

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