Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Squabble over Free Speech

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Squabble over Free Speech

Article excerpt

The leaders of two major Jewish organizations engaged in a bitter squabble over a recent Los Angeles speaking appearance by New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Attacking Friedman as a"hostile critic of Israel," Morton A. Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), assailed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and its Los Angeles chapter for recently naming Pulitzer Prize-winner Friedman as its keynote speaker for its annual dinner-dance at the Century Plaza Hotel. Friedman spoke to an applauding audience as a dozen demonstrators against the speech stood outside the hotel.

In a "Dear Abe" letter to ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman in New York, Klein called on the ADL to cancel Friedman's appearance while insisting that,"This is not an issue of free speech."

Although Friedman has a "right to his opinions," Klein went on, he "does have a long and troubling record of one-sided journalistic attacks on Israel. It is troubling that an organization such as ADL,which has fought so valiantly against the defamation of Jews and Israel, is giving a podium to ... Mr. Friedman, who regularly defames Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu."

Klein appended a list of 18 alleged statements by Friedman purported to be anti-Israel. The ZOA, one of the most conservative Jewish organizations in the country, also has hurled anti-Israel charges against Times columnist Anthony Lewis and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, a former Time magazine editor.

In reply to rejecting Klein's request, Foxman noted that Friedman has spoken at ADL functions several times in the past, adding:"While we certainly do not agree with all of his positions regarding Israel and the Middle East, we consider him a responsible, knowledgeable and incisive commentator on that region."

Moreover, Foxman said, ADL regards Friedman's opinions as expressed in his columns as being "within the context of support for ... Israel."

In statements to the Jewish press, Foxman called Klein an "attack dog of the thought police" and described his stand on Friedman's speech as "outrageous and offensive--an insult to the name of Zionism and American democracy."

"Mr. Klein should be expelled from the organized Jewish world," Foxman was quoted as saying. Foxman also charged Klein with sending out an"action alert" to the ZOA supporters around the country, asking them to express their opinions about Friedman to the ADL.

Later, in a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Foxman apologized for "some of my statements" about Klein, terming them "inappropriate."

The conference had issued guidelines urging a "civility of debate" among Jewish organizations with opposing viewpoints.

The controversy went international when David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Netanyahu, backed Klein's call for a ban on Friedman's ADL appearance in a letter to the Forward, a Jewish newspaper in New York. But Bar-Illan, Netanyahu's director of policy planning and communications and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, subsequently wrote to the foreword on the letterhead of the Prime Minister's office, stating he had spoken only for himself and not Netanyahu or the Israeli government.

"Mr. Netanyahu does not feel the Israel government has a right to express an opinion about such matters," Bar-Illan wrote. …

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