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October 12, 1984 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-12

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Friday, October 12, 1984

. .

This graffiti was
scrawled on the
Wiesenthal Center's
walls, leading to a
large rally at the
Center that some
Jewish organiza-
tional officials called

Community Relations Council. The Center overreacted to
the vandalism, he added, because "I think some organiza-
tions stand to benefit in terms of their ability to raise
funds, in terms of proving their necessity to exist." He
said Rabbi Hier "played into the hands of our enemies by
giving them a million dollars worth of free publicity."
The classic Jewish establishment response to anti-
Semites is to quarantine them when they want attention
and spotlight them when they don't. Community relations
officials say that most swastika-painting incidents are
done by minors as a manifestation of imitative behavior;
the more attention they are given the more times such in-
cidents will occur. "The Wiesenthal Center people probably
called the media before they called the police," said Wood.
He added that while the Center has an expertise in pro-
moting an understanding of the Holocaust era, "in terms
of contemporary anti-Semitism they are amateurs."
Another critic of the rally was Deborah Lipstadt, pro-
fessor of Jewish studies at UCLA, who said that "mak-
ing a big media hype"out of the graffiti incident was "not
fighting anti-Semitism but only self-serving an
Responding to charges that he left the graffiti on the
Center's walls for two weeks to attract media attention
and ensure a large rally, Rabbi Hier said that the decision
was Wiesenthal's. "He said for us to leave it up, to prove
to the Jews of Beverly Hills, who might think that they
are beyond hatred, that anti-Semitism is still alive." Rabbi
her wondered if those who criticized the rally weren't guil-
ty of "sour grapes" over the Center's highly visible reac-
tion to vandalism.
Wiesenthal himself later assailed the leaders of the
organized Jewish community of Los Angeles for what he
saw as their failure to respond forcefully to a rising number
of anti-Semitic incidents. "The Jewish Federation of Los
Angeles wanted to keep it quiet," he said of the graffiti
incident. "This kind of response on the part of the Los
Angeles Federation reminds me of the situation in Ger-
many in the 1920s and 30s when the Nazis spit in our face,
and the Jews would say, 'what a nice rain.'"

SA New Wave of Anti-Semitism'

Do we need another Jewish
defense agency?

Many community leaders and Jewish professionals
around the country are concerned that the Wiesenthal
Center appears to have evolved from what they thought
it would be, a Holocaust-related research institution, in-
to another Jewish defense agency, competing with — and,
critics say, duplicating the work of — organizations like
the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith.
A case in point is a widely circulated mass mailing that
has been sent out to hundreds of thousands of American
Jews over the last year, soliciting funds for the Wiesen-
thal Center to launch a new Nazi-Watch Program.
The six-page letter, under the signature of Wiesenthal
Center counsel Martin Mendelsohn, claims that "a new
wave of anti-Semitism is sweeping Europe" and it "is be-
ing fueled by Americans who are supplying both leader-
ship and materials to rebuild Nazism in Europe."
The letter goes on to cite a number of specific anti-
Semitic incidents in Europe and in the U.S., from
synagogue bombings to "scholarly" articles purporting
the Holocaust never happened. According to the letter,
"the new surge of anti-Semitism here is connected to the
rise of anti-Semitism abroad. And these are not just a

series of isolated, random events. We have learned the rise
of anti-Semitism is spear-headed by networks of neo-Nazis
which reach all over the country. INDEED, ALL OVER
Later, it states: "That same intense, U.S.-originated
hatred that feeds these Nazi groups in Europe also sparks
neo-Nazis in the United States. Hatred and anti-Semitism
are shockingly on the rise here, being boldly scrawled
across our entire nation, threatening all that we hold dear."
Critics maintain that the letter is long on shock value
but short on fact, that it links disparate events occurring
over a period of several years and that were exposed at
the time by existing national Jewish defense agencies.
These critics say the letter deliberately exaggerates anti-
Semitic activity.
Specifically, some observers contend that the number
and influence of neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. is quite small
and that they often compete with each other rather than
forming "networks of neo-Nazis," as the letter states. Fur-
ther, these groups are neither "strong" nor "well financed"
as they are described in the letter. The assertion that
"hatred and anti-Semitism are shockingly on the rise" in
the U.S., "threatening all we hold dear," is not based on
any meaningful criteria, critics charge. And the phrase
"scrawled across the nation," referring to anti-Semitism
vandalism, goes against the statistical evidence compil-
ed by national Jewish agencies which shows a steady
decline over the last several years of such incidents — and
only a handful of which have been proven to be the work
of organized hate groups.
Mot galling of all, though, to professionals at Jewish
organizations is the "pitch" of the Wiesenthal Center let-
ter, which calls for $250,000 to create a Nazi Watch Pro-
gram. Mendelsohn, the former head of the U.S. Depart-
ment of Justice unit investigating Nazi war criminals,
writes that from his experience he has developed "unique
and effective procedures for keeping records of worldwide
Nazi activities." In his letter, he writes that the Nazi
Watch Program would maintain files of all anti-Semitic
literature published in America; learn the names and loca-
tions of all neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic leaders in every
state; keep careful records of their activities and expose
them to the public. _
The Anti-Defamation League has been engaged in these
activities for more than seven decades and their expertise
in monitoring and combatting neo-Nazism and anti-
Semitism is acknowledged around the world.
Privately, Anti-Defamation League officials complain
that the Wiesenthal Center is not only "re-inventing the
wheel" at great cost to well-meaning American Jews but
that its approach is to over-dramatize the facts about anti-
Semitism in order to raise funds. "They are acting irrespon-
sibly and the results — in terms of frightening people
could be extremely dangerous," said an official of a Jewish
research project. But publicly the ADL and other national
Jewish agencies who are critical of the Wiesenthal Center's
methods, are silent, saying that a public rift would be
detrimental to the community as a whole. They are well
aware of the fact that the Center is extremely popular
among the vast majority of American Jews and that an
attack on such an institution would appear to be motivated
by jealousy and, perhaps even worse, an attempt to
diminish the impact of an organization dealing with the
Asked to respond to the criticism of the direct mail piece,
Mendelsohn acknowledged that it was written by a public
relations firm but he defended its tone and underlying
message, noting that "neo-Nazis may not be a primary
problem but they are an unmet problem."


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