Last week in Israel, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons made a speech in which he defended his friendship with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, by saying that just as Farrakhan had alienated Jews, so had Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, alienated African-Americans. Foxman struck back, calling Simmons’s comments “outrageous and ugly,” and expressing dismay that “someone who has a history of having a blind spot to one of the most vociferous and ugly anti-Semites would be given a platform in Jerusalem.” In an email to The Daily Beast, Simmons defends his remarks and calls for a détente.
Since I left Israel a few days ago, there has been a lot of press about a comment I made about the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, at the President's Conference in Jerusalem. I don't wanna get in a public fight with any leader in any community, especially one who has done as much good work as Abe Foxman, but I think it's important to clarify my position in this debate and our approach to promoting tolerance.
Abe Foxman (who I respect) and I provide different and equally important functions. Abe is a staunch defender and I am a determined mediator. I see the good in every sincere leader, and I seldom even attack those who seem to some like hypocrites. There is much I disagree with in many messengers, but I fight to bring them to the table just the same, not the least Minister Louis Farrakhan. I choose, as a mediator, to give more relevance to his moral standing as a defender of black people around the world and his faith. I fight every day to foster dialogue, understanding and the humanization of all faiths whatever their past positions.
My statements at the President's Conference were not meant to "compare Abe Foxman to Minister Farrakhan," as some in the press liked to note. They were meant to point out the kind of results you get from the public attacks of many African-American leaders by Abe over the years, namely that these attacks have alienated millions of blacks. Many black people around the country believe that when Abe attacks their leaders, it is an attack by the Jewish community on them as well. This type of behavior stings for a long time. I would say it is easier to change the leadership without angering all their followers. Namely to call them up and meet with them personally instead of attacking them publicly. Most recently, Abe attacked Rabbi Marc Schneier and myself in an op-ed in the Jewish Week for no apparent reason except for my relationship with Minister Farrakhan. I don't believe in guilt by association. I pretty much love everybody, so I don't expect all of my friends to love each other (although that is my goal). I love Abe Foxman as well and he knows my door is always open.
Finally, I am proud that I have spent my whole adult life strengthening the relationship between blacks and Jews. I want to state again that I hope this doesn't escalate because this public debate is not helpful to our communities and it is also undermining the work I do on behalf of the Jewish community, namely the hundreds of twinning programs I helped to create in the synagogues and mosques in over 30 countries, including Israel. Rabbi Marc Schneier and I had a remarkable week in Israel where we met and convened with some of the most important religious leaders in the country, including the Chief Rabbi of Israel and the Grand Mufti of the Palestinian people. We had difficult conversations that have not happened before and we are determined to break through barriers that have been in existence for decades.
You can always say you will never talk to someone who has attacked you or someone who disagrees with you. That is a legitimate, historic position. It is not one, however, that has ever made peace, which is our commitment.