Meltdown of the Macher: Abe Foxman loses it, calls Israeli interviewer a bigot and condemns the Seinfeld ‘Soup Nazi’

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman arrived in Israel in mid-October on the heels of several controversial decisions that prompted a hail of criticism in the United States. Foxman may have hoped that while in Israel he would have been able to avoid sensitive issues like his condemnation of the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero; the ADL’s honoring of right-wing media kingpin Rupert Murdoch; or the ADL’s release of a blacklist of “anti-Israel organizations.” And for most of his trip, Foxman was able to propagate his message to the Israeli public and international media without any background noise from the US.

Then the great macher agreed to an on-camera interview with David Sheen, a young writer and videographer who splits time between the center-left Israeli paper Haaretz and independent documentary projects. Sheen, an Israeli citizen who is a friend and colleague of mine, makes no secret of his strong views about issues ranging from the occupation of Palestine to animal rights. He submitted his questions to Foxman days before the interview at the request of the ADL’s press handler. But Foxman did not bother to review the questions. Instead, he walked into the interview expecting to be handled as he was by the rest of the Israeli media: gently and with a degree of deference.

This may explain why Foxman appears so shocked when Sheen confronts him with pointed questions about the ADL’s honoring of Murdoch (Foxman calls him “a media genius”) and his endorsement of the “bigoted” positions of opponents of the Park 51 mosque (Foxman claims the reporter who quoted him defending the anti-mosque crowd’s bigotry “didn’t know history from borscht”). As Sheen presents Foxman with a litany of concerns of his growing legion of detractors, who have accused him of turning the ADL into a smear machine that has nothing to do with its stated mission of promoting civil rights, Foxman furiously lashes out at his interviewer, accusing him of staging a “set up.”

On at least four occasions, Foxman threatens to end the interview, claiming the questions are “not productive” and that he has better things to do. But each time he remains in his seat and berates Sheen. As the interview progresses (or deteriorates), it is clear that Foxman has little interest in promoting the work of the ADL, or even in rebutting his critics. He is far more interested in screaming at Sheen. It is one of the strangest and most embarrassing interview performances I have seen since Sarah Palin campaigned for Vice President.

At around the 28 minute mark of the video, after Sheen has poked and prodded Foxman about the ADL’s denunciation of the animal rights group PETA –- an unusual line of questioning to be sure — Foxman suddenly launches into a forceful condemnation of the “Soup Nazi” character from the TV show Seinfeld. At this point, the interview morphs from a tense exchange into some kind of free association borscht belt comedy routine.

“If you don’t understand [the Holocaust] then you don’t learn the lessons,” Foxman remarks. “So if in New York we have a restaurant where a guy calls himself a Soup Nazi because he decides what kind of soup you’re going to eat, or buy, that’s a trivialization, you’ve learned nothing from history, and yeah, we do care, and we’ll speak out against it.” (No soup for you, Foxman!)

For the rest of the interview, Foxman and Sheen manage not to discuss a single issue of substance. Instead, Foxman rails against Sheen almost uncontrollably, accusing him of setting him up. At around 45 minutes into the video, Foxman launches into a crazed diatribe that ends with him calling Sheen (what else?) a bigot.

“’You don’t like this cup. Why don’t you like this cup? You support this camera! But what about this camera?’ That’s what you’re doing!” Foxman booms, waving his arms at every cup and camera in sight. “That’s the only thing you’re doing. And you’re selecting which cup of coffee, which camera — you’re selecting every example… You only showed your bigotry.” (No cups were harmed in the making of Sheen’s video).

Once again, Foxman declares an end to the interview. He is furious. But instead of leaving he remains in his seat and invites Sheen out for a meal. “First I want to talk to you at dinner. I want to get to know you. Then if you want to play this game before your audience, fine,” Foxman exclaims.

Before Sheen can direct his subject to the nearest TGI Friday’s, Foxman is overcome with regret for ever agreeing to the interview. He compares Sheen to the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir, whose acclaimed documentary “Defamation” followed Foxman around the globe and ultimately exposed him and his colleagues as a bunch of goofballs hyping the issue of anti-Semitism to increase their influence and paychecks.

“I’ve made mistakes before. I participated in a movie in Israel. I made a judgment,” Foxman reflected. “I trusted him [Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir]. I took him into my heart. He screwed me. And a lot of people said don’t trust media. And in a nice way you basically did the same thing…. This was a set up, David! This was a way to embarrass what we do, to say there’s no consistency. PETA? Who gives a shit about PETA?”

Even after Foxman steps off the set, he continues to berate Sheen for supposedly being unfair. Finally, Sheen lights into Foxman for not being able to handle a few tough questions. “You know what I felt?” Sheen asks him. “You’re a professional. It’s your day job. You think all the time about these questions. You think all the time about the answers. I thought you’d be like 1, 2, 3 – like throwing cards at me. Because you hear them all the time. If you don’t hear them, maybe you’re in groupthink; maybe you’re only with people who think the same way you do.”

Sheen raises a good point here: Why couldn’t Foxman simply respond to his questions with a few punchy soundbites and walk away? Why did he throw an hour-long fit that had little to do with the ADL’s work and everything to do with his persecution complex? And has Foxman always behaved this way with journalists?

If I were a responsible member of the ADL’s board of directors who had watched Foxman’s performance, I would enter the next board meeting with some serious questions about his ability to lead. If he persists in responding to mildly adversarial or unpredictable questions like a cantankerous altecocker, or if he cannot control his temper in interviews long enough to muster a semi-coherent thought, Foxman is an organizational liability who might need to be replaced. Personally, I would prefer to see Foxman stay at the helm of the ADL for a long time, and not only because I enjoy witnessing the slow motion collapse of the sclerotic, reactionary Jewish-American establishment that he represents, but because I am a huge fan of borscht belt comedy, even of the unintentional variety.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author based in New York City.

About Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged , ,

{ 31 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. yourstruly says:

    Does Foxman have dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship? If so, how about a campagin to make him choose, one or the other but not both? Better, yet, the State Department demanding that all Americans in occupied Palestine with dual citizenship have to decide. That’ll send them scurrying home.

  2. potsherd says:

    Has Foxman gotten around to denouncing the Israeli bill to allow Jewish residents to blackball Arabs who want to move into their Arabenrein towns?

  3. Taxi says:

    Heheheh. Note how fond of the word “entitled” Foxman is.

  4. MRW says:

    Ha! Great piece, Max. I was smiling by the end of it, and I could not agree with your last paragraph more. Now, I gotta go watch Foxman go ping! [Tell Sheen his cool assessment of Foxman off camera was spot-on.]

    • Seham says:

      Does he always breathe like that? All my life I heard about this wonderful Zionist hasbara machine. It won’t survive the internet age.

  5. Whoa. I almost feel bad for Foxman. All of that snorting and hyperventilating, I felt like I was about to witness a generational heart attack. Dude should be talking to his cardiologist, not a reporter.

  6. Madrid says:

    If you ask me, that interview makes Foxman look good. The interviewer asks stupid questions about PETA– he makes stupid comments, like that people who criticize Israel hate all capitalism. In general, Foxman who is a loathsome character, comes off as more grounded, more pragmatic, more rational, etc. by comparison.

    The response to Foxman’s comment about selectivity is easy– the US gives Israel 3 billion dollars in direct aid and 12 billion more in indirect and our fellow American citizens are committing crimes in the West Bank. Also the strategic and cultural importance of that area makes it much more important to us than Tibet, etc. But the interviewer makes himself look like a moron with his response about activists hating all capitalism.

    • Citizen says:

      Yeah, you are right Madrid. I see Foxman is channeling Chomsky on the selectivity angle; Chomsky said that “hypocrisy” is why BDS shoots itself in the foot–by attacking Israel for its criminal actions when Uncle Sam, the enable, should be attacked (as if one cannot do both). BTW, does that 12 billion more include what we give directly to Egypt annually so long as Egypt backs Israel?

      If you like Abe’s Borscht Belt routine, you may or may not find a few chuckles on Jon Stewart’s show tonight because Code Pink will be on a panel along with a Tea Party person and an anarchist bomber–here’s what Code Pink says about it, and check out the comments too if you have time: link to alternet.org

      I hate it when Stewart keeps having that shiny fauz genteel snake Bill Kristol on, and together they toss napkins at each other while the neocons that gave us Iraq War, like Kristol, are now pushing us for Iran War, and while more Palestinians get humiliated, maimed, murdered, dispossessed. Stewart rightfully ridicules Palin. Why don’t he ridicule Kristol? Kristol’s got a lot of blood on his hands now, Palin is, as yet, only stirring that red paint pot. Stewart must go home and wash his hands a lot.

    • Avi says:

      If you ask me, that interview makes Foxman look good. The interviewer asks stupid questions about PETA– he makes stupid comments, like that people who criticize Israel hate all capitalism. In general, Foxman who is a loathsome character, comes off as more grounded, more pragmatic, more rational, etc. by comparison.

      Yup. That was my feeling, too. I didn’t listen to the entire video, but the few minutes I heard starting at 0:30 or so seem to reflect your characterization of the interview.

      Plus, from a viewer’s point of view, it didn’t help that the reporter was seated lower than the fox. It wouldn’t hurt if next time the reporter projected his voice and showed some more confidence. On camera, these are important mannerisms, especially given the limitations of the medium itself.

    • andrew r says:

      That and Palestinians are asking for boycott (al-Awda, Badil, Pacbi). If there are voices from within China (or Tibet), Saudi, Iran for boycotting those countries, I’d be interested in hearing from them. Boycott has as much to do with educating people on Israeli human rights abuses as well, something Foxman is not about to do.

  7. Oscar says:

    Sad. I pity Foxman. Note the nervous, mirthless chuckles at the outset of the interview. The guy is lost, an entire lifetime devoted to monitoring hatred that may or may not be there, so prepossessed with the Holocaust that he is unable to find any humor in Larry David’s “Soup Nazi” routine. He’s an altacocka adrift in a wired world, shocked that he of all people is called a bigot for his heartfelt belief that a mosque shouldn’t be located near ground zero. He’s part of a racist neocon generation — alongside The Dersh, Marty Peretz, Martin “Superfluous Young Men” Kramer and others — who cannot believe they can no longer demonize Muslims with impunity.

    Judging from Foxman’s demeanor, it seems he has trouble sleeping at night.

    • potsherd says:

      Time to ease the old bigot out the door.

    • seafoid says:

      The Dersh and Foxman built a fine sandcastle over several decades but things are changing. I read a great biography of HL Mencken a few years ago. He was ferocious in his day but when the fade came he could do nothing. The kids didn’t want to listen to him.

  8. Citizen says:

    Jeff Blankfort has a new article out delineating why Israel is the most immediate plague on the whole world, and he includes how this is enabled in the USA. I sent it to a Jesus freak in the heartland today. Google Jeff’s article and then return here and read again what my favorite Jesus freak’s response to Jeff (via me) was: “Israel is the only restraint to a Muslim domination of the world within 50 years, unless these once again united States of America are restored in the Republic through the Constitution.”

    I think Abe has won, the US is done, said turkey will soon be burnt for Uncle Sam is headed for war with Iran–with Israeli Jews leading the neofeudal Crusaders this time. F-35s, not lances on horseback.

  9. Chu says:

    Meltdown of the Macher. What a title! You guys should have covered the film Defamation, since it goes deep into the ADL’s offices. And quite a funny movie, as the music carries it along.

  10. Avi says:

    Comparisons certainly cheapen history. I agree with Foxman on that.

    Now, who’s calling Ahmadinejad a Hitler?

    Who’s building a Museum of Tolerance on top of a cemetery?

    Who’s calling anything that blows in the breeze an “anti-Semite”?

    Someone buy these people (Foxman, Peretz, witless) a mirror.

    • Antidote says:

      “Comparisons certainly cheapen history. I agree with Foxman on that.”

      I agree with the rest of your post, but this line is trivial. Every historical situation is unique, and comparisons are nevertheless unavoidable and necessary. It’s not an either/or situation, and there is nothing intrinsically ‘cheap’ about it

  11. MRW says:

    Everybody

    Take a look at this blog: Miko Peled, son of Israeli war hero General Matti Peled (1948, 1967) who stated after the 1967 war that it was a war of choice and aggression, Israel was not threatened, and called for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state. Miko was born in Israel, lives here now. (His grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer on the Israeli Declaration of Independence.)

    First few paragraphs,

    This blog is dedicated to tearing down the separation wall and transforming the Israeli apartheid system into a secular democracy, where Israelis and Palestinians will live as equal citizens. As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state, I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively “our own.” The articles, the stories and the pictures in this blog are meant to make a single point: For the good of both nations, the Separation Wall must come down, the Israeli control over the lives of Palestinians must be defied so that a secular democracy where all Israelis and Palestinian live as equals be established in our shared homeland.

    The State of Israel today is governed in a way that cannot be sustained, where the two nations it governs, Israelis and Palestinians are used and abused and it is a state of affairs that should not be tolerated: Half of the population is governed by a radical Zionist regime that sees the struggle for control over the land as a zero sum game, and the other half of the population is governed by the security forces of this Zionist regime; one nation ruling over another while controling of the land and its resources. It is a reality where half of the population lives in what it thinks is a Western democracy while keeping the other half imprisoned by a ruthless defense apparatus that is becoming more violent by the day.

    In a book I am about to publish I intend to show how it is that the son of an Israeli General and a staunch Zionist came to these realizations, so stay tuned. Realizing that your side of the story is not the only side to the story, and then accepting rather than fighting this realization – that is an interesting journey. More: link to mikopeled.wordpress.com

    • David Samel says:

      MRW, it runs in the Peled family. The father, Matti, became a radical peace activist after retiring as an IDF general. Miko’s sister, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, is a well-known peace activist who tragically lost her teenage daughter to a suicide bomber. She has formed an alliance with Palestinians who have lost children, and blames the occupation, not the bomber, for her loss. I was unaware of Miko, however, until your comment.

  12. Les says:

    It was not unusual for elderly Jewish patrons at the Brooklyn Public Library to complain that the librarian who had just asked them to keep their voices down was Hitler, or in at least one case, Czar. Their long gone immigrant parents had come to the US at the end of the 19th Century or at the very beginning of the 20th, so long ago and so far removed from that past that it was easy for them to use such terms the way Seinfeld used Soup Nazi. Librarians did not need to have particularly thick skins to tolerate such name calling.

  13. MRW says:

    More Miko Peled. Great stuff. From his post “Liberal Zionism.”

    As one learns about the history of the Zionist movement and the early years of the state of Israel one will understand that parting with any portion of historic Israel is not something Israel will ever do. Liberal Jews in the US (see J Street) and in Israel (see the Zionist liberals like David Grossman who recently received a peace award in Germany) all of a sudden realized that there was a problem. They all claim that the solution is partition and segregation via the creation of a tiny and impotent state for the Arabs of Palestine. They do claim that Israel must be reprimanded for its treatment of Palestinians and they even condemn the siege on Gaza. These are commendable statements coming from Zionists anywhere particularly in the US where criticizing Israel is a mortal sin, but this is just talk.

    There is an illusion that a liberal, forward thinking government can rise in Israel and then everything will be just as liberal Zionists wish it to be. They will pick up where Rabin and Arafat left off and we will have the pie in sky Jewish democracy liberal Jews want so much to see in Israel. This illusion is shared by American Jews, liberal Zionists in Israel and around the world and in the West where guilt of two millennia of persecuting Jews still haunts the conscience of many. If only there were better leaders and if only this and if only that… But alas, reality continues to slap everyone in the face: Zionism and peace are incompatible. I will say it again: Zionism is incompatible with peace.

    [...] The problem is Zionism and the solution is dismantling the Zionist framework and instituting a secular democracy that does not discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. In other words, no one nation will rule over the other but the rule of law will govern everyone equally.

    Zionism has created a state that wants nothing to do with peace or reconciliation. The problem is not Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman and the solution is not Yossi Beilin or David Grossman who represent the Zionist liberals. The problem is that the basic premise on which the Jewish state was founded, Zionism, is flawed. Read: link to mikopeled.wordpress.com

  14. RE: “So if in New York we have a restaurant where a guy calls himself a Soup Nazi because he decides what kind of soup you’re going to eat, or buy, that’s a trivialization, you’ve learned nothing from history, and yeah, we do care, and we’ll speak out against it.” – Abe “Less Than Honest” Foxman

    MY COMMENT : Correct me if I’m wrong, but the guy did not call himself a “Soup Nazi”. It was some of his customers (including Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer) who called the guy a “Soup Nazi” (and certainly not to his face). I wonder if Foxman ever saw these episodes of Seinfeld. If so, his “powers of observation” are sorely lacking to the point of outright delusion (being in a ‘dissociative state’).
    At any rate, it’s all Larry David’s fault! And maybe, George Soros’.

    FROM NETFLIX: Defamation (Hashmatsa) 2008 NR 91 minutes
    In addition to gathering thoughts from political scientist Norman Finkelstein, filmmaker Yoav Shamir examines contemporary anti-Semitism and the possibility of a modern-day Jewish holocaust in his incisive documentary. Surprisingly amusing and unquestionably thought-provoking, Shamir also profiles other figures such as Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman and explores topics such as Israel’s influence on American foreign policy.

    Cast: Norman Finkelstein, Abraham Foxman
    Director: Yoav Shamir
    Genres: Documentary, Faith & Spirituality, Faith & Spirituality Documentaries, Social & Cultural Documentaries, Judaica
    This movie is: Controversial, Cerebral
    Format: DVD and streaming
    NETFLIX LISTING – link to netflix.com

    P.S. FROM WICKTIONARY:
    Noun
    macher (plural machers)
    an important person, often in the negative sense of self-important; a bigwig
    Quotations
    2005: An ordinary man doesn’t jump the Snake River Canyon / with nothing underneath his ass / but a two-wheeled, fin-stabilised X-1 Skycycle / and a seven-figure guarantee from some macher in LA. — August Kleinzahler , in ‘A Valentine’s: Regarding the Impractibility of Our Love’, London Review of Books, Vol. 27 No.20, 20 October 2005, page 6.

  15. Mooser says:

    Good work, we have a ziocaine conniption on film now. That’s progress. But confirmation, real medical confirmation can only be confirmed if the subject is hooked up to an EKG and brain-scan thingy, too.
    If only some forward looking medical outfit, like the Mayo- Naise clinic would advance me $2 million for research, I would fly to Israel, and keep right on going. What, you think I’m crazy enough to set foot in the place?

    • Mooser says:

      Besides, my new clinic providing self-help for self self-determiners will make me a rich man anyway. Zio-non is booking now for 2011 treatment courses.

    • Frances says:

      Dr Mooser, please weigh in on this issue:

      maxNarr: genuinely insane Zionist or anti-Semite masquerading as Jewish Zionist? Inquiring minds want to know.

      Where does that self self-determination thing come from?

  16. seafoid says:

    Apartheid is South Africa. Sure it is.
    Israel is a democracy. Sure it is. It is such a pity that there are no such videos from the 70s of pillars of the British and Yank establishments feeding the media their spin on South Africa.
    Who will replace Foxman when he leaves the stage ? Is the younger generation as rabid?
    Loving the New York accent.

  17. seafoid says:

    Foxman has real old man trousers. Pulled up quite high.