Life imitates art as Foxman confirms ADL caricature on Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’

Online video service Netflix has received massive attention (and general kudos) for its first original television production House of Cards. Based on a BBC series by the same name, Kevin Spacey plays a high ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives who gets passed over for Secretary of State and decides the sabotage the agenda of the incoming administration. The first task at hand is to take down the man being put forth instead of him and it doesn’t take long for the series to cover the most surefire way to derail someone in DC — impugn their record on Israel.

MJ Rosenberg picks up the plot in the second episode of the series:

Spacey’s staffer comes up with a Williams College editorial on Israel, published when the Secretary of State nominee was editor-in-chief of the college paper. The editorial calls the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza illegal.

Spacey figures that should be enough to destroy the would-be secretary’s chances EXCEPT it turns out that he did not write the editorial, another student did. Spacey dispatches a corrupt, drug addicted Congressman (really) to visit the guy who wrote the article and convince him to say that it was, in fact, the Secretary of State nominee who was responsible.

The guy doesn’t want to do it. He says that, even as a student, the Secretary-designate was a total wuss who would never take any controversial stands.

So the doped up Congressman bribes him with pot and cocaine and, voila, he changes his mind. He will go public with the fact that it was the Secretary guy who opposed the occupation.

Spacey gives the story to the Washington Post and then the Secretary nominee is confronted by the real George Stephanopoulos on his Sunday show who nails him for having criticized Israel 30 years ago! The addled nominee laughs!

Spacey calls the head of the Anti-Defamation League (not played by the real Abe Foxman) to inform him that the Secretary-designate disrespected Israel while in college. The Foxman character rushes to CNN to announce that he will stop the anti-Semite from being confirmed. Spacey, watching the television, smiles, looks at the camera and says, “This is too easy.”

The nominee is forced to withdraw.

In the series Washington DC is more or less portrayed as a cesspool of greed, scandal and self-aggrandizement where the ADL serves as a blunt instrument used to manipulate and destroy.

Unable to avoid the Pavlovian urge to confirm the television show’s farcical characterization of his organization, Abe Foxman has taken to the Huffington Post to respond: 

Spacey’s character calls ADL after it is revealed that the president’s choice for Secretary of State criticized Israel’s “illegal occupation” of Palestinian land in an editorial 30 years ago when he was the editor of his college student newspaper.

In the second scene, the fictional head of ADL is shown telling a press gaggle that “he’s an anti-Semite” for saying those words.

On one level, we see it as a form of flattery that the creators of the program thought of ADL for such a theme. This reflects well as to recognition of our outspokenness regarding unjust criticism of Israel and testifies to our wide name recognition.

On the other hand, it plays into an image of ADL which distorts who we are. It suggests, as some do, that ADL will call anyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite with the connected implication that we are trying to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.

The truth is that we would be sharply critical of someone who refers to Israel’s situation in the West Bank as “illegal occupation” but would not refer to such an individual as anti-Semite unless there were other things he had said, whether delegitimizing Israel or comparing Israel to Nazis or accusing Israel of crimes that fall under the category of blood libels and conspiracies.

Criticism of Israel sometimes may be legitimate, sometimes not. When it is not, it may or may not rise to the level of anti-Semitism.

We understand that House of Cards is fiction so we have no interest in protesting. But the more nuanced view that we have just described is the real ADL, an organization to whom credibility is everything and one that makes sure that the term anti-Semitic is used when it is truly warranted.

So, the ADL doesn’t care to respond to House of Cards, except it clearly does. And Foxman doesn’t consider the characterization of the occupation as illegal to be anti-Semitic, except he clearly does. In a nutshell, House of Cards comes across as a documentary.

Joe Klein chimes in on the Time magazine website:

the Anti-Defamation League shines briefly and fairly accurately as an over-the-top, paranoid organization that finds anti-Semites under ever floorboard. This has roused the inevitable Abe Foxman to protest. The ADL would never call a member of Congress anti-semitic for opposing the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank! He opines. The ADL would merely be “sharply critical,” he says. . .

Foxman really needs to get ahold of himself or retire. Anti-Semitism exists. It is historically toxic and dangerous. But he is seriously devaluing the currency by throwing the accusation hither and yon–and House of Cards has called the ADL on it. Good for them.

    • ADL’s response:…

      Which is exactly the same thing that Adam quoted from and linked to in his post. Do you even read before posting?

      • “Do you even read before posting?”
        No because when it comes to criticism of anything related to Israel his adrenaline rushes faster than his neurons to fire and connect. Israel worship oblige..

    • hoppy, do you read anything before commenting?

      Adam already referred the ADL’s response.

      Oh, and over at HuffPo, Abe has closed comments! We’re all very shocked.

  1. So the only kind of writer (the character who is bribed by the doped-up Congressman) who would publish the fact that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is illegal, is the kind of person who can be bribed with pot and cocaine?

    What kind of message does that put out to viewers regarding Palestine solidarity activists? This TV show is perhaps not as enlightening as many think.

  2. “…it plays into an image of ADL which distorts who we are. It suggests… that ADL will call anyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite with the connected implication that we are trying to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.”

    This is as far as I got before my head exploded.

    • It’s chutspah, that’s for sure. Not only is the ADL trying to stifle all criticism of israel, but foxman is such a bigot that he tried to stifle the exercise of religious freedom (by a Muslim, of course). This is what passes for a “civil rights” among the zionists.

  3. MJ Rosenberg picks up the plot in the second episode of the series:

    [...]

    He will go public with the fact that it was the Secretary guy who opposed the occupation.

    Correction: The fictional character in question simply described Israel’s control of the West Bank as “an illegal occupation”. Whether the character opposed the occupation or not is besides the point. The distinction is important.

    The occupation is illegal under international law. One need not oppose nor favor the occupation. An objective person, especially a journalist, would simply state the fact that under intentional law, (1) Israel is occupying the West Bank and, (2) said occupation is illegal under international law.

    The show makes it quite clear that the ADL’s stance in response to the fictional article is neither objective nor fair. It shows how politics, money and power trump the law in American affairs.

  4. David Fincher – one of our best directors post-New Hollywood – is a producer of the show I think. His trademark visual style can be seen in the series.

    I love that Kevin Spacey is in it too. I think he and Fincher have only made one movie together? Great to see them working on something and it’s a plus that is’ a political drama that isn’t like the nauseating ‘West Wing’.

  5. Foxman’s lament was a remarkable, and seemingly unintentional self-parody. The last three paragraphs (in the quoted text above) read like:

    Rule #1: We ONLY use a “two-strike” rule, but ONLY WE call the strikes because ONLY WE know the strike zone.

    Rule #2: To clarify Rule #1, ONLY WE decide what is legitimate criticism.

    Rule #3: To preserve our credibility, we strongly adhere to rules #1 and #2 above. People that cross those easily distinguishable lines are clearly antisemites. Other than that, feel free to discuss…

    Self-inflicted Paradox/Corollary #1: We must live another day. So, we don’t call fictional accounts of the abuse of the above process antisemitic because that would reveal them to be non-fiction, and underscore the encapsulated truth.

    I suppose Foxman felt he had to say something, but this seems a bit looney. Are ADL/Foxman really this deep into believing their own BS? Are the wheels coming off the ADL wagon?

    Good catch by Rosenberg. Thanks for posting this. Interesting times.

  6. “The ADL would never call a member of Congress anti-semitic for opposing the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank! He opines. The ADL would merely be ‘sharply critical,’ he says.”

    And that, in a nutshell, demonstrates the uselessness of this twisted organization. Rather than addressing the real problem — the settlement — and the racism that support it, Foxman, in all self-aggrandizing bufoonery, takes issue with the exact slur he would call the person objecting to the evil settlements, rather than addressing the evil of the settlements themselves.

    Foxman must give thanks every single night that this country is festooned with people who are afflicted with chronic anxiety disorders who happen also to have more money than sense, as it precludes him from actually having to provide a coherent product in order to live his lavish lifestyle.

    • “The ADL would never call a member of Congress anti-semitic for opposing the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank! He opines. The ADL would merely be ‘sharply critical,’ he says.”

      Well Ben Gurion insisted that Hitler himself wasn’t an anti-Semite, when he was defending Stalin against that charge during the cabinet deliberations over the infamous “Doctor’s Plot”. Although I gather he probably remained sharply critical of some of Hitler’s policies:

      Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was not present at that meeting, and while on vacation in Tiberias sent the government a letter of reproach

      When Ben-Gurion got angry he was not at his best; letters he dictated himself sometimes contained statements that reflected only his temper, not the clarity of his thinking. The letter of reprimand he sent to the government included among other things the following observations: “Soviet Russia is not anti-Semitic. Nor was Hitler anti-Semitic. Haj Amin al-Husseini, who is just as Semitic as any one of us, was Hitler’s friend and aide.”

      link to haaretz.com

      After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well;-)

  7. Phil can you cover this story:

    link to 972mag.com

    Palestinian textbooks cleared of antisemitism slander by US governmental study.

    It will put to rest another Zionist meme (one regularly employed by hoppy and co.).

    • I wonder how we reconcile the finding of this study on Israeli textbooks (according to Derfner) with that of Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s findings on how Israeli textbooks treat Arabs/Palestinians?

  8. At the end of the Foxman reply in Huffington Post it says:

    “Comments are closed on this entry.”

    Very open for discussion this Foxman…

    He is the cunning El Zorro!

    He is the fox and will only allow his opinion to be heard.

    “So pray for him father,
    You need not bother
    ‘Cause I am the fox
    And I go where I want
    If heaven ignores me
    The devil adores me
    I am the fox
    And I go where I want”

    ZORRO’S ASCENT:

  9. RE: “In the series Washington DC is more or less portrayed as a cesspool of greed, scandal and self-aggrandizement where the ADL serves as a blunt instrument used to manipulate and destroy.” ~ Adam Horowitz

    HENCE THE OLD ADAGE (PROBABLY SOUTHERN): “The only thing that separates Washington (D.C.) from Hell is a screen door.”

    P.S. A RELEVANT QUOTATION: “You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!” ~ From ‘The Education of Henry Adams’, By Henry Brooks Adams (American journalist, historian, academic and novelist, 1838-1918)
    The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams – link to gutenberg.org
    The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography (Google eBook) – link to books.google.com

    P.P.S. Henry Brooks Adams’ paternal grandfather was President John Quincy Adams, and his great grandfather was President John Adams.

  10. RE: “But the more nuanced view that we have just described is the real ADL, an organization to whom credibility is everything and one that makes sure that the term anti-Semitic is used when it is truly warranted.” ~ Abe Foxman

    MY COMMENT: I recall an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in 2006 about Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid wherein Abe Foxman was quoted as having said that Carter’s book was “anti-Semitic by implication” ! ! !
    By implication, y’all!

    TAKE IT AWAY, JOEY: “Fire Foxman”, by Joey Kurtzman, Jewcy, 07/08/07

    [EXCERPT] . . . What’s surprising is how unabashedly forthright Abraham Foxman has become about what motivates him and his institution [the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)]. In October of 2005, Foxman addressed a classroom of Jewish students at New York University. Young heads nodded and brows furrowed as Foxman riled them with his customary rhetoric: Isn’t it antisemitic for pro-Palestinian groups to seek divestment only from Israel, ignoring the far greater crimes of regimes like Sudan or North Korea? How do we describe this sort of selective flagellation of the world’s only Jewish state, if not as antisemitism?
    “What if the campus Free Tibet club campaigned for divestment from China? Would that be anti-Chinese bigotry?” asked Asaf Shtull-Trauring, a 20-year-old student and conscientious objector from the Israeli army.
    Of course not, answered Foxman
    , but it was preposterous to compare the two conflicts, what with the Jews’ experience of two millennia of murderous persecution. Shtull-Trauring responded with two questions: Did Foxman mean that selective treatment is okay so long as it’s not directed at Jews? And where did the Anti-Defamation League get off telling Jewish university students which opinions about Israel were acceptable and which verboten?
    The dialogue spiraled into a confrontation. Shtull-Trauring says Foxman, frustrated and under attack, placed his cards on the table, angrily retorting: “I don’t represent you nor the Jewish community! I represent the donors.”
    Foxman’s outburst was surprising not because of its content, but because of its candor. Foxman needn’t bother himself with the trifling concerns of American Jews who happen not to be multimillionaire philanthropists. If he makes the Jewish community less appealing to young Jews, if his theatrics turn us off and turn us away, that’s all beside the point. Foxman’s job is to keep the millionaire benefactors happy: the rest of us can go jump in the Kinneret.
    Without a meaningful mission to pursue, the ADL has resorted to scaremongering to fill its coffers and justify its existence. These efforts have grown increasingly bizarre and damaging. . .

    ENTIRE POST – link to jewcy.com

    P.S. “take it away” meaninglink to answers.yahoo.com

  11. I watched the series this weekend. Very entertaining.

    Its nice to I/P brought up and it isn’t flattering to the ADL. The person behind the line ‘it is an illegal occupation’ isn’t shown favorable either though. He wrote it in a college newspaper years ago. Now he is a middle aged burn out with a conspiracy website, doing drugs, sleeping with stripper and ranting crazily about the govt. Not exactly a portrait of someone viewers will want to identify with.

    Good series nonetheless, I recommend it.

    Spacey did another political movie, Casino Jack about Jack Abramoff recently. Abramoffs support for Israel comes up a few times in that but if I recall not with much explanation.