New York, NY, February 13, 2008 … The head of the Interfaith Alliance last week told a gathering of top leaders from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that the increasing emphasis on religion by the presidential candidates has troubling implications for the separation of church and state, and for religious freedom in the United States.
"The major candidates don't fully get it," the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance, told more than 250 leaders of ADL's top policymaking body, the National Executive Committee. "And that ought to be scary for the rest of us."
While acknowledging the right of politicians to speak their beliefs, which he called "a valid and helpful form of self-identification," Rev. Gaddy said that candidates overstep when they appeal directly to voters based on their religious beliefs. "Our public expressions of religion ought never to leave any of our fellow citizens believing that we have no place for them in that nation that we envision," he said.
ADL's annual meeting, held February 7-9 in Palm Beach, Florida, featured Rev. Gaddy and a range of experts speaking on issues of central importance to the Jewish community, including immigration reform, the 2008 campaign, the current state of anti-Semitism at home and abroad, how Jews and democracy fare in Venezuela, and the U.S. strategy to isolate an increasingly bellicose and nuclear weapon-seeking Iran.
The keynote speaker, Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt, called Tehran's uranium enrichment activities and ballistic missile development a "dangerous combination" that necessitates continued action by the United States and the world community.
Alexis Simendinger, National Correspondent for National Journal, gave an assessment of the issues that are influencing voters in the 2008 presidential primaries. "This is such an interesting campaign to watch, totally unscripted and just a delight for us in the media," said Ms. Simendinger, who added that the Democratic and Republican candidates have strong points and weaknesses in trying to appeal to voters in their own parties.
Ms. Simendinger said President George W. Bush's legacy was influencing the discussion among candidates in both parties. "I'm really struck by the impact he is having on the race and the impact he is going to have all the way until the end," she said of the President.
Ms. Simendinger added that issues surrounding immigration reform, the economy, government spending, the Iraq war, and religion would define the race in the weeks and months ahead. Where the candidates stand on immigration, she said, will be a "big motivator" for Hispanic voters, and will play a significant role in the election, with more and more Hispanics voting and influencing the debate.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, discussed the difference between perception and reality in addressing current manifestations of anti-Semitism. He said "a certain quiet, if not silence" has returned to the subject, despite ongoing and serious incidents targeting Jews both at home and abroad (transcript).
"The truth is, anti-Semitism, here and there, domestically and internationally, is still a serious problem, reflected both in daily incidents of anti-Jewish hate and in the broader anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are spreading the world and receiving acceptance," said Mr. Foxman. "These daily hate crimes and hate expressions have an effect far wider than on the victims themselves. They traumatize an entire community."
Mr. Foxman cited the persistence of anti-Semitism in conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the spread of Holocaust denial in the Islamic world led by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and mutating conspiracy theories of Jewish power and disloyalty. "All of this has a cumulative effect over time, and in a world of suicide bombers and nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran, this is dangerous stuff," he said.
ADL National Chair Glen S. Lewy gave an overview and assessment of the League's various programmatic successes in 2007, including ADL's Advanced Training School for Law Enforcement, which briefs federal state and municipal officers on extremist and terrorist threats; Bearing Witness, a program that provides guidance to Catholic educators on teaching the history of the Holocaust; a new initiative to confront cyberbullying in schools; the ADL National Youth Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C., which brings young people to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to learn about anti-Semitism and moral courage; and the League's efforts to support Jewish communities abroad in combating anti-Semitism and promoting democracy. (Listen to interview on NPR affiliate WXEL).
ADL leaders also heard from Venezuelan journalist Sammy Eppel, a political analyst and distinguished columnist with El Universal, who described efforts by President Hugo Chavez to maintain power, suppress dissent and manage the economy. Mr. Eppel said that anti-Semitism in Venezuela is different from the familiar religious and "racial" types in other countries. "It's being done for political purposes," he said. "Chavez wants to be on the good side of his friends in Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah."
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.