Abraham Foxman has no interest in getting together with Rep. Charles Rangel to mend fences after tensions between the two resurfaced last week over the congressman’s comments on the war in Iraq and the Holocaust.
Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said a truce from a similar meeting to patch up their differences has not held up.
"There is absolutely no reason to speak to him," he said Sunday.
The dustup began June 6 when Rangel told WWRL-AM radio hosts Steve Malzberg and Karen Hunter that the Iraq war was "just as bad as the 6 million Jews being killed" because of the lack of public outcry.
"The whole world knew and they were quiet about it because their ox wasn’t being gored," said Rangel, who represents Harlem and is the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
He added that he was not comparing the war itself to the Holocaust, only the public reaction."I am saying that people’s silence when they know terrible things are happening is the same thing as the Holocaust," said Rangel.
Foxman later told a Daily News columnist, "It is outrageous that a leader of Congress would compare one thing to the other. Sometimes we say it’s ignorance. Charlie Rangel is not ignorant. Charlie Rangel has been there."
Foxman then suggested Rangel apologize for the comment, both in general and to the U.S. troops in Iraq he felt were defamed by the comparison.
That prompted Rangel, who is black, to issue a statement declaring that "Abe Foxman has made a living attacking black leaders on charges of anti-Semitism. His statements are usually libelous, divisive and serve no purpose but to pit blacks and Jews against each other while keeping Foxman’s name in the newspapers.
"In an interview on the cable channel New York 1 Friday, Rangel went further, saying he "can’t remember [Foxman] bringing people together to do anything positive."
Rangel also mentioned Foxman’s recent clash with Russell Simmons over the hip hop producer’s support of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Million Youth March.Rangel declined to apologize, saying he was confident the Jewish community knew of his record on supporting Israel and that he hadn’t meant to belittle the Holocaust.
The controversy resonates personally for both men. Foxman survived the Holocaust as a child, an experience that drove him to devote his career to fighting anti-Semitism.
Rangel is a veteran of the Korean War who was injured in combat and has become one of the harshest critics of the war in Iraq, which he and many other Democrats see as unnecessary. Rangel also believes the war disproportionately affects black and Hispanic soldiers who form a large portion of the volunteer army.
Tensions between the two men go back to 1998, when Rangel reacted angrily to an ADL poll on black anti-Semitism. Calling Foxman’s assertion, based on telephone surveys, that anti-Semitism is more widespread among blacks than whites "untrue and unfair," Rangel suggested then that Foxman raised the issue to justify his own salary.
After that fracas, Foxman said, former Nixon counsel Leonard Garment brokered a meeting between the two.
"He apologized for the things he was saying," Foxman said Sunday. "But a couple of years later he did it again, attacked me with the same rhetoric, that I create anti-Semitism, that the ADL needs it.
"On that basis, Foxman said, he saw no point in meeting with the congressman again.
Rangel could not be reached for comment Sunday.He is far from the first member of Congress to stir up controversy by evoking the Holocaust. Last month, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania likened efforts by Democrats to maintain the filibuster rule to Hitler’s actions in France in 1941.
And Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler this month in a New York Sun interview referred to "some Nazi" on the staff of Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Sensenbrenner whom Nadler felt had mischaracterized his position on stem cell research.
In a statement last week, Matthew Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition said "using Hitler or the Holocaust as images in political or policy debates is not appropriate for speakers from either party.
"Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Rangel’s language reflected a trend in political discourse toward using the Holocaust as a "universal way of decrying human rights abuses in the world." But Sheinkopf added that the history between Foxman and Rangel was making this more of a personal rather than a substantive quarrel.
"His choice of language wasn’t the best," Sheinkopf said of Rangel. "But it probably would have been better to have a conversation with Charlie Rangel over the phone and not a public battle."
Foxman called the controversy "a sad affair," and noted that Rangel has "always been there for Israel" and has been supportive of Jewish issues in the House.
"It’s a shame because this man has served this city well," he said. "But he has these outbursts."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an unusually pointed jab at his former party at a Brooklyn forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition last week.
The Democrats "don’t seem to have any interest in Israel," the mayor, who joined the GOP in 2001, told an audience at Beth Torah synagogue in Midwood. The mayor also claimed that ’04 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry "never mentioned Israel."
(After getting in trouble over his stated choices for Middle East envoys early in the campaign, Kerry might wish that were true.)
The director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, replied that Bloomberg "doesn’t know what he’s talking about."
"At the [recent] AIPAC policy conference, some of the strongest comments came from Democrats like [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi," Forman said. "This is partisan garbage, and Mayor Bloomberg should be too smart to say stuff like that."