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The Case of Tony Judt: An Open Letter to the ADL

with over one hundred signatures

To the Editors:

The following letter was sent to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, regarding the ADL’s role in the cancellation of Professor Tony Judt’s scheduled lecture at the Polish Consulate of New York in October. Given the attention this affair has received in the press, and the important principles at stake, we thought this document might be of interest to your readers.

After sending the letter we received a reply from Mr. Foxman, in which he proposed a private meeting to discuss the matter. We responded that, given the importance of the issues, and the fact that providing a public forum for discussing them was precisely the matter in dispute, we would be publishing the letter in The New York Review of Books and invited him to reply in your pages, should he wish to.

Shortly after receiving Mr. Foxman’s reply we then received a letter from Patricia S. Huntington, of Network 20/20, the organization that originally issued the invitation to Professor Judt. She now informs us that she is requesting a retraction from The New York Sun and The Jewish Week, disavowing statements she apparently made to those papers about the ADL having exerted pressure on the Polish Consulate to cancel the talk.

However, we have in our possession earlier correspondence from her that states unequivocally that, in her words, “what I said is accurately quoted in the NY Sun article of October 4” (e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 6). On October 5 she then suggested that Professor Judt issue the following statement about what happened:

At 4:15 PM when the President received a telephone call canceling the event scheduled to take place within the hour, she [Ms. Huntington] was informed that ADL President Abe Foxman was on the other line to the Consul General. We can only imagine what kind of pressure was brought to bear to prevent me from speaking on such short notice. It was no surprise to me that I received a call from the New York Sun within 10 minutes of the news. The Sun must have been contacted by the ADL; who else would do so? [e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 5]

Why Ms. Huntington has now chosen to disavow her earlier remarks is a mystery to us, though another message from her may shed light on the matter. She wrote:

We are in a difficult position as a start-up non profit that has benefited greatly from the Polish Consulate’s generosity. You saw the article in the NY Sun…the Consulate denies what I said which is not surprising. They have to. But our lawyers caution Network 20/20 from possibly fueling an unnecessary conflict with the Polish Consulate by repeating what is already clearly stated in the NY Sun. I was clear in that article and responded to them as I promised to Tony Judt [e-mail correspondence to Mark Lilla, October 6]

In any case, we stand by the letter below and look forward to Mr. Foxman’s reply.

Mark Lilla

Richard Sennett

Dear Mr. Foxman:

As you know, on October 3, Professor Tony Judt of New York University was scheduled to give a lecture titled “The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy” before a public audience, at the invitation of Network 20/20, which sponsors many forums in New York City. The lecture, like many others presented by this organization, was to be held at the Polish Consulate of New York, which rented its facilities but in no way sponsored the event. Shortly before the lecture was scheduled to begin, however, it was abruptly cancelled by Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk, who later told a reporter, “I don’t have to subscribe to the First Amendment.”1 Patricia Huntington, director of Network 20/20, informs us that when she received a telephone call canceling the event, scheduled to place within the hour, she was told that ADL President Abe Foxman was on the other line to the Consul General.

Ms. Huntington has now accused the Anti-Defamation League of having “forced,” “threatened,” and exerted “pressure” on the consulate to cancel the talk. Although the deputy counsel general has disputed this claim, he did tell the New York Sun that the consulate received calls from “a couple of Jewish groups” as well as “representatives of American diplomacy and intelligentsia” expressing “concerns” over the lecture. In the event, the lecture was cancelled, a move then welcomed by David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who remarked, “Bravo to them for doing the right thing.”2

These facts argue against the press release the ADL circulated on October 5, 2006, disclaiming any role in the cancellation of Professor Judt’s lecture. The ADL has recently been very critical of those academics and intellectuals, like Professor Judt, who have raised questions about the Israel lobby and American foreign policy, an issue on which reasonable people have disagreed. This does not surprise us or disturb us. What does surprise and disturb us is that an organization dedicated to promoting civil rights and public education should threaten and exert pressure to cancel a lecture by an important scholar, as Ms. Huntington says happened.

In a democracy, there is only one appropriate response to a lecture, article, or book one does not agree with. It is to give another lecture, write another article, or publish another book. For much of its hundred-year history your organization worked side by side with other Americans who wanted to guarantee that freedom for all, and your mission statement still declares: “the goal remains the same: to stand up for the core values of America against those who seek to undermine them through word or deed.”3

Though we, the undersigned, have many disagreements about political matters, foreign and domestic, we are united in believing that a climate of intimidation is inconsistent with fundamental principles of debate in a democracy. The Polish Consulate is not obliged to promote free speech. But the rules of the game in America oblige citizens to encourage rather than stifle public debate. We who have signed this letter are dismayed that the ADL did not choose to play a more constructive role in promoting liberty.

Mark Lilla, University of Chicago

Richard Sennett, London School of Economics and NYU

Bradley Adams, Columbia University

Hasan Ali Karasar, Bilkent University

Eric Alterman, City University of New York

Mark M. Anderson, Columbia University

Neven Andjelic, University of California, Berkeley

David Antin, UCSD

Lisa Appignanesi, PEN

Alexandra Barahona de Brito, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Lisbon

Benjamin R. Barber, University of Maryland

Jiri Barta, Nadace Via

Peter Beinart, The New Republic

Nelly Bekus, writer

Thomas Bender, New York University

Seyla Benhabib, Yale University

Edward Berenson, New York University

Sheri Berman, Columbia University

Sara Bershtel, Metropolitan Books

Paul Boghossian, New York University

Ian Buruma, Bard College

Astrid von Busekist, Institut d’études politiques de Paris

Peter Carey, Hunter College, New York

Flora Cassen, New York University

Herrick Chapman, New York University

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

Jerome Eric Copulsky, Virginia Tech

Krzysztof Czyzewski, Borderland Foundation

Richard Danbury, writer

Alain Deletroz, International Crisis Group

Donald Francis Donovan, attorney

Constance Ellis, New York University

Cecile Fabre, London School of Economics

Franklin Foer, The New Republic

Christopher Fowler, novelist and journalist

Timothy Garton Ash, University of Oxford

Michael Gilsenan, New York University

Joseph Giovannini, writer and architect

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

David J. Goldberg, The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, London

Barbara Goldsmith, PEN

Michael Greenberg, writer

Jan T. Gross, Princeton University

Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union

Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College

Pieter Hilhorst, writer

Eva Hoffman, Hunter College

Shpend Imeri, Association for Democratic Initiatives, Gostavar, Macedonia

Yves Andre Istel, Remarque Institute

Peter Jukes, author and screenwriter, London

Aleksander Kaczorowski, journalist

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

Chris Keulemans, writer and journalist

Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University

Charles D. Klein, private investor

Ivan Krastev, Center for Liberal Strategies, Sofia

Hartley Lachter, Muhlenberg College

Denis Lacorne, Institut d’études politiques de Paris

Jörg Lau, die Zeit, Berlin

Teresa Leger de Fernandez, Nordhaus Law Firm, Santa Fe

John Leone

Wendy Lesser, The Threepenny Review

Damon Linker, author

Steven Lukes, New York University

Philippe Manière, Institut Montaigne, Paris

Avishai Margalit, Institute for Advanced Study

Michael Massing, writer

Mark Mazower, Columbia University

Malini Mehra, Centre for Social Markets, Kolkata and London

Richard Mitten, Baruch College, City University of New York

Sid Mukherjee, Harvard Medical School

Estep Nagy, playwright

Susan Neiman, Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Shervin Nekuee, writer

Bernadette Nirmal-Kumar, University of Oslo

Mary Nolan, New York University

Edward Orloff, The Wylie Agency

Marcia Pally, New York University

Samantha Power, Harvard University

Eyal Press, The Nation

Anson Rabinach, Princeton University

Jacqueline Rose, Queen Mary University of London

Gideon Rose, Foreign Affairs

Nils Rosemann, Human Rights and Development Consultant

Peter Rosenbaum, Trinity College

Nancy Rosenblum, Harvard University

Elizabeth Rubin, Contributing Writer, The New York Times Magazine

Daniel Sabbagh, Institut d’études politiques de Paris

Renata Salecl, University of Llubljana and London School of Economics

Armando Salvatore, Humboldt University, Berlin

Domenico Scarpa, Universita degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”

Patricia Schramm

Lynne Segal, Birkbeck College, University of London

Adam Shatz, The Nation

Bashkim Shehu, writer

Laila Sheikh, Geneva

Elisabeth Sifton, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Martin M. Simecka, writer

Jim Sleeper, Yale University

Ruslan Stefanov, Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia

Jean Stein, author

Constanze Stelzenmueller, Berlin

Tracey Stern, television writer and producer

Fritz Stern, Columbia University

Zeev Sternhell, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic

Moshik Temkin, Institute for Scholars at Reid Hall

Mustapha Tilli, New York University

Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect

Gesine Weinmiller, Weinmiller Architekten, Berlin

Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic

Alan Wolfe, Boston College

Richard Wolin, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Marilyn B. Young, New York University

Affiliations for identification only

  1. 1

    Larry Cohler-Esses, “Off Limits? Talk by Israel Critic Canceled,” The Jewish Week, October 6, 2006.

  2. 2

    Ira Stoll, “Poland Abruptly Cancels a Speech by Local Critic of the Jewish State,” The New York Sun, October 4, 2006.

  3. 3

    See www.adl.org/adlhistory/intro.asp.

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