Safire: 'Abe Should Resign'

                       By RACHEL DONADIO, FORWARD STAFF

ANTI-DEFAMATION League director Abraham Foxman found himself at 
the center of a storm of criticism this week after his attempt to
apologize for his role in the presidential pardon of Marc Rich led
to new protests, including calls for his resignation.

Mr. Foxman, one of the most prominent of the figures who wrote to
President Clinton on Mr. Rich's behalf last year, said last week in
a statement and at a press conference that his pardon letter had
"probably" been a mistake.

The pressure for Mr. Foxman to resign has come largely from minor
figures outside the ADL orbit, especially from militant activists
for the cause of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, some of whom
criticize Mr. Foxman for failing to act on Pollard's behalf.

More serious, though, was a call for his resignation made this week
by New York Times columnist William Safire. Mr. Safire wrote that
Mr. Foxman had been induced by a donation from Mr. Rich "to lobby
President Bill Clinton for forgiveness and thereby bring glee to
the hearts of anti-Semites." Mr. Foxman, he wrote, should resign
"to demonstrate that ethical blindness has consequences."

Toward Tradition, a politically conservative Jewish group, on
Wednesday gave Mr. Foxman its "Our Own Worst Enemy Award."

Sources close to the ADL say the protests' effect on Mr. Foxman
would probably be minimal, and an ADL spokeswoman that he has no
intention of stepping down.

Even so, board members acknowledged that Mr. Foxman had not
consulted them before writing on behalf of Mr. Rich. He first
discussed his role at a February ADL national commission meeting in
Florida.

"There was some criticism expressed," said one commission member,
New York attorney Seymour Reich. "He said it was probably a
mistake, that he shouldn't have sent it. But the net result was
confidence in Abe and a feeling of 'let's move on.'"

Mr. Foxman's role in the Rich pardon offers a window as much into
the modus operandi of Mr. Rich, a Belgian-born commodities trader
who allegedly won Mr. Foxman's trust by telling him he hailed from
the next shtetl over in Belarus, as it does on Mr. Foxman himself.
It also illuminates the mindset of the pro-Pollard lobby, which
long has protested the ADL's refusal to advocate for Pollard.

At the press conference, Mr. Foxman said that he had first proposed
the pardon strategy to Mr. Rich's aides at a meeting in Paris in
February 2000. This statement contradicted the Rich team's accounts
of the pardon as a last-minute tactic adopted in November.

He also said that when he wrote his December 7 pardon letter he
didn't know Mr. Rich had renounced his American citizenship. Nor
did he know that the Justice Department had offered Mr. Rich the
possibility of being released on bail without going to prison,
despite being a fugitive, if he returned to the United States to
visit his daughter before she died of cancer in 1996. "Had I known
that, I wouldn't have written," he said.

Mr. Foxman said he was first introduced to Mr. Rich "15 or 16 years
ago" by a European Jewish leader and "landsman" who hailed from Mr.
Foxman's native region of Belarus. He said he thought that Mr. Rich
"had been born in the same town, Lucowicz." "I was born in
Baronowicz," he said.

At their first meeting, Mr. Rich said he thought that his
prosecution had been motivated by anti-Semitism. Mr. Foxman said he
told Mr. Rich that he didn't see any evidence of anti-Semitism.

Mr. Foxman said that backing the Roth pardon had been a mistake
because it "wasn't directly on target with the ADL's mission."

Mr. Rich and Mr. Foxman struck up a friendship and dined together
seven or eight times. "We speak Yiddish," Mr. Foxman said. "We
talked about the world and about literature."

Mr. Foxman's spokeswoman, Myrna Shinbaum, said the ADL leader was
"flabbergasted" to learn that Mr. Rich was actually born in Belgium
and his father in Frankfurt. The family moved to America in the
early 1940s. "Abe has always been under the impression that Rich
was from Lucowicz," Ms. Shinbaum said. "He didn't ask for his birth
certificate."

"I'm sure that Marc Rich is very astute at manipulating the
system," said one Jewish leader speaking on condition of anonymity.
"And while I think that Abe's very cautious, I think he just got
taken in by Mr. Rich. I think they took advantage of his good
nature."

Mr. Foxman said Mr. Rich began to donate to the ADL, but then
stopped. In 1999 he was contacted by the director of Mr. Rich's
Israeli foundation, Avner Azulay, who said he wanted to start
contributing again. Shortly afterward he pledged $100,000. The two
met again in Paris in February 2000 and it was there that Mr.
Foxman raised the pardon idea, he said, while "brainstorming" on
Mr. Rich's legal troubles.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Foxman rejected implications that Mr.
Rich's donations, totaling $250,000, had "bought" his support. "If
I got nothing or $10 million I would have made the same decision,"
adding that it was a decision "I now regret."

For some observers, more troubling than the money questions was, as
Mr. Reich said, "that this whole effort was made on behalf of Rich
and not Pollard. And money was the key for Rich."

Mr. Foxman said numerous board members had raised the Pollard issue
with him. "Some people accused me of having sold out Pollard," he
said.

The ADL has no formal position on Pollard, officially because it
has found no evidence of anti-Semitism in the case. In 1993,
however, Mr. Foxman wrote a personal letter to Mr. Clinton  not on
ADL stationery  urging a pardon for Pollard.

In recent weeks, Mordechai Levy, the head of the Jewish Defense
Organization, a tiny, right-wing group that has long blamed Mr.
Foxman for Pollard's continued incarceration, has stepped up his
campaign calling for Mr. Foxman's resignation. He said he had sent
mailings to that effect, including symbolic bags of money, to
several ADL national commission members.

Joel Sprayregan, a Chicago lawyer and honorary ADL national vice
chairman, said he had received mail from Mr. Levy but found it "not
credible. It was an undeserved smear."

Some observers said the onus for the scandal belonged not on Mr.
Rich's advocates but on Mr. Clinton, who granted the pardon without
going through official channels. "If I were asked to write a
recommendation for a pardon, I'd assume that it would be vetted by
the White House and the Department of Justice," said Kenneth
Bialkin, an honorary chairman of the ADL and close friend of Mr.
Foxman.

Still, Mr. Foxman said he wouldn't rule out asking Mr. Rich to use
his connections to help the ADL fight anti-Semitism in future
international hotspots, as he had done in Romania and other
countries that he declined to name. "I'd ask who is there that
could be helpful, and if there was no one but him, then yes, I'd go
to him," Mr. Foxman said.

Asked if the ADL would accept money from Mr. Rich in the future,
Mr. Foxman declined to comment. Indeed, even in explaining his
apology he appeared to leave open the possibility that he stood by
his original act. "I'm not 100% sure that it's so terrible as it's
made out to be," Mr. Foxman said.

(c) 2001 The Forward