Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the world’s lead anti-semitism (and anti-bigotry) organizations, called for the passage of a new Jackson-Vanik amendment, threatening Russia with the restriction of trade over its recent anti-gay crackdown.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Foxman compared the plight of gays in Russia to Soviet Jewry:
The 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment linked favorable trade status to the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate. That approach should now be explored again.
Jackson-Vanik was effective because it applied pressure on the former Soviet Union, which had imposed a “diploma tax” for Jews who sought to emigrate, to end the tax and eliminate barriers to free emigration. The amendment linked U.S. trade benefits, now known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations, to the emigration and human rights policies of Communist or formerly Communist countries.
Jackson-Vanik focused on one set of rights for one group, and yet it was one of this country’s most important and successful human rights initiatives.
Ironically, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was only repealed this past November, and replaced with the Magnitsky Act, which Foxman suggested should be applied to human rights abuses against gay and trans people as well:
We know the Russian government is sensitive to Congressional actions that impact its image, as shown in its sharp reaction to the Magnitsky Act. After Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for an American investment company, was wrongly imprisoned in 2009 and killed through medical neglect, Congress legislated sanctions on Russian officials involved in persecuting him. While having limited practical impact, the Magnitsky law hit politically sensitive areas and named and shamed specific individuals.
A similar approach could be taken against those Russian officials responsible for persecuting LGBT individuals and advocates for their rights.
The Magnitsky law bans Russian officials involved in human rights abuses from entering the US, or using the US banking system.
It’s interesting, and good, to see Foxman get involved in this, and to invoke the Soviets. Foxman is certainly a controversial figure, but the ADL has influence, moral and otherwise, especially in the US.
Foxman did add that he thought the situation in Russia was more akin to the Soviets’, rather than the Nazis’, treatment of Jews. Having that said, the ADL is usually much more strident when disagreeing with those who invoke Nazi Germany. In this case, the disagreement seems more academic than anything. And academically, I’d disagree with Foxman on one point. No, the Soviets didn’t put 6 million Jews to death. But they did emulate the early years of Nazi Germany, where Jews were systematically and legally dehumanized. Russia’s anti-gay crackdown shares historical similarities with both (the early years of) Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
In addition, I think Foxman’s point contains a dangerous historical flaw, by suggesting that one shouldn’t invoke the Nazis until there’s a Holocaust. If your goal is to guarantee that another Holocaust never happens, then the time to speak up and invoke the lessons of Nazi Germany is before, not after, another 6 million are rounded up and killed. It is entirely fair, and I’d argue necessary, to look for the parallels now, and always.
Still, Foxman having weighed in is helpful, and appreciated.