Anti-Defamation League Adapts to Challenges as It Turns 100

Abraham Foxman Embraces Role as Anti-Semitism Arbiter

Happy Birthday Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, gets hug from Vice President Joe Biden at the group’s centennial celebration.
david karp
Happy Birthday Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, gets hug from Vice President Joe Biden at the group’s centennial celebration.

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 01, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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As it enters its second century, the organization identified more than any other with fighting anti-Semitism finds levels of anti-Jewish bigotry in America lower than ever. By the admission of the Anti-Defamation League’s own national director, doors once closed to Jews are now almost uniformly open, up to and including the nation’s elite corporate suites, its most selective universities and its highest political offices.

Palm Beach’s tony Breakers Hotel once barred Jews from its lobby; now it hosts the ADL’s own annual conference. “‘Mr. Breaker’ is spinning in his grave,” gibed Abraham Foxman, who after 26 years at the ADL’s helm is virtually branded as its public face.

Perhaps, as it marks its 100th anniversary, this organization, which has done so much to expand Jews’ equal access to the America dream, could declare its mission accomplished and hold a celebratory fire sale.

But to no one’s surprise, the ADL is not about to do so. It instead sees an entire new world of concerns for American Jews, a world in which white-hooded Klansmen are replaced by anonymous bloggers spreading hate on the Internet, and in which minority communities espouse prejudices against Jews that have already been eradicated in other parts of America.

“There aren’t many Jewish organizations that have reached 100 years,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “You make it to 100 because you’re able to adapt, and I think the ADL has adapted.”

During Foxman’s years of leadership as the group’s national director, this ability to adapt has included a greater focus on civil rights beyond the Jewish community and, like most other national Jewish groups, a greater emphasis on supporting Israel as a key part of its agenda.

The ADL marked its centennial anniversary at a gala conference in Washington that ran from April 28 to April 30 and was attended by 1,000 activists. Participants got a chance to hear Obama administration officials, including a surprise address from Vice President Joe Biden, and to attend lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill and in the White House and the State Department.


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