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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Perhaps the most memorable moment of the centennial celebration was an 80-second video titled “Imagine a World Without Hate” produced by the ADL for its anniversary. The clip, which already has surpassed one million views on YouTube, imagines a reality in which individuals murdered because of their beliefs, race or sexual orientation — including Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, Harvey Milk, Daniel Pearl, James Byrd, Matthew Shepard and Yitzhak Rabin — were still alive. On April 29, ADL leaders had the opportunity to show the video to Biden and to President Obama in a meeting at the Oval Office.

The video sheds light on today’s ADL, which spends much of its budget and human resources on fighting bullying and discrimination beyond the Jewish community. But for all that, Foxman, now 73, is still best known outside the Jewish world as the go-to arbiter on anti-Semitism. It’s a role he says he doesn’t seek, but one from which he doesn’t shrink.

“I’m not the pope,” he said affably, “but hey, I am a Holocaust survivor who has spent his life fighting anti-Semitism.”

Indeed, Foxman’s personal history of surviving the Holocaust as a child in Poland, his engaging and expansive public persona, and his position as head of the nation’s largest Jewish defense organization have won him media prominence and credibility. This has brought his face on the evening news at one time or another into almost every home in America.

In his role as the ADL’s public face, Foxman has labeled film director Mel Gibson an anti-Semite for his depiction of Jews as Christ killers in his film “The Passion of the Christ.” He has forgiven fashion designer John Galliano for an anti-Semitic comment he spewed while drunk after Galliano himself sought expiation and forgiveness.

Foxman accused Chuck Hagel, who was at the time Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, of making remarks that “border on anti-Semitism” about the “Jewish lobby,” as Hagel called it. On another occasion, Foxman even found himself making a call on actress Whoopi Goldberg’s recipe for “Jewish American Princess chicken soup,” which he found insensitive but not anti-Semitic.

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