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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“At this stage of the game, I don’t think I have the option,” Foxman said of his arbiter role in an April 29 interview. “This is not an exact science.” But Foxman said he’d rather make the judgment call than leave claims of anti-Semitism unanswered.

“We spend more time saying what is not anti-Semitism than what is anti-Semitism,” added Kenneth Jacobson, the group’s deputy national director, during a panel discussion at the conference.

Anti-Semitism, as viewed by the ADL, is changing its form. And while the group still makes headlines taking on celebrities and politicians for their remarks, its main focus, as it enters its second century, is on what it sees as new, more entrenched forms of bigotry.

Based on a questionnaire compiled by the ADL to gauge anti-Semitic sentiments, the group now believes that 10%–12% of Americans are “infected with anti-Semitic attitudes.” Most widespread are the notions that Jews killed Christ and that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

“In the U.S. we’ve reached bottom,” Foxman said, referring to the low level observed in polls, “but you cannot ignore that. Every single day we see cases of anti-Semitism around this country. Every single day.”

Today, the ADL views the African-American and Latino communities as the key pockets of anti-Semitism in America. Surveys have shown prejudicial attitudes toward Jews to be more prevalent in these minority communities than in the broader American population. While the Latino community, according to Foxman, is more open to dealing with the problem and is showing signs of improvement among second-generation immigrants, there is no progress within the African-American community.

According to the ADL, anti-Semitic sentiments among African Americans remain at a level of 30%–40% while in the general populations rates have dropped to a third of that.

“The problem in the African-American community is serious, and it is hard to do something because there is no leadership,” Foxman said. “If you don’t have role models standing up to condemn it, it is hard to deal with it.”

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