Abe Foxman Looks Back at Changing — and Declining — Face of Anti-Semitism

Iconic ADL Chief Looks Back at 50 Years of Improvement

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By Uriel Heilman

Published February 18, 2014.

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A recent example cropped up last fall in the Pine Bush school district in upstate New York, when The New York Times ran a front-page story describing how Jewish students there were being bullied, beaten, taunted and harassed while authorities looked the other way. Last month, three Jewish families from the district filed a lawsuit claiming that their children were forced to endure “rampant anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment.”

Then there’s Israel-related anti-Semitism, where there is wide disagreement even among Jews over what constitutes anti-Semitism. When does anti-Zionism become anti-Jewish? Is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement anti-Semitic? College campuses from California to Florida have become the flashpoint for these battles.

Finally, there is attitudinal anti-Semitism. Approximately 12 percent of Americans hold deeply entrenched anti-Semitic views, according to ADL polling, which uses an 11-question index to measure anti-Semitic opinions. Respondents are asked if they agree with such statements as Jews have too much power in America, Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States, and Jews have a lot of irritating faults. (Some critics have noted that some of these statements, such as one about Jews sticking together more than other Americans, also could be answered in the affirmative by respondents who admire Jewish cohesiveness and success rather than harbor genuine anti-Jewish attitudes.)

The proportion of Americans who hold these viewpoints has held relatively study in recent years, at 12 to 14 percent. In 1964, by contrast, roughly 30 percent of Americans held such views.

Among those with anti-Semitic attitudes today, African-Americans and Latinos have disproportionately high numbers – above 30 percent. Foxman attributes the persistence of anti-Semitism among African-Americans to denial of the problem and a dearth of black leaders speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Among Latinos, the attitudes are seen as a holdover from Latin America, where traditional Catholic anti-Semitism persists and anti-Semitic attitudes are higher than in America. Once they acculturate to the United States, Latino anti-Semitism declines: Among first-generation immigrants, about 40 percent hold anti-Semitic attitudes; among those born here, the number falls to 20 percent.

There are two ways to look at these numbers. On the one hand, as ADL officials often note, some 35 million Americans hold anti-Semitic views. On the other, what are the practical consequence of these attitudes?

“In America, the nature or extent of anti-Semitism has nothing to do with the security of Jews in the United States,” said Jerome Chanes, a fellow at the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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