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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“There are still crazies out there – 2 percent of people who virulently hate Jews – but who cares? It has nothing to do with the ability of Jews to live normal lives in America or participate in the political process,” Chanes said. “I’m sure there’s anti-Semitism out there, but to tell you the truth, I don’t know where it is. It’s on the Internet, it’s on Farrakhan, but it has no impact on the ability of Jews to participate in society.”

Of the 5,790 bias incidents in 2012 recorded by the FBI, 19 percent were motivated by religious bias, compared to 48 percent by racial bias and 20 percent by sexual-orientation bias, according to the bureau. Of the 1,166 religious bias incidents, 60 percent were anti-Jewish, while the next highest number was anti-Muslim incidents at 13 percent. The approximately 700 incidents of bias against Jews ranged from vandalism to physical assault.

“It’s distressing that Jews are still the No. 1 religious target of bigotry,” Foxman said. “Pine Bush is a wake-up call to say to me that you know what, you have to be careful that these statistics don’t lull you.”

That’s partly why, Foxman says, he’s so quick to speak out when a celebrity says something he considers anti-Semitic.

“If you let the celebrities get away with it, how can you come to a seventh-grader and say you need to stand up and say no?” he said.

“You use celebrities to set a certain standard or message. Therefore, when they engage in what I consider anti-Semitic expressions, it’s not like the average Joe or Sam or Chaim. Because they have this status that our society has given them, and therefore it does reverberate,” Foxman said.

“The gas chambers in Auschwitz did not begin with bricks; they began with words, with ugly words. Because there was no one who stood up and said, ‘Don’t say that!’ I will not be silent.”

By the same token, the ADL takes seriously the spread of anti-Semitism on the Internet, though the organization has not quite figured out how to solve the myriad problems it faces there. Foxman describes the Internet as a “tsunami” of hate speech.

To its critics, the ADL is in the business of selling anti-Semitism, ratcheting up Jewish anxiety for the purposes of fundraising. The organization’s annual budget in 2011 was $54 million, and it has 30 regional offices across the country along with one in Israel.

But at the ADL, its educational and training programs, anti-Semitism monitoring, and legislative and legal efforts are seen as key to “keeping a lids on the sewers” of prejudice, as Foxman puts it.

“There’s a lot of extremism in this country,” Foxman said. “We still have prejudice – against Hispanics, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, Mormons, Asians. The battle for a civil, respectful, tolerant society continues. We haven’t won that battle. We have not found an antidote, a vaccine. Until we find that vaccine, it’s going to be with us.”

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