Meet Abe Foxman

June 30, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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One of the world’s most active voices in the battle against antisemitism belongs to the U.S. Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman. He was interviewed by David Horovitz at the recent world Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem. J-Wire was there.

Abe Foxman is the National Director of the New York based Anti-Defamation League, one of the world’s main watchdogs on contemporary antisemitism.

Foxman was quizzed by moderator Davod Horowitz managing editor of The Times of Israel on a poll conducted on antisemitism in 102 countries.

 Horovitz:  Give us a brief overview of this global poll of antisemitic attitude and sentiment that you published last month.

Foxman preceded his answer by saying that those who run Jewish communities across the globe take the Jewish media for granted. He said that it is nice if the major newspapers cover any Jewish matters “but at the end of the day the Jewish media is the vehicle that communicates our message, our concerns, our anxieties our celebrations to our constituents and we very frequently take you for granted as does the State of Israel.”

Abe Foxman talks to David Horowitz   Photo: henry Benjamin

Abe Foxman talks to David Horovitz Photo: Henry Benjamin

 Foxman: Measuring antisemitism is not an exact science. It’s a configuration of all kinds of things. Recently the EU polled Jews of Europe to ask how they feel about it . We polled Israeli teenagers. People stated ‘Anti-Semitism in Israel…they are immune from it.’ Yet to our surprise  we found that 70% of young Israelis felt antisemitism within Israel through the vehicle of the internet. They felt assaulted, insulted and threatened. We have never before done a poll involving 102 countries. We found that one in four adults in the world is infected with antisemitism. I find that a very troubling statistic. Region has become very important. The Middle East and Norhern Africa have the highest levels of antisemitism in the world. We don’t have answers. For example, why does Greece have the highest incidence of antisemitism in Europe? Why is South Korea so high? The poll does not offer answers  only issues we need to continue to probe.

Horovitz: In the Middle East the Palestinians had the highest rate at 93%. The lowest in this area was Iran at 56%. There were eleven questions and if you answered ‘yes’ to at least six of them you were classified as an anti-Semite. Questions like “Are Jews too powerful in business? Do Jews demonstrate double loyalties…to Israel and the country in which they live? Do you think Jews think they are better than everybody else?  I think I would probably have said ‘yes’ to at least six of them. How confident are you about the criteria you used?

Foxman:  That’s a very entertaining question and we’ve been asked ‘So why don’t you test the Jews?’.

Horovitz: During the Global Financial Crisis,  every time the head of a bank turned out to be Jewish I cringed. And I wished that there were fewer Jews at the heart  of the American financial system. Does that make me an anti-Semite? I am questioning the basis of the questions.

Foxman: We’ve been using that basis for over forty years. It’s not an exact science. Let me give you an example. I remember when Marlon Brando in his farewell interview was asked about the films he ha made and those he hadn’t. He said the films he wanted to make but couldn’t were because ‘the Jews controlled Hollywood’. We were then asked about this and confirmed that to say the Jews controlled Hollywood is antisemitic. Jews in Hollywood are not there as Jews. They are directors, producers, financiers. What Marlon Brando was talking about is that Jews get together on Sunday morning at Katz’s deli and decide about what they are going to project as Jews. But their view is that the Jews control as Jews. They are there to control for power and or to make money. That’s a malignant view of a certain fact and in history we paid a price for it. I remember when the Foreign Minister of Spain said to me ‘When we say Jews are successful we mean it as a compliment’. I replied by saying that’s the compliment that paved the way to Auschwitz.

Horovitz: So they believe that the Jewish leadership gets together and plans how to advance its interests sometimes at the expense of the rest of the world.

Foxman: The number one stereotype across the world at 41% of those polled is that the Jews are not loyal. The issue is that they are more loyal to their own interests which is a version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion…that the Jews only care about themselves. If you look at Nazism, it did not begin with racial supremacy or the master race. Hitler blamed the defeat of Germany on the Jews. It was the basic concept that the Jews only cared about themselves…only cared about power at the expense of every one else. 26% of Americans believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. That’s classic antisemitism.

Horovitz: If you were to ask American Jews ‘Where does your heart lie most?’, a lot of them would say ‘Israel’.

Foxman: That’s not true. In a recent Reuter’s poll only 4-5% of American Jews put Israel before the U.S. Part of the world believes that the Jews control America. That’s a perversion. Italians feel good about their culture and their history. They have parades in celebration of their culture. Nobody accuses them of double loyalty.

Horovitz:  Let’s talk abut antisemitism v anti-Zionism. Where is the line at which legitimate criticism of Israel spills over into antisemitism and where does BDS come into it?

Foxman: One of the most common questions I get is ‘can I criticise Israel?’  Well of course you can.

You can crtitice Zionism if you believe nationalism is racist and discriminatory. But if the only nationalism you don’t like and find difficult to deal with is Jewish nationalism, then you are an anti-Semite.

We could not establish the causality of the close relationship between attitudes against Israel and antisemitism. For example you have a group of countries like Scandinavia and the UK very low on the level of antisemitism yet pretty high on the level of anti-Israel. On the other hand the group of countries making up the former Soviet Union very high on the level of antisemitism yet very low on the level of anti-Israel.

Horovitz: Tell me about BDS [Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions]

Foxman makes a point     Photo Henry Benjamin

Foxman makes a point Photo Henry Benjamin

Foxman: BDS is a very interesting, maybe even positive, element to try to evoke  social change in the world. If youngsters, a church or any organised group wants to effect a change in behaviour of any government on any issue they think is important and they want to use Boycott, Divestment or Sanctions…be my guest. But then I will look to see who it is you are targeting with this social action advocacy punishment venture. I can give you a list of 20 countries that need change in the their humans behaviour and attitude to social rights…Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Algeria etc… So if you give me a list of ten countries with which you are engaging BDS and you include Israel I will argue that Israel doesn’t belong but at the end of the day if this what you are doing and Israel is part of it…then OK. But if the only country  that use BDS against because of your perceived violation of human rights is the Jewish State, then that’s antisemitism.

Horovitz: What about the United Nations?

Foxman:  It is continually biased. You can criticise. There is no reason you cannot criticise. But when you look at the world today and the UN deals with 20 issues and 13 of them concern Israel then this is such a skewed bias which has nothing to do with politics but a bias tinged with antisemitism.

The UN legitimises anti-Semites to have a legitimate voice to express their antisemitism under the colour of politics and debate. Is Ban Ki-moon an anti-Semite? No. But the institution is such that it permits the continuous singling out of Israel with, special demands special standards, special criteria to the point that is always the pariah state… always the country that needs repair and sanctioning.

Horovitz: You have been doing this for fifty years. After WWII, antisemitism seems to have been less public almost in remission for a few decades but now it seems to have exploded again. Did it ever go away? Is it with us forever?

Foxman: Many of us believed that it is a fact of history. But we believed it would become a subject for education in racism and human respect. I don’t think many of us believed it would become such a significant, serious pernicious current event. Today, antisemitism is worse that it has ever been since WWII although it is not like it was then. However, if I did not believe that I could change people’s minds and hearts, I wouldn’t go to work. I’m an optimist but I believe if we didn’t act, if we didn’t fight it, it would be worse.

I do believe it will always be with us. History  teaches us there was always the opportunity to single out the Jews. It will always be with us. Technology changes are not our friend. The Internet is about to destroy civility and respect. We are number one on the hit parade. Today you can transmit antisemitism globally in nano seconds. Without any perspective, without any challenge it has given antisemitism legitimacy in a way we have never seen before.

Horovitz: Where do you see antisemitism manifesting itself most dangerously today?

Foxman:   Nobody knows the levels of danger and security better than the Jews themselves. Even though they know it, they will rationalise it. I think where the levels are high today, Western Europe for example, they can say ‘this country was our cemetery not too long ago’. I live in the USA and have no right to tell any Jew what to do but if the new uniform of an observant Jew includes a baseball cap it means that you can recognise a Jew because he is wearing a suit and a baseball cap. They don’t wear kip pot. European leaders are saying that Jews are going to have to learn to live with antisemitism and I see this as a serious signal. Up until recently, many countries denied they had an antisemitism problem…but that has changed. The French set up a task force to deal with antisemitism.

They did all the right things and continue to do so but the problem is not getting less…it’s getting more.







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