JERUSALEM (J-Wire) — One of the world’s most active voices in the battle against anti-Semitism belongs to the US Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman. He was interviewed by David Horovitz at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem on June 23.
Foxman is the National Director of the New York-based ADL, one of the world’s main watchdogs on contemporary anti-Semitism. He was quizzed by moderator David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, mainly on a poll conducted by the ADL on anti-Semitism in 102 countries. Transcript:
David Horovitz: Give us a brief overview of this global poll of anti-Semitic attitudes 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.”
Abraham Foxman: Measuring anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism. I find that a very troubling statistic.
Region has become very important. The Middle East and Northern Africa have the highest levels of anti-Semitism in the world. We don’t have answers. For example, why does Greece have the highest incidence of anti-Semitism in Europe? Why is South Korea so high? The poll does not offer answers, only issues we need to continue to probe.
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?
That’s a very entertaining question, and we’ve been asked ‘So why don’t you test the Jews?’
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.
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 had 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 anti-Semitic. 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… 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.
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.
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 [ostensibly] 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 anti-Semitism.
If you were to ask American Jews ‘Where does your heart lie most?’, a lot of them would say ‘Israel’.
That’s not true. In a recent Reuter’s poll only 4-5% of American Jews put Israel before the US. 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.
Let’s talk about anti-Semitism v anti-Zionism. Where is the line at which legitimate criticism of Israel spills over into anti-Semitism and where does BDS come into it?
One of the most common questions I get is ‘can I criticise Israel?’ Well of course you can.
You can criticize 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 anti-Semitism. For example you have a group of countries like Scandinavia and the UK very low on the level of anti-Semitism yet pretty high on the level of anti-Israel. On the other hand the group of countries making up the former Soviet Union are very high on the level of anti-Semitism yet very low on the level of anti-Israel.
Tell me about BDS [Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions]
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 want to effect a change in behavior 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 human rights behavior 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 its perceived violation of human rights is the Jewish State, then that’s anti-Semitism.
What about the United Nations?
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 anti-Semitism.
The UN legitimises anti-Semites to have a legitimate voice to express their anti-Semitism under the color of politics and debate. Is [Secretary-General] 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 it is always the pariah state… always the country that needs repair and sanctioning.
You have been doing this for fifty years. After WWII, anti-Semitism 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?
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, anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism globally in nano seconds. Without any perspective, without any challenge it has given anti-Semitism legitimacy in a way we have never seen before.
Where do you see anti-Semitism manifesting itself most dangerously today?
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 kippot. European leaders are saying that Jews are going to have to learn to live with anti-Semitism and I see this as a serious signal. Up until recently, many countries denied they had an anti-Semitism problem… but that has changed. The French set up a task force to deal with anti-Semitism.
They did all the right things and continue to do so but the problem is not getting less… It’s getting more.