Foxman: UN legitimizes anti-Semitism

In talk at Jerusalem’s Jewish Media Summit, ADL head also warns Western European Jews of a bleak future

The ADL's Abe Foxman (Courtesy Shilo Productions)
The ADL's Abe Foxman (Courtesy Shilo Productions)

Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman on Monday accused the UN of facilitating anti-Semitism, and intimated that Jews in Western Europe should be highly concerned about their future given the levels of anti-Semitism in some countries there.

Speaking at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, Foxman said global anti-Semitism was at its worst level since World War II, though he stressed that it was by no means as grave as during that time. (The ADL last month published a survey of 102 countries that found about a quarter of the world’s population hold deeply anti-Semitic views; it also showed 74% of those in the Middle East and North Africa are anti-Semitic, with a staggering 93% finding among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)

Foxman said the overwhelming obsession with criticizing Israel inside the UN “gives legitimacy” to anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel was legitimate, he said, but when critics single out Israel for obsessive criticism, rather than highlighting Israel among other targets, that skews into anti-Semitism. Broadly speaking, he went on, anti-Zionism constitutes anti-Semitism if Zionism is the only nationalism being opposed.

In that light, Foxman said efforts to pressure governments via boycotts and sanctions could sometimes be positive, but they constituted anti-Semitism if exclusively or mainly focused on Israel. He was also suspicious, he said, of those who claimed not to hate Israel, but to hate Israel’s government. He drew his own conclusions, he said, if the track record of such critics was overwhelmingly focused on Israel.

Foxman said hostility to Israel from other states in the region may include elements of anti-Semitism, but was more a consequence of hatred of the fact of Israel’s very existence. Iran doesn’t primarily hate Israel because of the Jews, he said, but because it doesn’t want Israel in the region.

Answering questions from dozens of Jewish journalists gathered from around the world, Foxman noted that last month’s survey had shown 24% of those in Western Europe hold anti-Semitic attitudes. He recalled that Europe was recently “the cemetery of the Jews,” and reflected bleakly that the uniform of the Orthodox Jew in today’s Europe, wary of publicly identifying as a Jew, features a baseball cap rather than a skullcap.

As a baby, Foxman was baptized by the Polish nanny with whom his Jewish parents had left him when they were ordered into a ghetto by the Nazis at the start of World War II. His parents survived the war, were reunited with him, and immigrated to the US in 1950. Today 74, he is set to step down from his post as ADL national director next year.

Asked in a final question whether it was better sometimes not to make a fuss about incidents of anti-Semitism in the hope they might blow over, Foxman said that he would not want to be remembered as someone who sought to play down the danger. If the charge was that he spoke out rather than staying silent, Foxman said, he pleaded guilty.

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