Global Anti-Semitism: ADL's Role

  • February 7, 2014

Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman (as prepared)
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
To the ADL National Executive Committee Meeting
Palm Beach, FL

Some of my worst fears about a resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world seem to be coming true.  I have been talking for some time about the unique dynamic of anti-Semitism as a phenomenon and the changing world environment, which together are likely to cause a resurgence of anti-Semitism going forward.

Anti-Semitism has characteristics like other forms of bigotry in terms of stereotyping, alienation from the other, and discrimination. But what makes it different, and which goes a long way to explain anomalous things about anti-Semitism—how long it's lasted, how it pops up in different places, the concept of anti-Semitism without Jews, the contradictory accusations against Jews, etc.—is the core of the anti-Semitic idea: that Jews are not what they seem to be. The real Jew, according to the anti-Semite, is a hidden conspiratorialist, all-powerful and evil. So any time there's a crisis in society, the Jew can be seized upon and blamed as the secret cause of society's suffering.

And, of course, over the last decade the world has experienced a series of crises. Islamic terror beginning with 9/11, the financial collapse of 2008, the multitude of economic and social crises in Europe and the Arab Spring's expectations and disappointments top the list. All these anxiety-provoking developments contributed to the growth of anti-Semitism.

But other factors play a role and are increasingly worrisome. There is the erosion of shame about anti-Semitism as the Holocaust becomes more remote in time and as survivors pass away. The too-easy analogizing of every bad thing that happens today to the Holocaust, which ADL condemns whenever it surfaces, is just one manifestation of the loss of impact on attitudes that the Holocaust formerly had.

Pictures of Auschwitz after the war didn't lead to the disappearance of anti-Semitism. They did, however, constrain manifestations of Jew hatred. That loss of embarrassment over time reduces those constraints.

Additionally, the ongoing critique of the state of Israel is a powerful corrosive factor.  Not every criticism of Israel is illegitimate, and surely not anti-Semitic. But when condemnations of the Jewish state are so clearly biased, when Israel is singled out for punitive treatment, even when some of those engaging in these activities may not be motivated by anti-Semitism, it opens up the Pandora’s Box of Jew hatred and makes it much more acceptable. We see this in the boycott and delegitimization movements which lead to anti-Jewish activities, like isolating Jewish students on campus.

Finally, there's the perceived weakening of the U.S.’s role in the world—a subject I addressed at length at our centennial gathering in October in New York. However true it is or is not, the perception alone is worrying because the long-time recognition of U.S. leadership in the world for sixty years has been a major element in the struggle against anti-Semitism.

What are some of the most dangerous elements of the  resurgence of global anti-Semitism?

  • The entry of anti- Semitic parties into parliamentary bodies in Europe. Such parties have existed since the war but without the legitimacy they have now gained through electoral support. I refer first to Golden Dawn in Greece, the closest thing to a Nazi-fascist party of the 30's, which has 12 seats in parliament; the Jobbik party in Hungary, which has accumulated significant support; and a Ukrainian nationalist party that blames Jews for the nation's problems.
  • The physical and verbal threats against Jews that surface periodically in certain Western European countries. Examples are the terrorist attack in Toulouse; the violence against Jews and Jewish institutions in the UK and France during the last Gaza war; and the isolation of Jews in Malmo, Sweden propelled by anti-Israel activists.
  • The growing effort to delegitimize the state of Israel through boycotts and divestment campaigns by well-known cultural and scientific figures or by religious, business, or union institutions will inevitably lead to a deterioration of the Jewish condition in many countries. Here I cite the findings of ADL polls in Europe over the years, which indicate that a majority of Europeans believe that their Jewish citizens are more loyal to the state of Israel than to their own countries. So when Israel is deemed bad, so too often are the Jews.
  • In a Muslim world of schisms, civil wars, fanatical conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, the one thing they seem to agree on is that the most effective way to demonize ones foe is to label him a Zionist or a Jew. So while there's much discussion that Israel and Saudi Arabia may now have common interests in their opposition to Iran, the image of the Jew as the source of all evil remains potent as a motivating force in too much of the Islamic world.
  • Increasing manifestation of anti-Semitism in the sports and cultural fields. The controversy over the French comedian, Dieudonne and his use of a Nazi-like gesture and the appearance of anti-Jewish cheers at soccer matches are but two examples.
  • The sustainability of conspiracy theories about Jews, whether it's denial of the Holocaust, or blaming Jews for the financial crisis.
  • Even in America, the shocking story of the New York town of Pine Bush reminds us not to be complacent. The depths of the story are still to be plumbed, but it appears to be a case of systemic anti-Semitism in which school officials may not have responded effectively. The U.S. attorney for the Southern district recently submitted a significant brief contending that the efforts of officials in the face of continuing anti-Semitic activity in Pine Bush were not sufficient.  

What is ADL doing about it?

We take this resurgence very seriously. The message of “never again,” which has resonated in the post-war years speaks to the need for the American Jewish community, and particularly ADL, to be there for Jews everywhere facing anti-Semitism. 

Our Voice

We approach the subject in a number of ways. First, as always, is the voice of ADL. We speak whenever and wherever we see anti-Semitism. We do so because it's the right thing to do, and we do so because it becomes a form of pressure on those who can do something about it, whether government officials or religious, cultural, business or academic leaders. In the past few weeks alone:

  • We condemned anti-Semitic comments by a Belgian parliamentary member who accused Zionists of organizing and financing the Holocaust.
  • We criticized an economist cartoon depicting Jews as controlling American policy toward Iran.
  • We spoke out against an Al-Jazeera poll which asked its readers if the Syrian conflict was worse than the Holocaust, as exploiting and diminishing the murder of six million Jews.
  • We expressed deep concern about violent attacks against Jews, calling on law enforcement, political, civic and religious leaders to address and condemn these incidents.

Our voice therefore remains our first line of defense.

Our Global Anti-Semitism Poll

In a rapidly changing world, we also realized that more understanding of what is going on throughout the globe would enhance our knowledge base, our credibility and our ability to have impact. As a result, thanks to an incredibly generous gift of $7.5 million by a donor, we will soon unveil the first in depth public opinion poll on attitudes toward Jews in 100 countries around the world. We are planning to issue the findings in April and we expect it to set a new standard and baseline for discussing anti-Semitic attitudes worldwide. It is a very exciting and complex venture and one which will solidify ADL's role as the leader in combatting anti-Semitism.

Our Working with the US Government

ADL had a huge ally in various administrations as well as Congress in countering anti-Semitism.

In the past year, we testified before Congress, calling on them to mobilize their voices against the rise of neo-Nazi parties in Europe.

We work with the State Department to promote the monitoring of anti-Semitism around the globe and the implementation of programs in OSCE to educate against hate crimes.

Working Against Anti-Semitism Online

Let me tell you about one success story concerning online hate.

Kuruc.info is the leading Hungarian purveyor of online anti-Semitic and anti-Roma hate speech and an unofficial media outlet of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. The website was hosted in Arizona and had a Facebook page with72, 000 followers through which it was conveying threats against Jews and Roma. ADL, together with the action and protection foundation, prepared a dossier on kuruc.info's postings. These violated Facebook’s terms of service. Following our submission, Facebook deleted korus.info's page. This has severely diminished its outreach. Just one result of the intense, detailed work of ADL professionals.

And, of course, we continue our vital programs to educate against hate. Law enforcement trainings in Austria, hate crimes trainings with the EU, bearing witness for catholic school teachers, and confronting anti-Semitism helping Jewish students to cope with manifestations of anti-Semitism as in pine bush.

All of this is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg as to the way ADL addresses anti-Semitism worldwide.

Looking Forward

The challenges in the years ahead may grow for all the reasons that I stated early in this talk. That means, going forward, that the role of ADL will become even more important in seeing that the words "never again" have real meaning and impact on the lives of Jews everywhere.

"Not every criticism of Israel is illegitimate, and surely not anti-Semitic. But when condemnations of the Jewish state are so clearly biased, when Israel is singled out for punitive treatment, even when some of those engaging in these activities may not be motivated by anti-Semitism, it opens up the Pandora’s Box of Jew hatred and makes it much more acceptable." Share via Twitter Share via Facebook

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