New York, NY, March 8, 2010 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) mourns the passing of Arnold Forster, an attorney who fought against anti-Semitism and extremism and advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel in a career spanning nearly 60 years at ADL. Mr. Forster, 97, died on Sunday night.
Since the mid-1930s, when Nazism came to power in Germany, Mr. Forster devoted his personal and professional life to the fight against religious prejudice and discrimination. His active concern with bigotry came about because of American hatemongers who were goaded and often financed by Nazis abroad, including Father Charles Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith.
In 1938 he organized a team of lawyers to serve as the volunteer legal arm of the Anti-Defamation League. He joined the League in 1940, and as Associate National Director was primarily responsible for building ADL's law department and civil rights program. In January 1946 he was appointed General Counsel, a position he held until 2003, though he retired from the League in 1979.
"Combating anti-Semitism became his life's work, and his approach was to take the fight both into the courtroom and directly before the public by shining the light of day on the bigots and their actions. And he was also one of the first Jewish leaders to publicly advocate for Israel," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "In many ways Arnold Forster was the personification of ADL, a man who was as much defined by his work as the League itself was shaped and transformed by his inspirational leadership and keen insight."
Admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1949, over his ensuing years at ADL Mr. Forster, together with other counsel, prepared amicus curiae briefs in most of the landmark civil rights causes that came before the Court. In 1979 he became an Of Counsel at the Shea & Gould law firm in its litigation section; in 1994 he joined Baer Marks & Upham LLP.
ADL's Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents evolved from the annual audit of religious prejudice conceived by Mr. Forster in 1947 and has been adapted by many human relations agencies. His memoir, Square One, was published in 1988 and he co-authored several books with then-ADL National Director Benjamin R. Epstein, including The Troublemakers (1952), "Some of My Best Friends…" (1962), Danger on the Right (1964), and The New Anti-Semitism (1974).
In 1967, Mr. Forster wrote Report From Israel based upon his frequent trips to the Middle East to observe first hand the Arab-Israeli situation for his radio-TV series for broadcast to the United States, Europe and Africa. The Overseas Press Club of America awarded its 1972 Citation for Excellence for the Best Radio Interpretation of Foreign Affairs for his radio program, "Dateline Israel." His documentary film "Avenue of the Just" was among the programs that won the 1980 Emmy Award for the ABC Network. This prize-winning film was part of Mr. Forster's "Dateline Israel" TV series. His film "Zubin and the IPO", the story of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor, Zubin Mehta, won the 1983 Emmy as the outstanding Program Achievement in the Performing Arts and First Prize at the 1983 American Film Festival.
Arnold Fastenberg was born in Brooklyn on June 25, 1912 to Hyman and Dorothy Fastenberg. He was a graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, St. John's University and St. John's Law School. "I worked my way through school as a lifeguard and an actor in the theatre," he told the ADL Bulletin in 1979. "While I was studying law, I acted at night at the Provincetown Playhouse. One director said I should change my name, so I did."
He is survived by his daughter, Janie Forster Berman, and son-in-law Dr. Howard Berman; his daughter-in-law, Carole Rothman, and four grandchildren: Charles and Molly Forster and Jordan and Camryn Berman. He was married to the former May Kasner, whom he called "Daisy May," for 65 years, until her death in 2005. His son, Stuart, a physician, passed away in 1991.