Jewish Security In America; The Iranian Threat To Israel; And Religious Freedom In America Discussed at ADL National Meeting in Palm Beach, FL

New York, NY, February 17, 2012 … A rash of anti-Semitic incidents in New York, New Jersey and Florida raises old questions about how far America has progressed in eliminating anti-Semitism from society, the director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told a recent gathering of prominent Jewish leaders. 

"For most American Jews, experiences with anti-Semitism in their lives and the insecurity surrounding fears of anti-Semitism are largely things of the past," Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said in his keynote address to ADL's National Executive Committee Meeting, held February 10-11 in Palm Beach, Florida. 

"Is there anything going on now or potentially in the years ahead that should make us pause in this ongoing celebration of the uniqueness of Jewish life in this country?," asked Mr. Foxman. "Overall the answer is 'no.' … (But) there are real challenges, maybe even concerns that have surfaced of late that remind us that, however great the progress, complacency is not in order."

Among the challenges he cited are the resiliency of old anti-Semitic stereotypes and the new forms they take in modern times, public attitudes toward Jews that still show surprisingly strong numbers expressing the belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, and conspiracy theories about Jews that are rampant in the Middle East and Europe and filter into the U.S.           

ADL's annual National Executive Committee Meeting brought nearly 300 leaders together to participate in discussions on a range of issues at the forefront of the League's agenda, including anti-Semitism, the Iranian threat to Israel and the world, the assault against religious freedom in America, anti-bias education and the quest for racial equality.  The meeting was chaired by Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair. 

Challenges Ahead for Israel 

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, offered a blunt assessment of the challenges ahead for Israel in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which has transformed the landscape across the Middle East.  He also discussed the challenge of the reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and Fatah, and Iranian intransigence in the face of ramped-up sanctions for failing to heed international warnings over its nuclear program. (Watch Video

Mr. Ayalon said the Iranian threat was more than just Israel's problem, since the missiles the Islamic Republic is currently building could carry a nuclear weapon not only to Israel but could reach much of the rest of the Middle East or Europe. 

"It is not just Israel against Iran.  It's Iran against the world community," said Mr. Ayalon.  "Iran has global ambitions.  It's the responsibility of the world community to stop it." 

The Israeli diplomat credited trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe for putting pressure on the Iranian regime to give up its nuclear program.  "For the first time in 25 years, the ayatollahs face a dilemma: whether to stop or continue," he said.  "They may be crazy, but they're not irrational.  They are vulnerable economically, socially and politically." 

The Assault Against Religious Freedom: Two Case Studies 

Two Jewish legislators from Florida and Texas described an upsurge of legislation promoting the free exercise of religion at the expense of separation of church and state.  Former Florida State Sen. Dan Gelber and Texas State Rep. Scott Hochbergdiscussed their experiences in confronting legislation detrimental to religious freedom, in a session moderated by David Barkey, ADL's Religious Freedom Counsel. 

Both legislators said a primary cause of problematic legislation is a culture among legislators that favors the majority faith and is insensitive to minority faiths.  To illustrate the depth of the problem, Mr. Hochberg recalled an instance where no member of the majority party condemned anti-Jewish appeals during the 2010 contest for Texas Speaker of the House between a Jewish and Christian state representative. 

Mr. Gelber and Mr. Hochberg said creative advocacy and emotional appeals were often more effective in defeating measures than arguments based on constitutional law.  For instance, to help defeat a Florida measure that would have allowed the teaching of creationism in public schools, Mr. Gelber got the bill sponsor to admit that the legislation would allow the teaching of Holocaust denial.   

Mr. Gelber also recounted his use of his experiences of praying with a group of basketball players who played on the courts of an African-American Baptist church in crafting a speech in opposition to school prayer legislation.  Mr. Hochberg said he was able to defeat a Texas constitutional amendment, detrimental to church-state separation, by having the sponsor of a law dealing with protestors at U.S. soldier funerals – such as the Westboro Baptist Church – argue that the amendment would undermine the law on protestors.

Both Mr. Gelber and Mr. Hochberg praised ADL as an important resource in countering and defeating problematic church-state legislation.  And they suggested ADL could improve its advocacy by providing friendly legislators across the 50 states with analysis of new religion-related legislation introduced in other states during the prior year's legislative session.     

Seeing Israel Firsthand: A Journalist's View 

Former CNN Anchor Rick Sanchezdescribed what it was like to make his first trip to Israel on a mission for Latino journalists sponsored by ADL, as well as the personal journey that brought him into contact with ADL in the first place. (Watch Video) r. Sanchez recalled, "I didn't fully grasp what was wrong with what I said," after he made an anti-Semitic remark in a radio interview in late 2010. 

It wasn't until he had had a meeting with ADL officials and started reading about the Jewish history of overcoming anti-Semitism that he began to understand the hurt his words had caused.  "And then I started to understand," Mr. Sanchez said.  "I started to get it.  I got why what I said was wrong, and even dangerous." 

As a participant in the ADL Latino Journalists Mission to Israel, Mr. Sanchez said he learned much more about the Jewish experience and about life in Israel.  "I can tell you that everyone on our trip came away with a better understanding of Israel," he said. "Not because it was carried out as some type of cheerleading exercise for Israel, far from it.  It's because it revealed truth."

Students, Experts Discuss Diversity in Schools, and in Sport 

The League's leaders heard about the efforts to bring students from Florida and other states across the country to the nation's capital as part of an ADL youth leadership program that helps high school students work to combat intolerance in their communities and schools.  Luke Waldron, a student at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, FL, and Shelica Anastari, a student at Marathon High School in Marathon, FL, described their experiences as participants in the ADL Grosfeld Family National Youth Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C.  The mission brings students to the capital for an intensive three-day program where they hear from Holocaust survivors and others who have faced racism and prejudice and visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.           

Richard Lapchick, an author and activist for racial equality, described his efforts to encourage diversity in sports through his work at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.  (Watch Video

Awards and Commendations

The following awards and commendations were presented during ADL's 2012 National Executive Committee Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida:

  • In recognition of his leading role in shaping the U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Dennis Ross was honored with the inaugural ADL Distinguished Public Service Award.  (More | Video)
  • ADL posthumously presented the ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award to Colonel José Arturo Castellanos Contreras, a Salvadoran diplomat who saved tens of thousands of European Jews during the Holocaust by issuing documents identifying them as citizens of El Salvador.  (More | Video)
  • Henrique Cymerman, a veteran Middle East correspondent and television interviewer, was honored with the ADL Daniel Pearl Award or his search for truth through responsible journalism.  The award was presented just days after the 10th anniversary of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's tragic death at the hands of terrorists in Pakistan. (More | Video)

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