Global Anti-Semitism: Old Hatred, New Threats

November 20, 2012

Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman (as prepared)
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
to the ADL Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL
November 16, 2012

As we approach our centennial year, an important element in our centennial programs is a celebration of how far we have come in diminishing anti-Semitism in America. When we recall where we were in 1913 and where we are as we approach 2013, it is a remarkable story. Quotas, exclusion from neighborhoods, social clubs, some industries, words like "Christ-killers" and "Kikes." All were part of the landscape in 1913. How different things are today and how important ADL's role has been in bringing about that change.

At the same time, as I stand here to commemorate the successes, I am appalled at the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the globe. Indeed, the last decade has witnessed the most serious and dangerous manifestation of Jew hatred since World War II.

Just let me read off to you just a few of the serious incidents of anti-Semitism that have occurred just in recent months.

  • In August, 2012, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of a centuries – old Jewish conspiracy to rule the world and said that behind the scenes of the major power circles, in political, media, monetary and banking organizations in the world, they have been the decision makers." His vice president, Mohamed-Reza Rahimi, speaking at a U.N. sponsored conference in Teheran on the illegal drug trade, declaimed that Zionists are in firm control of the drug trade.
  • On October 28 an openly anti-Semitic party, Svoboda, garnered 12% of the vote in Ukrainian parliamentary elections. In Greece, another anti-Semitic party, Golden Dawn, exploited the financial crisis to win popularity and electoral support. In this regard, a Golden Dawn lawmaker read out in Parliament a passage from the Protocols about prosecuting Jews for their abominable and filthy crimes.
  • In Malmo, Sweden there were a series of attacks against Jews and the Jewish community. Fortunately 300 people demonstrated in support of the Jewish community.
  • In the U.S., Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam is using his website to expand the audience for his conspiracy theories about Jewish control and power.
  • The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned in a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Jews of the European Union about a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
  • Conspiracy theories spread that Jews were behind the anti-Islam film, even though it was clear that the filmmaker was a Copt, not a Jew.
  • Cartoons abounded in the Arab world prior to the U.S. election depicting Jews as controlling both candidates in order to achieve their allegedly sinister goals.
  • Iranian government controlled satellite news network Press TV is now one of the world's leading dispensiaries of conspiratorial anti-Semitism in English.
  • Jewish religious leaders in Berlin warned Jews not wear a kippah in public after an attack on a rabbi.
  • A State Department report refers to a "rising tide of global anti-Semitism." It cited diverse manifestations of anti-Semitism including desecration of synagogues, holocaust denial, blood libel charges. It cited Venezuela, Egypt, France, Hungary, Ukraine among others.

What is it all about and what does it say about the challenges we face as we start on our second century? First, it reminds us of what is unique about anti-Semitism as a phenomenon. We at ADL like to focus on the commonalities among various forms of prejudice -- racism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism. We talk about countering this competition for victimization among different groups as counterproductive.

Like a physician, however, we also have to diagnose not only the commonalities but what makes anti-Semitism different. It shares many things with other forms of hatred -- stereotyping, discrimination, being seen as the other.

But one needs to determine what is unique about anti-Semitism to explain the anomalies about it that have been written about in scores of books -- how long it has endured; how lethal it has been; how Jews can be accused of contradictory things at the same time; how there can be anti-Semitism without Jews. All these things only make sense when we recognize that the hard core of anti-Semitism is the notion that Jews are not what they seem to be, they are not regular folk but rather the reality of the Jew is something hidden, something poisonous, something powerful, something conspiratorial.

That's what the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was all about.

The importance of this is that because reality with regard to the Jew is not as it seems, whenever there are social, political or economic crises, it is easy to blame it on that unseen enemy, the Jew.

There's a long and tragic history here – the Black Plague in the middle ages, the Dreyfus Affair in France, the anti-Communists in Russia and, of course, Hitler in Germany. All blaming secret Jewish power and control for sinister purpose with devastating consequences.

In our present time, beginning with 9/11, a new era of "anxiety" hit the world. Ever since, the combination of international terror, financial collapse, Islamic extremism and turmoil in the Middle East have created the perfect storm for "blame the Jew" scenarios.

Whether it was 9/11 itself, or the financial collapse or the lack of peace in the Middle East, a wave of anti-Jewish scapegoating has emerged. And it continues to this day. We even see it here in the States with the Mearsheimer-Walt phenomena, blaming allege Jewish control of American Middle East policy for all the wrongs there and here.

A second factor in this resurgence, besides this distinctive aspect of anti-Semitism, is related to the time that has elapsed since the Holocaust. When the world first saw the pictures of Auschwitz 67 years ago, it provoked shame about anti-Semitism. It didn't mean that anti-Semitism disappeared; it surely did not. But because of this shame about what anti-Semitism could lead to, manifestations of anti-Semitism were constrained. And we benefitted from this in the world scene. The embarrassment of being called an anti-Semite after Auschwitz had impact, surely not everywhere; but it made a difference.

Now, more than 60 years after World War II that shame is eroding, at least in some circles. The passage of time, the passing of survivors, the rise of new generations for which Auschwitz is ancient history, all play a role. In addition, the constant attacks on Israel as Nazis, as evil doers undermine that belief that attacks on Jews are immoral and dangerous.

So as time continues to move on, that loss of shame can be a major factor in making anti-Semitism even more acceptable than it is today.

A third element in the resurgence of anti-Semitism is what is often referred to as the "new anti-Semitism." This is the term for Jew hatred surrounding Israel. The distinction between the old and the new anti-Semitism has been useful in highlighting how Israel has been the lightning rod for anti-Semites. It also has been useful for us to distinguish between legitimate criticism of the Jewish state and when it is merely a camouflage for anti-Semitism.

Still, the more I see it and the more I think about it, it's a distinction without a difference. The bottom line is that the so-called new anti-Semitism has many of the characteristics of the old -- alleged evil Jewish power: blaming all the problems on the Jews: stereotypes like the blood libel, poisoning the wells, corrupting the minds of the young. In other words, classic stuff but now it isn't mostly coming from Christians but from Muslims and left-wing intellectuals who should know better.

The other factor underlying this resurgence is, of course, the Internet. We've talked about this a lot, a force for good but also a gift for the haters of the world. It is a remarkable vehicle for disseminating anti-Semitism, for those who are eager to consume it, and sometimes for those who unwittingly meet it.

All that I've been talking about creates a fairly bleak picture. But there is the other side: our ability to do something about it which didn't exist decades ago.

First, there has been the commitment to "Never Again" of the American Jewish community and for ADL. Because we are the freest Jewish community in the history of the Diaspora and because we live in the country that is the global superpower and has been committed to stand up to protect Jews in danger, we accepted our special responsibility and have been able to accomplish great things: the freeing of Soviet Syrian and Ethiopian Jewry; the forums in Europe, pushed by the US and us, to address anti-Semitism in Europe; the establishment of a state department unit to monitor anti-Semitism around the world.

Going forward, our work starts with our partnership with US administrations of either party and with Congress. We testify before Congressional committees and we are constantly urging our government to speak up and act whenever anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.

And, of course, we use one of our precious assets that has meant so much over these 100 years: ADL's voice, calling on the carpet those who tolerate anti-Semitism and praising those who stand up.

We have other assets as well. The fact that we stand up for other minority groups here and abroad enables us to call on others to be allies against anti-Semitism.

As we begin our second century, another critical asset ADL can utilize in the fight against anti-Semitism is our ability to educate. Hatred is learned and it can also be unlearned. By educating about the history of anti-Semitism as well as its modern-day manifestations, we can continue to create change. We can ensure that the next generation of young people are not exposed to the hatred and bigotry heard by their parents and grandparents. We can empower Jewish youth with the knowledge and skills to speak up when they are the targets of anti-Semitic comments and so-called "jokes." Through education we can mobilize our allies to take action.

It is with this in mind, that I am pleased to announce a new centennial year initiative to educate about anti-Semitism. Through a partnership with Mr. Leonard Stern, we will be distributing copies of the book A Convenient Hatred: The History of Anti-Semitism, written by Phyllis Goldstein and published by Facing History and Ourselves. The book will be offered to participants in our Confronting Anti-Semitism and Bearing Witness™ programs, in addition to being available to ADL lay leaders, young professionals and others. Through this partnership we will expand our reach in educating Jewish youth in how to confront anti-Semitism and will further educate Catholic school teachers and their students about the history of anti-Semitism. The book is an essential resource as we work together to put an end to hatred and bigotry.

Our commitment to education about the Holocaust, which, as you know, is very serious at ADL, becomes even more important as time marches on. Not only to those who want to deny history. But for the millions who don't know unless they are educated.

On the occasion of our Centennial, we've had discussions about whether or not to call it a celebration. I believe we should because of all the progress we've made, mostly in America, and all we contributed to that progress.

But, as my remarks to you reflected, it is also a time of recommitment, recommitment to continue the struggle to meet the immense challenges that still face us. I am reassured that together we will emerge triumphant.

Thank you.