Actor Mel Gibson at the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 26, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Mike Blake.
Abraham Foxman is the National Director Emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor. He is the author of several books, including Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype. He recently spoke with me about a number of topics related to antisemitism.
Alan Zeitlin (AZ): What is the greatest threat to Jews in America?
Abraham Foxman (AF): The greatest threat to Jews in America continues to be assimilation, but right next … is antisemitism. Antisemitism has always been a serious element is the American fabric. Until we find a vaccine or an antidote against antisemitism, it will continue to be a serious element of our environment. When I started, the virus infected 33 percent. Now we are talking about 12 to 15 percent. We have managed to build a firewall to keep it in the sewers with the covers on. [But] the firewall [is] … falling apart.
AZ: What do you make of those who say they are anti-Zionist and not antisemitic? Do you believe them?
AF: There are a few people in the world who are anti-nationalist, who don’t accept any nationalism — Jewish, Palestinian, or French. [But] overwhelmingly today, to be anti-Zionist — which means to be anti-Jewish sovereignty — is antisemitism. Even the Pope wrote that to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state is antisemitism.
AZ: Were you surprised by the recent New York Times cartoon?
AF: Nothing surprises me anymore. If you have a newspaper that historically neglected to talk about the Holocaust … unwilling to support the establishment of the Jewish state … that’s not surprising. Some of the people working there feel that this is okay. At the same time, I’m glad they finally [are coming] to grips with the issue, and we’ll see what happens down the road.
AZ: Some in the media said President Trump should be blamed for the two synagogue shootings? Do you agree?
AF: To blame the president for it is wrong. He needs to be held accountable but it’s not his fault. The antisemites in Charlottesville or Pittsburgh or Poway were not created by Donald Trump or by his rhetoric. They were there as part of America’s milieu. What Trump did was legitimize some of the rhetoric. Once it goes public, you remove the sewer covers. He’s not responsible, but he should be held accountable for a rhetoric that some read and understand as [approval] for acting out.
AZ: Some call him a white supremacist.
AF: He’s not an antisemite. He’s not a white supremacist. He called himself a nationalist so where do you go from there?
AZ: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN)’s Twitter comments that Israel has hypnotized the world and another saying Jews buy political support were seen by some as antisemitic. Yet the House passed a measure condemning all hate. Was that enough?
AF: We live in an age when you should call it what it is. It was antisemitism. There’s no reason to camouflage or euphemize it. Unfortunately, everything is politicized and taken to the extreme. Sometimes by playing that game, it doesn’t serve the Jewish people in the fight against antisemitism.
AZ: Should high school curricula be changed to include more about the Holocaust?
AF: Yes. Six states mandate it. The problem is much deeper. In American schools, we don’t teach history or geography. Many students are ignorant of World War II, and why we fought the war. They don’t know we lost hundreds of thousands of young men and women who went to fight Nazism, [so] how would you expect them to know about the Holocaust? We spend a lot of time on the Middle Ages, but when it comes to modern times, we gloss it over. … We need to teach more because “Never Again” is part of Jewish history, but it’s not limited to Jews. It’s a universal lesson never to be silent when anyone is singled out for who they are, what they are, the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or their gender. It’s teaching about hate.
AZ: Is the media’s handling of the rise in antisemitism acceptable?
AF: Through the years that I was head of the ADL, we issued reports on acts of antisemitism. We did polling. We did surveys. Nobody covered it. The Jewish media sort of covered it, but more as an afterthought. Now, all of a sudden, it is covered. I’m not sure how good or bad it is. On the one hand, people now know how serious it is, and we tried to tell them for many years. On the other hand, there’s an element of copycats. People see you can get away with [committing antisemitic acts]. … If I had my choice, I would want it to be public.
AZ: Do you think Mel Gibson should be forgiven, and is it problematic that it was reported he will be playing a rich Jew named Rothschild?
AF: Forgiven? I don’t think he’s asked forgiveness. I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with Mel Gibson. I don’t think he’s ever really asked forgiveness, although he tried to do enough so that he could go into the [acting] profession again. I’m not sure about this film. I remember a couple of years ago they said he was going to play Judah Maccabee. This could be PR for his image. … I’ m more skeptical.
AZ: Some are greatly concerned by the BDS movement, and others say it’s not a big deal because nothing is binding. Is it a concern of yours?
AF: I grew up in the ’60s, with anti-Vietnam protests. It was no picnic to stand up for Israel and Zionism in the ’60s. There were the same 25 to 35 universities that had an anti-Israel bias. To some extent, it’s a continuation. I don’t think any of these movements are hurting Israel. What I’m worried about are future generations. Most college students [don’t know the truth about Israel and only] experience snippets. I worry 20 years from now that some of these students will grow up and remember a poster that Israel is apartheid state. … It’s more propaganda than anything else. But it has made Jewish students feel uncomfortable and threatened. … Today, Jewish students might not wear a Chai or a Magen David like they used to. So it has a psychological impact on their identity and their pride.
AZ: What should be done to fight antisemitism?
AF: We need to rebuild the firewall. We need to again — through legislation, through litigation, through education, through building coalitions — we need to reset the taboos. We need to deliver a message that there are consequences to hateful behavior. The United States Constitution guarantees someone’s right to be an antisemite or a bigot, but our society can set a price on it. Mel Gibson paid a price. Not by legislation or litigation, but our society said you cannot be a bigot and be a big shot in Hollywood. I think we need to bring that back.
The last political campaign destroyed taboos. It destroyed this sense of right and wrong, [and] of what you can say and what you can’t say. We need to rebuild that and say that certain language and behavior is immoral and unacceptable in America
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.