Former ADL head Abe Foxman: ‘Israel has become the Jew among the nations’ – The Times of Israel

Posted By on March 13, 2024

NEW YORK Emeritus Anti-Defamation League (ADL) director Abe Foxman said two things keep him up at night these days.

The deteriorating relationship between Israel and its one-and-only most important ally, the United States, and how the Jewish people will react to this explosion of antisemitism at the end of the day, Foxman told The Times of Israel.

Were fine now, but what happens if it continues? How will it end, and how will we survive? he wondered on the eve of the centerpiece events of the ADLs Never is Now conference in New York this week.

Having survived the Holocaust as a child and then worked in the Jewish world for over five decades, Foxman is now the organizations emeritus director, after being the national director for 27 years. In an in-depth conversation, he gave The Times of Israel a look into his perceptions of the post-October 7 world and the international climate of antisemitism.

Everyone (including this reporter) asks Foxman if he is surprised by the torrent of antisemitism that has seemingly engulfed the globe since thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed the border with Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping 253 more to the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians.

But Foxman differentiates between surprised and shocked.

After 50 years of dealing with this subject, the answer is no, Im not surprised because those of us dealing with the subject professionally understood a long time ago that antisemitism is a disease without an antidote and without a vaccine. We reported on it, we monitored it, we recorded it we knew that it was there, that it was deep, and that it was serious.

The organized Jewish community developed a containment strategy if we cant eliminate antisemitism, at least lets contain it, Foxman said. Keep it in the sewers with the cover on. [This means] using every means available: media, coalitions, memory of the Shoah, the truth, threats of litigation.

He pointed out that in the over 100 years between the death of Leo Frank in 1915 to the massacre of the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, only three people were killed in the United States because they were Jewish.

Anti-Defamation League director emeritus Abraham Foxman. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

So thats pretty good in terms of maintaining the community and safetybut it wasnt surprising that a trigger mechanism blew the covers off the sewers, Foxman said.

This containment strategy, Foxman contends, fell apart because of two major factors: the internet and an endorsement of the end of civility in American discourse. Foxman called the internet probably the most significant instrument that has given legitimacy to antisemitism its given it a superhighway, and a level of anonymity more than we ever could have imagined.

When it comes to civility in America, Foxman isnt afraid to use the T word Trump.

The lack of civility in America came as a result of Trumpism Trump legitimized it

The lack of civility in America came as a result of Trumpism Trump legitimized it, Foxman said. Once he broke all the taboos of whats acceptable and whats not, we [the Jews] were the first to go.

[The Unite the Right rally of white supremacists that resulted in two deaths in 2017 in] Charlottesville, he didnt create, but he gave them the hechsher, Foxman said, using the word for a kosher imprimatur of good standing. They felt, its okay to go out there and publicly be an antisemite.

Members of the KKK are escorted by police past a large group of protesters during a KKK rally, July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

And skipping ahead to October 7, 2023, Foxman feels, there was fertile ground for antisemites.

So yes, Im not surprised, but I am shocked by the outpouring of antisemitism post-October 7, he said.

Im shocked by the intensity of the hate, Foxman said. We studied it, we knew it was coming from left and right, but what surprised me was the intensity of the hate and the intensity of the silence. Im shocked that you cannot find 10 organizations that we, the Jewish community, have stood within the last 50 years who stood up clearly with us in this moment.

In discussing the current climate of antisemitism at American elite institutions of higher education, Foxman noted the role of university Middle East centers set up by Arab institutions and donors decades ago.

What surprised me was the intensity of the hate and the intensity of the silence

On the face of it, it was benign, Foxman said, noting that even then, some universities approached the ADL asking for nondiscriminatory agreements with Arab countries so that these centers didnt discriminate against Jews. But we didnt prevent that, and the Middle East centers became Judenrein, with donations in some cases explicitly precluding Israel studies and faculty.

Todays academic climate, Foxman contended, is the result of a very deep investment of two generations of scholarship and inadequate parallel measures by the Jewish community.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the All out for Gaza protest at Columbia University in New York City on November 15, 2023. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Id hear of a Jewish person donating $20 billion to a university and ask them, What condition did you put on it? and theyd say, None, Foxman said. You didnt ask for Jewish studies, Holocaust studies, Israel studies? No. So thats our failure, but we should understand that this is a result of 20, 30, 40 years of investment by the Arabs.

Foxman attributes current antisemitism on campus to a failure of administrative guts on the part of university administrations.

Its not about freedom of speech we know whats permitted to say and whats not, Foxman said. No one is going to protect the n-word under the auspices of freedom of speech, so no one should protect Gas the Jews. Its not about speech its about behavior.

Most universities, Foxman points out, have behavioral codes: You can protest and speak, but you cant stop someone else from going to class. They have the means to act, and theyre not acting, and thats whats so frustrating. We dont need task forces on antisemitism we need task forces on how universities can implement their own codes of behavior. The task forces, what are you going to do tell us whats going on? We all know whats going on. They have to develop consequences.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators rally near Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

There needs to be accountability and consequences, Foxman said. Task forces on antisemitism arent giving anyone the responsibility to have accountability and consequences. They need to fulfill their responsibilities under all the tools they have already.

So how does the world put out the wildfires of hate or at least put the cover back on the flames to keep them from spreading?

I think we need to come together and build a new containment strategy, Foxman said. Im not sure I know what it is, because many of the elements that worked for us before no longer exist. The most important of those is truth antisemitism is the big lie, and you answer the big lie with the truth. But Trumpism destroyed truth.

We need to come together and build a new containment strategy

Foxman added that the disintegration of the media and civility also stripped those who would combat antisemitism of two important previous avenues of redress.

Coalitions are gone because were tribalistic. Civility is gone, he said. To build a new strategy will take an awful lot of creativity and putting back some of the things that weve lost.

The question to me, in this new onslaught against the Jews, is that its not about them its about us, Foxman said. How will we respond? Will we put on mezuzahs on our doorposts, or take them off?

So far, Jewish pride has blossomed in the wake of October 7.

The community around the world has stood up and said, I am a Jew. I want to be a Jew, Foxman said. Thats the test of the future: How proud will we be of our Jewishness, and to what extent will we stand up. Its not about what they do. Its terrible, its frightening, its debilitating, but you know what? We can overcome it. Its more about us than about them, and the signs now are very positive.

What Foxman fears, he confides, is Israel losing the United States as its ally.

US President Joe Biden, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)

Were in a propaganda war, and to an extent, were losing the propaganda war, and I worry about losing America, Foxman said. Its scary, looking at the polls, the Sunday television shows, the major newspapers there is so much out there that is anti-Israel. Its misinformation and disinformation in ways you never could have imagined.

I dont worry about the world, I worry about the US, Foxman said of the future. The US is Israels most important ally, whether its politically, economically, militarily there is no one else. What worries me is that were losing it.

No matter where a person stands politically, Foxman states, on October 7, we were very lucky that Joe Biden was president of the United States.

Biden said to the world that America will not permit to happen to the Jews what it permitted to happen during World War II, Foxman said. He had a moral compass and stood up in a magnificent way, defending Israel and giving money but as the war goes on, its deteriorating.

Then-national director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman, right, hands over the Joseph Prize For Human Rights to then-German chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber).

Now, Foxman said, the president is weak and has been politicized.

Constituents in Michigan and elsewhere whose support for Biden is wavering due to the presidents backing of Israel in the ongoing war in Gaza is really taking a toll, Foxman said. Look, to hear the vice president of the United States use ceasefire as the number one condition scared me. The word ceasefire is a code word for the victory of Hamas Its scary, and Im very worried.

The word ceasefire is a code word for the victory of Hamas

Foxman said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being used to legitimate anti-Israelism.

The irony is that while Bibi Netanyahu has, for years, been a major asset in the US-Israel relationship based on his leadership, articulation and many other factors, today hes become a liability, especially in the US, and people who are criticizing Israel equate the state with Netanyahu and the right-wing government, and thats a very serious problem for us, Foxman said.

A volunteer asks people to vote uncommitted, instead of for US President Joe Biden, outside of McDonald Elementary School in Dearborn during the Michigan presidential primary election on February 27, 2024. (JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)

Foxman noted that before October 7, Biden had stated that Israels existence made Jews safe.

Zionism was our safe haven we need to be like all the other nations, and therefore we will be safe and secure, Foxman said. Ironically, what has happened is that Israel has become the Jew among the nations. We entered the community of nations, which was the dream of Zionism and Herzl, with a flag and anthem, et cetera and yet were being treated differently than any other nation.

What other nation in the world has no right to determine its own capital and has to defend its right to defend itself?

What other nation in the world has no right to determine its own capital and has to defend its right to defend itself? Foxman asked rhetorically. Who is telling Ukraine where to send its missiles, or that its too many innocent victims? Nobody. We are still the Jew among the nations.

Despite all this, Foxman is quick to point out that hes an optimist.

Jews dont have the luxury to be pessimists, Foxman smiled, quoting the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. I survived. I have no right to be a pessimist, and Im not one. Its tough and gets tougher, and I worry more, but okay. Were allowed to be worried. We also believe that out of tragedy, good can come. After destruction, we survive, then we rebuild.

The sense of hope, determination, continuum yes, thats all part of the secret of our survival, Foxman said. I wish the world wouldnt test us so often. Weve proven that we can be positive without the negative.

Originally posted here:
Former ADL head Abe Foxman: 'Israel has become the Jew among the nations' - The Times of Israel

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