The Persistent Hatred: Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad
Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
National Executive Committee Meeting
Palm Beach, Florida
May 8, 2008
Posted: February 12, 2008
In a world where media influences are so powerful, there is a lot of talk about the gap that exists on many issues between perception and reality.
I am not one who believes in the cynical view that media simply create their own reality by choosing what to report on and highlight. Most times, the top stories in the media truly reflect the importance of what is actually happening. But not always, and not often enough!
Take the subject I want to speak to you about today: global anti-Semitism. I’ve addressed this central concern of ADL a number of times in recent years. On those occasions, we were experiencing a general understanding, not only in the Jewish community, but through the international media, that anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, was back with a vengeance -- synagogues and Jewish schools firebombed, rabbis and identifiable Jews attacked, Ilan Halimi kidnapped, tortured and murdered. Anti-Semitism was back in a way unlike any other period since World War II.
Articles and discussions abounded about the phenomenon and why it was happening.
Now, a certain quiet, if not silence, has returned to the subject. If one were to look only at headlines or speeches by world leaders, one might think that anti-Semitism has disappeared, that the great anxiety that surfaced between 2000 and 2005 has been alleviated, anti-Semitism has abated, and there is nothing extraordinary to be concerned about.
That, my friends, is the triumph of perception over reality. The truth is anti-Semitism here and there, domestically and internationally, is still a serious problem, reflected both in daily incidents of anti-Jewish hate and in the broader anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are spreading around the world and receiving acceptance.
To give you a visceral sense of how alive anti-Semitism is on a daily basis, let me first tick off for you some of the causes that required ADL to speak out.
Examples of anti-Semitism where ADL has recently spoken out:
- Police raid on a Venezuelan Jewish center just hours before Venezuelans went to vote on constitutional changes proposed by President Hugo Chavez.
- Argentinean leaders issue report on disturbing rise in anti-Semitic incidents including physical attacks and death threats.
- Pamphlets threatening to kill Jews distributed in Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine.
- Anti-Semitic comments by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, founder of Radio Maryja in Poland, in which he accused the president of Poland of being a fraud “who is in the pockets of the Jewish lobby.”
- The government report in the United Kingdom indicating that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK had risen to new highs.
- The physical attacking on Jews in the New York subway during the holiday season with clear anti-Jewish intent.
- The beating up of an Orthodox Jew in Lakewood, New Jersey.
These daily hate crimes and hate expressions have an effect far wider than on the victims themselves. They traumatize an entire community. That was always the underlying reason why ADL recognized the need for and developed hate crime legislation. The impact of such bigotry goes beyond individuals and the penalty should reflect that reality.
If the reality of those and many other incidents was all that was happening, that would be enough to counter the notion that anti-Semitism is waning.
But together with these heartrending incidents come the larger threats of classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theories of a kind that have produced the worst kind of mass anti-Jewish violence.
I’m talking here of the 9/11 theories (Jews and the Mossad behind the terrorism); of Holocaust denial which is gaining strength in the Islamic world, led by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; of the theories of Jewish power and disloyalty, which are being disseminated not only in the Islamic world but in the U.S. as well.
The impact of the drumbeat of these theories must not be minimized. When people hear over and over that Jews were behind 9/11, that Jews caused America to go to war in Iraq, that Jews are trying to bring the world to war on Iran, it matters and resonates with some.
It gives space to those who want to harm Jews, such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, because after all, if Jews are so evil and so powerful, then nations have the right to “defend” themselves against the all-powerful Jew.
All of this has a cumulative effect over time and in a world of suicide bombers and nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran, this is dangerous stuff.
So the obvious question is: If the reality is still very troubling, why is the perception so different?
It probably has more to do with the short attention span of the media to any subject, though I wouldn’t dismiss a certain callousness to anti-Semitism as a story as well. European leaders, who have held a number of conferences, may be feeling comfortable that they’ve already tried to address the problem, and enough is enough.
In any case, it is our job to counter this complacency, in our own community and in the larger society. We are always eager to report when things are getting better. We do so regularly in our polls and in our audits when it is appropriate.
This is not one of those times. Anti-Semitism, I must say, is alive and well. It is our task to say so, honestly and with accuracy.