New York, NY, October 13, 2010 … The National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) believes there is an imperative to speak out when Muslim Americans become the targets of bigotry or incitement, especially in these challenging times.
"The Muslim community in America is being confronted by ugly, in-your-face religious bigotry and we must speak out against it, educate against it and label it anti-American," Abraham H. Foxman said in his keynote address to hundreds of ADL leaders from across the country gathered in Boston for the League's Annual Meeting. "We must condemn the brand of Islam that venerates violence and intolerance, and welcome into the modern world the rest of Islam that rejects violence and intolerance."
Mr. Foxman's speech on "The Breakdown of Civility and Confronting Anti-Muslim Bigotry" was among the highlights of the ADL's 2010 Annual Meeting, which convened October 7-9.
The meeting, which was chaired by Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, included presentations and remarks from an array of experts on a wide range of subjects and issues of importance to the League's work. The issues included hate speech on campus, the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the erosion of civility in American politics, and the impact of hate crimes and bullying.
The Iranian Nuclear Threat
Dr. Ephraim Sneh, a veteran Israeli general and statesman and a prominent architect of Israel's peace initiatives, spoke starkly on the serious danger a nuclear-armed Iran poses for the State of Israel and the entire Middle East.
"I believe that the Israeli government and state cannot allow a regime which almost every day declares that they are going to wipe out the Jewish state and have the tools to do so," Dr. Sneh said. "If we do so, it would mean that we didn't learn the lessons from our own history."
Even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, but does not use them, there will be enormous implications for Israel and the region, Dr. Sneh said. He predicted that the threat of a nuclear attack will cause immigration to Israel to suffer, if not stop completely, with a significant decrease in foreign investment.
Moreover, regional extremists would be emboldened by Iran's achievement. "When Iran has this weapon, all extremists will walk taller in the Middle East. They will feel protected," Dr. Sneh said. "In the conflict in the Middle East between the moderates and the radicals, the radicals will have the upper hand."
The two difficult issues that continue to confound the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – Jerusalem and refugees – likely will not be resolved through the current cycle of negotiations, according to David Makovsky, the Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "I remain skeptical that within a year we're going to see a breakthrough on those two issues," he said of the current round of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
However, Mr. Makovsky added, he believes some progress is being made in the talks, and that the outcome depends on the willingness of the respective parties to keep the talks going. "I would argue that there has been some under-the-radar progress, so I do think there is some hope out there. … We'll know in the next year if there is a breakthrough or a breakdown."
Gov. Patrick: "We Need ADL's Voice"
Pointing to the economic recession, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told ADL leaders "these are deeply anxious times" and expressed concern about those who will try to exploit the downturn to spread extremism and hatred. "I ask you, above all, to be the best that ADL is right now," he said. "I feel so personally, and as governor, that we need ADL's voice, ADL's moral clarity, ADL's advocacy more than ever before."
The Governor praised the League's work in Massachusetts in advocating for the state's newly enacted comprehensive anti-bullying legislation, which he recently signed into law.
Impact of Bullying Discussed
When Theresa Jackson, the parent of a special-needs student, first complained to school officials about how her son was being ridiculed by other students on the Internet, the claims of cyberbullying were dismissed by both his teachers and school officials. But Ms. Jackson did not give up hope that someone would listen to her concerns and take them seriously.
"The advice I'd give to other parents is 'Never give up,'" said Jackson, of Sandwich, MA. "Keep going. Keep finding someone. A lot of parents don't know where to turn, or to keep looking."
Ms. Jackson joined a panel discussion on the effects of bullying and the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Massachusetts. The discussion was moderated by Michael Sheetz, ADL New England Regional Board Chair.
Brigitte Berman, a high school student from Dover, MA, recalled how she was systematically ostracized and bullied from her peers by her "so-called Best Friend Forever" in the eighth grade. "I was at the edge and about to go over," she recalled.
Her early experience with schoolyard bullying led Berman to write a book, "Dorie Witt's Guide to Surviving Bullies" that provides practical advice for students on how to fight back. "We have to teach students that bullying is not acceptable and that if you see it, you need to stand up for yourself and your peers," Ms. Berman said.
Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts, agreed that students need to be prepared, and said that schools and parents can also play a role by recognizing the early warning signs of bullying and taking proactive action against bullying behavior. The newly enacted bullying law in Massachusetts requires reporting and accountability, Ms. Coakley said. "We are going to dial this back case-by-case so that we can be sure that there will be no more bullying in the schools."
Speech on Campus and in the Public Square
Frederick M. Lawrence, Dean of the George Washington University School of Law and President-Elect of Brandeis University, discussed issues of the First Amendment on campus and how universities should respond when free speech crosses the line into hate speech.
"On campus there is an obligation to express yourself, but there is also an obligation to be responsible for how you express yourself," said Mr. Lawrence. "There are limits."
One of those limits is engaging in threats against other students, or threatening a student with the intent to terrify, both of which Mr. Lawrence described as being "out of bounds." He added, "No one can be threatened, no one should be threatened, and no one should be fearful on a college campus."
ADL leaders also heard from Douglas Schoen, co-author of "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System." Mr. Schoen discussed the impact of partisan politics and special interests on the American political system.
"In Washington, the parties and the interest groups have come to dominate the process," Mr. Schoen said. "The American democracy has devolved into a series of vicious personal attacks. You have a system that is not working … you have an electorate that is increasingly polarized, angry and divided."
Honors and Commendations
The following awards and commendations were presented during ADL's 2010 Annual Meeting in Boston: