ADL Abraham H. Foxman Exceptional Leadership Award
Remarks by Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat (as prepared)
To the Anti-Defamation League’s
National Leadership Conference
April 30, 2012
Of the awards I have been privileged to receive, none has greater meaning than this one. There are three reasons: the persons who endowed the award and are presenting it; the organization extending it; and the person for whom the award is named. My life has been enriched by direct association with each.
The entire Balser family, including Ron’s beloved parents Meyer and Roslyn, and their children, Ron, Jack, and Ellen were a significant part of my formative years in Atlanta, and thereafter. Their home was directly next door to that of my dear, late Uncle Barney and Aunt Dorothy, and their children, my first cousins, Philip and Marcia. In later years, my wife Fran and I became very friendly with Jack and his wife Pat.
Ron was a role model. He played on the same Grady High School basketball team a few years ahead of me, and was an example of an outstanding student-athlete. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Ron tried to recruit me to play basketball at Penn. I went to the University of North Carolina instead, but I can assure you, Ron, Penn did better not having me on their team!
Ron and Barbara, who together endowed this award, have been a remarkable couple, each with great success in business, the arts, and in the Jewish community, especially with ADL, where Barbara was the first southerner and woman to serve as national chairman, and Ron was president of ADL’s southeastern region.
ADL’s roots also relate to my Atlanta background. Our country did not always honor the promises of our Founding Documents and the commitment of George Washington, “to Bigotry No Sanction”. The Anti-Defamation League was founded in response to significant levels of anti-Semitism in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century, exemplified by the false accusations against Leo Frank in the murder of Mary Fagan in a pencil factory in Atlanta in 1913, leading to his brutal hanging by a Georgia mob. Growing up in Atlanta at the same time as Ron, Leo Frank remained decades later a searing memory, even more than the Holocaust, which I never heard discussed in my Jewish education courses or in my family (despite having both sets of grandparents from Eastern Europe, and a father and two uncles who served in the military in World War II).
It was ADL which courageously took on the purveyors of anti-Semitism and hatred, however powerful; and it was ADL which helped turn the tide against anti-Semitism in the United States. The full acceptance of Jews into the American mainstream, where we enjoy greater opportunities than in any Diaspora nation in history, owes more to ADL than to any other organization in our great and good nation.
ADL has continued to this day to be a leading voice speaking out against any form of discrimination, based upon religion, race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. And in an era of globalization, ADL is a major force against anti-Semitism and bigotry in every corner of the world it rears its ugly head.
My intersection with ADL and Atlanta continues to this day. The Defiant Requiem Foundation on whose board Fran and I sit, is partnering with Bill Nigut, the outstanding head of ADL’s southeastern region, and Andrea Jaron of his staff, to bring to Atlanta this October a remarkable multi-media concert, “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin”. This honors the memory of the Czech Jewish musician Rafael Schaëchter and the Jewish prisoner choir he created at the Theresenstadt concentration camp, which defied the Nazis by performing Verdi’s Requiem on 16 occasions, using a smuggled score and a legless piano. ADL is using our concert as their major fundraising event in Atlanta, and to raise awareness of their highly successful anti-hate, anti-bullying program. Abe Foxman will join us.
The third leg of our mutual involvement centers on Abe himself, and his history as a Holocaust survivor. Abe’s parents fled with him as an infant from Poland to Lithuania, where to save his life, they were forced to give him to the care of his Polish-Catholic nanny. She raised him as a Catholic, and after the War did not want to give him back. When his parents was finally returned to his parents, they were smuggled across borders from the Soviet Union to the Displaced Persons Camp in the American zone in Austria, and finally five years after the War, they made it to the United States.
The rest is history. Abe has become the face and voice of ADL and one of the most important moral voices in our country. Abe’s early experience in the Catholic community was a basis for his leadership in the successful Catholic-Jewish dialogue, which broke down ancient animosities toward Jews. Even very recently, Abe spoke out forcefully against the intemperate remarks of the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times against President Obama, leading to his deserved resignation.
My work in establishing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the Carter Administration, and in leading the Clinton Administration’s Holocaust negotiations brought me into close contact with Abe, because of his personal experiences and his wisdom and judgment. We obtained $8 billion for Survivors and the families of victims from Swiss and French banks, German and Austrian slave labor companies; the return of thousands of Jewish communal properties providing the post-Communist Jewish communities the infrastructure to rebuild their shattered lives; payments of thousands of Holocaust-era insurance policies; and the restitution of hundreds of pieces of Nazi-looted art. Now, as Special Adviser to Secretary of State Clinton on Holocaust-Era Issues, I continue to rely upon Abe and ADL.
The Holocaust was a seminal event in Jewish and world history, in which two thirds of the flower of world Jewry in Europe, a third of the total Jewish community was killed. There were 17 million Jews in the world in 1939, the year the Nazis invaded the Poland of Abe’s birth; there are only 13 million today.
The Holocaust did not spring from thin air, at the hands of a few Nazi madmen. Following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews were cast asunder to the four corners of the world. The Holocaust Abe barely escaped was the culmination of millennia of expulsions from a half dozen European countries; gross discrimination in religious practice, housing, job opportunities, and even dress; living at the mercy of tyrants and mobs; dreadful pogroms, and being blamed for calamities over which Jews had no role, like the Black Death in the Middle Ages.
No other people could have survived such multiple traumas, let alone thrived, and contributed richly to the societies in which they lived, often unwanted and unappreciated. But attachment to Holy Scriptures; a dream of returning to an ancient Homeland from which Jews were twice torn asunder; and a remarkable sense of people-hood, made this miracle possible.
Now after two thousand years of living at the margins of society, the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and in the Third Jewish Commonwealth, built on the very ground the first Jewish State was created 3000 years ago, have become a central part of history. We are fully integrated into our countries, and have a Jewish state that is one of the strongest, most creative, most successful nations born after World War II.
But now in the 21st century, the Jewish people face different and unique global forces, which present both external and internal challenges:
The external forces include:
— The historic Shift of Power and Influence from the United States and Europe, with significant Jewish populations, and with which Israel shares democratic values and long relationships, to the newly emerging powers of the East and South, which have small or non-existent Jewish communities and no historical associations with Jews and Israel. The ability of the United States, Israel’s only real ally in the world, to retain its strength and leadership in the 21st century, will speak volumes about the security of Jews and Israel in a turbulent world.
— Globalization, the rapid movement of capital, technology, products, and people across national boundaries, powered by the Digital Revolution and the Internet, which are changing the world as profoundly as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 500 years ago: impacting on every facet of our lives and the politics of nations.
— The cataclysmic Battle for the Direction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, including 400 million in the Arab Middle East, punctuated by convulsive revolutions as earth-shaking as those 20 years ago in Central Europe against Soviet domination. The Arab Spring, catalyzed by young, secular high tech democrats, risks turning into an Islamic- dominated Arab Winter, with profound implications for the Jewish people and for Israel.
— There are also a host of non-traditional security threats: nuclear proliferation, with a special threat from Iran’s nuclear program; environmental crises, like climate change-driven water shortages, which particularly impacts on Israel and the Middle East; a new form of warfare, cyberwar; and demographic threats which will continue to see precipitous declines in the percentage of Jews in a world which now exceeds 7 billion people, and will reach 10 billion by mid-century, with a static Jewish population.
I want to emphasize one particular external Global Force, because it relates to ADL’s core mission: the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism, aimed at delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish State, with Jews as surrogates for Israel and targets of anger and violence. This is different from the ancient religious-based anti-Semitism of past centuries that almost took Abe Foxman’s life, although it still lingers in more limited form, particularly in Europe, and requires ADL’s constant vigilance and leadership.
Today this new anti-Semitism, is cloaked as anti-Zionism, and takes many forms. Radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, directly supported by Iran, seek nothing short of the violent elimination of a Jewish State in the Middle East, and view Jews worldwide as acceptable targets. This could be seen in destruction of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and of AMIA, the Argentine Jewish community center, in the 1990s; the 2008 attack on the Chabad Lubavitch House in Mumbai, by Pakistani militants against Indian targets; and the tragic deaths this year of a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.
There are major elements of Muslim society, from the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to the monarchies of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, willing to live in peace with Israel. And yet they support unremitting UN Resolutions against Israel, far out of proportion to those against any other country, including serial human rights abusers.
A particular insidious form of this new anti-Semitism employs symbols, images, and language — equating Zionism and racism, suggesting that Israel practices apartheid, or depicting Israeli soldiers with Nazi swastikas — now adopted by several European labor unions, Palestinian advocates on college campuses, and some academics. These cross the line from legitimate criticism to which Israel, like all states, must be subject, and seeks to undermine the very foundations of a Jewish state within any borders — even though Israel was explicitly created as a Jewish State in 1947 by the United Nations itself.
ADL is at the forefront around the globe in attacking this 21st century version of anti-Semitism.
Yet, I am optimistic about our capacity to meet these external 21st century Global Forces, because of the strength of the Diaspora and of the State of Israel, but also because Jews are no longer alone and isolated in facing these new challenges, which also confront other nations and peoples. For example, the Iranian nuclear threat is not Israel’s alone, but directly engages the U.S. and Europe, which share Israel’s goal to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons.
Moreover, while the U.S., Israel’s chief source of support, is no longer the ascendant power we have been throughout our history; the gaps in power are being closed by emerging nations; and we have dug ourselves a deep economic hole; America is not a beached whale. The United States remains the most powerful nation on earth, with enormous economic assets and the only military that can project power globally by air, land, and sea. U.S. defense expenditures are greater than the next 15 nations together. A new energy future for the U.S, and Israel, hardly imaginable only a few years ago, will make the U.S. less dependent upon Middle Eastern oil; Israel less dependent upon Egyptian gas; can help fuel a re-industrialization in America; and can provide new resources for Israel’s continued development.
The powerful forces of globalization, with all their very real downsides, are creating something unique in history: an integrated, mutually dependent world, in which countries have a stake in each other’s prosperity and stability. This is a world which is ultimately safer for Jews inside and outside of Israel. Success in this new globalized world requires the very skills which are in the DNA of the Jewish people—high levels of education, adaptability, and creativity.
Without question the new post-revolutionary Arab governments will be more negative toward Israel than the governments they overthrew, and less likely to be staunch allies of the United States. But if they can genuinely empower their people and release their talents, the Arab Middle East may be able to create the job opportunities and growth which are the best antidote to radicalism. The new Islamic-dominated governments were elected not to impose radical sharia law, but to create jobs, provide decent social services and to end corruption. Their focus and energy will have to be on delivering these benefits, and they will need western investment and assistance to do so.
But it is our internal struggles that give me the most concern:
The Jews in the U.S. and in most of the Diaspora are like an enterprise with two roughly equally sized divisions, one healthy, the other virtually bankrupt, and threatening the success of the entire institution.
Half of the American Jewish community, exemplified by the Jewish leaders in this room, is vibrant, strongly engaged in enriching their lives with the beauties of Jewish life, identifying with Jewish causes, like ADL and the State of Israel, and committed to Jewish education—with over 700 full-time Jewish day schools educating 200,000 Jewish youth, and with almost 300,000 Jewish young adults from over 40 countries having participated in Birthright in Israel
But at the very time our country is more willing than ever to embrace Judaism and the contribution it makes to the beautiful mosaic of the United States, vast numbers of American Jew, like those in Europe, are assimilating, evaporating, disengaged, disenchanted, failing to appreciate the benefits of a fully engaged Jewish life,
There is a stark demographic decline, with birthrates below levels necessary to simply stay even, and with intermarriage in more than half of new weddings, generally without conversion by the non-Jewish spouse. Jewish philanthropy for Jewish causes and Jewish membership in many Jewish institutions is declining.
There is a need for a Call to Arms, to reach out to intermarried families and make them full participants in Jewish life; to encourage non-Orthodox rabbis to perform Jewish weddings where the couple pledges to raise their children as Jews; and to create a massive $2 billion Jewish Education Endowment to make full-time Jewish education in Day Schools affordable, and enrich after-school Jewish education for those families who choose this option.
There are also stark demographic realities in Israel, with more rapid growth rates of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, now over 2.5 million in the West Bank alone. Israel faces a historic choice in terms of where it wants its borders to be, its relationship with its Israeli Arab citizens, its status with the Palestinians under its control, in ways that will preserve a majority Jewish State.
Israel also faces internal challenges to the status of women, the rule of law, and its remarkably vibrant democracy. We must be as strong in helping Israel meet these challenges, as we are when they occur in the United States. The future of Jews of the Diaspora is directly connected to the future direction of Israel as a Jewish State.
Despite my concerns, here too I am optimistic. A strong majority of Israelis want a two-state solution that will assure a Jewish majority democratic State, if they could only find a strong, willing Palestinian partner. And there is much positive upon which to build in the Diaspora.
What Israel has accomplished in little over 60 years, the remarkable contributions of American and Diaspora Jews in every field of human endeavor, gives me confidence that there is no combination of external Global Forces or internal challenges which we cannot successfully overcome.
Over 2500 years ago the Prophet Jeremiah had a vision following the destruction of the First Temple: “I will gather them from the uttermost parts of the world; the blind and lame among them; woman with child and woman in travail; a company shall come back there”. Israel has achieved this, and more.
The Empires which sought to destroy the Jewish people—Assyrians and Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, Nazis and Communists, have all vanished, while the indomitable, indestructible Jewish people thrives, and will continue to make contributions to the world far beyond our small numbers, both in the Jewish State of Israel and outside.
Thank you again for this honor in Abe Foxman’s great name and for the wonderful organization of which you are all a part.