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We Should Not Be Silent

Posted: February 15, 2005

Speech by Abraham H. Foxman
Director of the Anti-Defamation League
ADL National Executive Committee Meeting
February 11, 2005
Palm Beach, Florida


An observer of Jewish organizations wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last Saturday that "it is time Jews recognize that the old strategies no longer work."  Ami Eden, National Editor of the Forward, went on to say, "Jewish organizations and advocates of Israel fail to grasp that they are no longer viewed as the voice of the disenfranchised. Rather, they are seen as a global Goliath…as such their efforts to raise the alarm increasingly appear as bullying."


This theme is one that surfaces from time to time among other writers and needs to be addressed.


As the director of an organization mandated to fight anti-Semitism, I appreciate being reminded that we need to be introspective and constantly examine how we conduct our struggle. It is critical that we maintain our credibility. At a time when many in America are tired of victimization cries, it is vital that we speak out only when the facts are investigated, the dangers evaluated. It is as important for Jewish organizations such as ADL to spend as much time and effort figuring out when something is not anti-Semitic as when something is.


Yet I strongly dispute his assessment that because some see us as all powerful and a big bully, we should take a backseat on some issues.


First, those who charge Jews with too much power don't need a flourishing Jewish community as in America today to make that charge.  Even when Jews were inordinately less influential, such accusations were hurled. Out of Tsarist Russia came the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," the notion that Jews were secretly meeting to gain control of the world.  In Nazi Germany, the claim of a Jewish stranglehold over Germany was the basis for the anti-Jewish campaign. Indeed, one can state that the uniqueness of anti-Semitism as opposed to other manifestations of hatred is this mystical concept of Jews being all-powerful, alien and conspiratorial.


Certainly, in the face of such perennial accusations, Jews do have the option of lying low, of doing nothing to feed this monster. The Holocaust taught us otherwise. The experience of that horror, where Jews were truly powerless, alone in the world and trapped before the onslaught of the murderous Germans, taught us that never again could we find ourselves without real power, real options, real voices. None of the latter offered certainty of safety and security. Nothing could guarantee that. But at least it contained the possibility if not the probability of such protection.


And it has largely worked. Jewish life today is fundamentally different than it was sixty years ago, not because anti-Semitism has disappeared. It surely hasn't as we witness the Goebbels-like ideology in the Arab world, the resurgence in Europe and the bias in the international community.


What is different is that Jews are not powerless. There is a State of Israel, a haven and protector of Jews. There is an America that continually shows its leadership in acting proactively against anti-Semitism, most lately in the passage of the critical Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which mandates regular State Department reports on anti-Semitism around the world. And there is an organized Jewish community in America that knows there are limits to what it can accomplish, but also has known that its basic responsibility is to rally Americans and others to stand up when Jews are under attack.


Sure there are examples when Jews distort that mission.


The essence of our approach has been remarkably successful. The fact that Jews are being attacked on the streets of Europe, that conspiracy theories about Jews are being spread among the populations of the Arab/Muslim nations, that Israel is hypocritically demonized, is not proof of conceptual failure. Rather it demonstrates once again that anti-Semitism has a life of its own and a moment can emerge that will allow it to spring forward again with fury.


            So, should we be silent…


  • When Mel Gibson announces he is making a film about the death of Jesus that will tell 'the truth?'"
  • When Israel builds a security barrier to protect its people from suicide bombers and terrorists?
  • When Israel is demonized as a as a racist, apartheid state at international conferences and on the college campuses?
  • When the Presbyterians, quickly followed by other Protestant groups, call for divestment from Israel?
  • When legislatures and politicians call for America to be a "Christian nation?"
  • When white supremacists and neo-Nazis target our youth with hateful music?
  • When Minister Louis Farrakhan blames all the ills faced by the African-Americans on Jews?
  • When elected officials and commentators blame the Jewish community and neo-conservatives who happen to be Jewish for the war in Iraq?
  • When celebrities, sports idols and public figures liken their problems or adversaries to the Holocaust and the Nazis?
  • When Prince Harry thinks it's funny to wear a Nazi uniform to a costume party?
  • When Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, or gays are slurred?


It is easy to be critical of the organized community and talk about all the things that have not been accomplished. But it would be foolhardy to ignore the genuine accomplishments that have made Jews in America more secure than ever before, that have made Israelis realize that they have a reliable ally in the United States, and have made the world know that they can't act against Jews with impunity. These gains are surely not simply attributable to the conceptual approach of Jewish advocacy that is under attack. Without that approach, however, Jewish life would be far less secure than it is.  For that we should be thankful.


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