Oldest Hatred

An interview with Abe Foxman

Fear and hatred of Jews spans times and nations and remains a serious issue in contemporary America and elsewhere. We spoke with Abe Foxman, the legendary crusader against anti-Semitism, about the worrying state of his battle today.

Octavian Report: Is anti-Semitism, in fact, on the rise today? If so, what's driving that rise?

Abe Foxman: I do not believe that actual anti-Semitism is on the rise. Our awareness of it is on the rise. The coverage of it travels on the internet. I've been involved in measuring, combating, evaluating, assessing, and analyzing anti-Semitism for over 50 years. Anti-Semitism is a given. It's there.

There used to be a joke: where there's life, there's bugs. Well, where there's life, there's prejudice. And anti-Semitism is the mother of all prejudices. It’s always been there. What has changed is its perception, its acceptance. When many of us struggled to combat it, we understood that we're not going to eliminate it unless we find a vaccine and an antidote.

It's part of the human condition. People need to hate, want to hate, look to hate. It's political, it's cultural, it's all these things. And so from those of us who fought it with an understanding that it will always be there, our goal has been to contain it. To keep it unacceptable, put a price on it. Make sure there are consequences to anti-Semitic behavior. And to make it un-Christian, un-Muslim, immoral.

It isn't on the rise. What's on the rise is that the containment elements that we have attained in all these last 50 years through legislation, through litigation, through education, are losing their impact. Let's look at the U.S., for example. I don't think Charlottesville has always been that way. Yes, anti-Semite bigots have always been there. And institutions such as the Anti-Defamation League or the American Jewish Comittee, whose job it is to monitor them, always knew where they were.

But 200 neo-Nazis never before had the audacity, the chutzpah, to march publicly, to show their faces and come out of the sewers, if you will. So what has changed is that the restraint which existed, certainly in the United States in the last 20 years, that says it's unacceptable — this restraint has been removed. Some blame it on Trumpism or Trump, but once you remove the taboos, once it's okay to say A, B, C, D, E, then it's okay to be more anti-Semitic.

I do not believe that there's more of it. Look, again, I go back 50 years in the ADL. We issued reports, we did inventories, we did polling. It never was really big news. There were swastikas on college campuses over the last 50 years. But it was maybe local news, not the way it is today.

This is partially because of politics and partially because there's a lot more media. There's 24/7 media, which we didn't have 20 years ago. The third element as to why there is this perception of a rise in anti-Semitism today is the Internet. It's a superhighway on which bigotry travels in nanoseconds around the globe. And it travels at tsunami force.

OR: Are you more concerned than you normally are about what you're seeing?

Foxman: Yes. Again, I don't think it's a crisis, but I think it is serious. It is a lot more serious because it is a lot more open. It is a lot more blatant. You see manifestations publicly. That changes the nature. If people perceive, and if bigots perceive that it's okay, that they can get away with it, that they have more support and adherents — that  makes it more dangerous.

But again, look, here when we go back to if you begin to measure the difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world. And again, going back to the ADL, we did a global survey of anti-Semitism. And the worst anti-Semitism is today is in the Arab countries and North Africa. The level of anti-Semitism there reaches 70, 80, 90 percent of the population.

And yet you don't see manifestations much beyond the realms of the internet and social media because there are few Jews in those countries. The Jews have been kicked out, or ran. So when you start measuring anti-Semitism, it's attitudinal, but you don't see the activities. In Europe, you see the numbers. And part of the reason there is the human conveyor belt. Some of the Arab and North African anti-Semites have now relocated to the European continent.

They not only have raised the level of anti-Semitism, but also anti-Semitic behavior, in many cases violent. In Europe, you have legislation. You have laws against Holocaust denial. You have laws against anti-Semitism. And yet the level there is still higher than it is here.

Again, the reason why we have here for a while at least established that there's a consequence to the behavior. Yes, our Constitution protects your right to be an anti-Semite. But if you act out as an anti-Semite, you will pay a social price. Mel Gibson is a perfect example of how the system works. He was the number-one performer, actor, producer until his anti-Semitism was revealed. And then, all of a sudden, he plummeted because our society knows and understands, or at least it did, that anti-Semitism is not acceptable. That today is no longer as secure an antidote as it used to be.

OR: Is the present irrational hatred of Israel one can find in some political quarters a form of anti-Semitism? Why do you think it is tolerated by the political Left?

Foxman: We tend to forget the Left included Soviet communism. That was an enemy of the Jewish people. They manufactured anti-Semitism, they engaged in anti-Semitism, they purged Jews. So, the Left has its own history: communism was as guilty as Nazism. The numbers may have been different because of the Holocaust. But the socialist movement — as much as some people try to fantasize it being more tolerant — was tolerant except when it came to Jews.

This is true even of political correctness. I know Trump thinks it's a sin and a crime. But, in a way, it set a certain standard of social behavior. It came basically from the Left. And the circle of political correctness excluded Jews. We were not seen as minorities. Leftists argue that anti-Semitism comes from the Right, but, it's always been there on the Left. If you even look today at the Labour Party in the U.K., it is anti-Semitic. Why? It's political, it's ideological, it fulfills all kinds of needs.