Oldest Hatred

An interview with Abe Foxman

The Israel question is a camouflage. It is a platform. The UN resolved by a majority vote that Zionism is racism. The only national liberation movement in the history of the world which was called racist by the UN was Zionism — the Jewish national independence movement.

Usually the most frequently asked question on Israel and anti-Semitism is, "Can't I be an anti-Zionist and not be an anti-Semite?" Or, "Can't I criticize Israel and not be called an anti-Semite?" And the answer to both these questions is, "Sure, you can, but chances are if you engage in anti-Zionism, and the only nationalism that you single out as racist is Jewish nationalism — if you say Palestinian nationalism, French nationalism, Hungarian nationalism, are not racist but Jewish nationalism is . . . Bingo! You're an anti-Semite."

I'll talk about the BDS movement for a moment. If young people who cared about justice in the world came together and declared themselves that they will through the vehicle of boycott strike out against injustice in the world, I would say, "Okay, God bless you."

But then I would like to see a list of at least 10 countries — like Cuba, China, Iran — that violate basic human rights. And if they included Israel in such a list, I would argue that Israel is not stands ahead of all of them. But if that were the case, I could live with it.

But if the only country that they organize boycotts around is the Jewish state, that's anti-Semitism. Even Pope Francis said about a year ago words to the effect that people questioning today the legitimacy of the Jewish state are anti-Semites. And that to me basically covers most of the BDS movement. When there was a war in Gaza several years ago, the demonstrations in European capitals targeted synagogues and Jewish business institutions. You know what? It wouldn't have been so great if they targeted Israeli embassies but they didn't do that. They went after the Jews.

And so, the manifestations of this political movement have moved into anti-Semitism and one reinforces the other. There seems to be some sort of legitimacy in certain crimes in the world where you can act against the Jews as long as it's under the guise of acting against Israel. I think little by little it's losing its cover and it's losing its camouflage. But it's out there. It is out there.

OR: Do you think the world is reaching a point where it's not safe for Jews to be in Europe?

Foxman: Look, again, it's a very, very personal view. I would not raise a family in Europe. I think we're seeing that the Jews of Europe are realizing that there is no future for them. They're voting with their feet. There is a lot of immigration to Israel; it's a little tougher to get to the U.S. nowadays. But I think Jews are acting out of a realization and a fear that they have no future in Europe.

But again, you have to respect their decision. It's where they want to be. But yeah, if somebody were to ask me as an observer from the outside looking at the situation, I would say, "I don't see a future."

On 9/11, our country had a very, very traumatic moment. We came to the realization after 9/11 that we have to sacrifice some of our way of life to balance our civil liberties with security.

We had the Patriot Act debate. We basically as a society gave up some of the freedoms that we had, whether it's flying, whether it's traveling, whether it's access to government, all these things. I don't see Europe having that moment yet. After the attack on Hebdo, they marched in the streets of Paris and I think they thought they took care of it. However, I don't think they have.

I don't think they have yet come to grips that they need to change some of their thinking, some of their laws, some of their behavior. And if they don't, Jews are on top of the hit parade in terms of being singled out. So there were protests about anti-Semitism, but when Merkel called for a demonstration you had 5,000 people show up. When it's demonstrations, protesting, and acting against anti-Semitism in Europe, you don't have big crowds.

The only good thing, if you will, is that powers that be, the governments, and those that speak out, are acting to protect the Jewish community. But how long can you live in a society where you recognize a synagogue by the amount of police or militia around it? When your kids, if they want to go to Jewish school, have to go with a military or police escort? That's no way to encourage future generations of Jewish life. If I were to be asked by my Jewish friends in Europe, I would advise them to find another place.

OR: Why is it — given that Jews are such a small percentage of the population — that anti-Semitism has been a historical constant for millennia?

Foxman: If we knew the answer to the question maybe we'd find a way to eliminate it. Anti-Semitism is the mother of all prejudices, if you will, in Western civilization. It starts with the crucifixion of Christ. The Jews sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. That's 2,000 years of teaching based on faith that took its roots in Western civilization. You don't have it in Buddhism. You don't have it in Shintoism. We have it now in Islam. Why?

Mark Twain, in 1894 wrote an essay concerning the Jews. He went on a speaking tour of Europe. He had some debts to pay off, and one way to make quick money was to give speeches. He went to Europe. And for some odd reason, wherever he went he found anti-Semitism. He found it in people who were religious and people who were atheist, people who were smart and people who were stupid, people who were rich and people who were poor.