Oldest Hatred

An interview with Abe Foxman

And he came to the conclusion that it's jealousy. That Jews succeed and because of their success are hated, despised. So we have served as a scapegoat in politics for princes, for kings, for dictators. We've served as a religious scapegoat. We've served as individuals' scapegoats.

If you ask the Orthodox, the Orthodox would say it's because we brought the Torah. We brought the laws. We forced the world to live by a code of civil behavior. And so it’s never forgiven us. I'm not sure, but I guess it helps explain it to them. But this hatred has served so many masters in so many times.

To go back to the question: “Are you worried?” I'm still flabbergasted to some extent how these conspiracy theories continue to live today with all openness. Now you've got fake news. So who knows what is and what isn't. But the blood libel is still out there. It still has vibrancy. The Jews gather organs to sell. Every catastrophe in the world is caused by Jews. These ideas have currency.

Is it this need that people have to blame somebody? Maybe. But after Auschwitz was laid bare to the world a lot of people said, "We didn't know, we didn't know." Which we know is a lot of nonsense.

But, if after the handiwork of hate was laid bare to the world when they saw Auschwitz, and all the scientists, and all the engineers, and all the philosophers didn't come together and say, "We need to develop an antidote" — if it didn't happen then, it's not going to happen now.

OR: Do you think the world could ever see a Holocaust again?

Foxman: I wrote a book in 2011 called Never Again? I wrote an op-ed in this last year called “Never Again — Probably.” You're asking a Holocaust survivor. No Holocaust survivor will say to you categorically, "It will never happen again." I've always lived with the thought, with the fear,  with the anxiety that it could happen because it's still there.

In the United States today, you've got candidates running for office who are neo-Nazis, who are anti-Semites. They're not acceptable, but they're still tolerated. So the answer is yes, it could happen. As someone who studied the Holocaust, I tried to figure out what it is that I survived. I had difficulty understanding why the world didn't care. I understand it a little better now when I look at what's happening in Syria. 600,000 butchered, 700,000; millions of refugees. People don't care. It's one thing not to care, it's another thing not to care and to be infected with bigotry and prejudice. Genocides are happening around the world. And so yes, unfortunately, sadly, it could happen.

OR: Is there any reason should people who aren't Jewish should be concerned about the phenomenon you’ve described?

Foxman: If you want to measure the democracy of a country, ask the question: how do they treat the Jews? How did they, and how do they? And 99 percent of the time if there's anti-Semitism in that society there is a lack of democracy.

It starts with us, but it doesn't finish with us. Martin Niemoller left us that quote to remember him by and as a lesson. "First they came for the Jews, and I wasn't a Jew. So I didn't stand up. Then, they came for the trade unionists, and I wasn't a trade unionist. So I didn't stand up. Then they came for the communists, and I wasn't a communist. So I didn't stand up. And then they came for me and there was nobody else to stand up."

Why should they care? They should care not only because it's the right thing to do but also because the nature of prejudice is, in the end, not to discriminate. Today, it's Jews, tomorrow it's Mexicans, then it's Muslims.

And if you permit it in your society, you don't know where it's going to go. So, sure, we care because we have been on the receiving end for all of these years in some of these societies and religions, and we paid such a heavy price. But it's not only about us. It's about society. It's about our other people. They should care for themselves, if not for us.

OR: What should people be doing to counteract these forces?

Foxman: In the long range something that is very laborious and painstaking: education, education, education, education. There's no other antidote. As you can be infected very quickly in a matter of minutes by prejudice, by anti-Semitism, by bigotry. Whether it's by your family, or friends, or your government.

So educate. What does that mean? To stand up. And that is not to permit words of prejudice, to be unanswered. To stand up. Don't be a bystander. When you see or when you hear prejudice directed against anybody within your environment, stand up and say, "No." If it's an ethnic joke, then stand up and say, "It isn't funny."

Bullying is prejudice. Bullying is, "I don't like you because you're fat. I don't like you because you're tall. I don't like you because of your color. I don't like you because of your religion. I don't like you because of whatever." It separates the person. He becomes the other. And that's prejudice. That's the basis of prejudice. What do we want people to do? Stand up to bullying. The problem with bullying is that people don't stand up, don't say no, don’t embrace the person that's being bullied.

Then there is the element of public opinion. This starts with government. Many of us continue to be concerned that the President, after Charlottesville, set up a moral equivalency between Nazis and people who stood up against Nazis. That sends a horrific message. There are no good Nazis. And so to this day if you ask me, I'm still after the President. I hope that he gets up one morning and says, "I had a dream, and the dream was we sacrificed tens of thousands of our people to fight Nazism."