The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism

  • Transcript


Question: How has the nature of anti-Semitism during your tenure at the ADL?

Abraham Foxman: It’s not an exact science, but when we take attitudes of polling and we check attitudes from when I started which was 45 years ago, about one out of three Americans was infected, seriously infected, with anti-Semitism.  Today, 45 years later, not all to my doing or even the ADL, but changing society and environment, some litigation, legislation, education, it’s gone down to about 12, 14 percent of the American public.  Twelve, fourteen percent is still 40 million Americans, which is still quite serious, and we’re talking about somebody that’s seriously infected.  And I’m sure there’s another 40 million who may believe Jews are too powerful in finance, or they control the government, or Hollywood, or killed Christ, or aren’t loyal, and these are all stereotypes of anti-Semitism that still exist.  But on the whole, it has changed because at least it’s unacceptable; it’s not PC to be anti-Semitic, and so from that perspective I think fewer people engage in it. 

The greatest challenge, the new challenge we face is what we’re engaged in now, and that’s the Internet, the web, the World Wide Web.  On one hand... on one hand it’s a magnificent boom to education, to interaction, to communication in all kinds of ways, but it also has provided a dark underbelly of a superhighway for bigotry.  These are the unintended consequences of this magnificent creation, invention, and expansion of dialogue and information.  But, you could today, anonymously communicate bigotry in nanoseconds across the globe. 

In the 50s the Anti-Defamation League helped model and advocate a law called the Anti-Masking Law which we helped it act in the state of Georgia of all people.  And what that law said is if you want to be a bigot, if you want to demonstrate and protest as a bigot that’s your right under the Constitution, but you can’t have your head covered.  You can’t hide your identity.  You can’t wear a white mask, or a black mask, or a purple mask; you have to take responsibility for your bigotry.  And in fact, that was the law that had the greatest impact to break the back of the Ku Klux Klan because all these bigots who were all ready to do their bigotry hiding their identity, who happen to be lawyers, and store keepers, and judges, and whatever, all of a sudden lost their courage.  Fast forward 50 years later, and that mask has been put back through the internet.  And so today you can be a bigot.  You could be a bigot anonymously, you could enter somebody’s home, invade their privacy, and we see it... we see it so dramatic in cyber-bullying.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman