The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

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