Why Anti-Semitism Endures

Anti-Semitism can be based on everything from religion to ignorance to wealth to capitalism.
  • Transcript


Question: Why is anti-Semitism such a virulent form of bigotry?

Abraham Foxman:
About 100 years ago Mark Twain went on a trip through Europe.  He had a debt to pay off and so he went on lecture tour, and wherever he went he found anti-Semitism.  The result was he wrote an essay when he came back in 1896 called "Concerning Anti-Semitism"—actually "Concerning The Jews."  And in a way he asked your question, you know, why is it so persistent?  What is it that makes it... everywhere?  Because he found that he would come to some people and they would be anti-Semitic because of religion.  All right. Then he’d come to some place and he found someone who’s an atheist who’s an anti-Semite.  Then he finds someone who's ignorant, okay so ignorance breeds that.  And then he’d find somebody... like Voltaire was an anti-Semite.  So, and then he’d find somebody who was rich and they would say, well you know the Jews are trying to be rich.  Then he’d find somebody poor... we found that communists call Jews capitalists, capitalist call Jews communist. Whether it was communism, or it was fascism, or Nazism, used the Jew as a scapegoat. 

And Mark Twain came to a conclusion.  I’m not sure it’s the proper conclusion, but I haven’t found a better one, and he says basically that anti-Semitism is a result of jealousy; that there’s a jealousy of Jewish success.  I remember about 20 years ago the Anti-Defamation League held a conference.  We brought together sociologists, educators, and public people to discuss why—because there was a... 20 years ago there was an upswing.  And I remember somebody around the table saying, well you know what it’s because Jews excel.  So, I’ll never forget there was a man there that said, "You know what Audrey I’ll make a deal with you:  I’ll go home and tell my kids to be number two and number three, if you’ll tell me that you’ll take care of the anti-Semitism."  A year later or so I told the story to a gentlemen that owned some banks in Brazil called... his name was Safra, Edmund Safra, and he said well to me it’s not a story.  He said, Abe, when we opened Banco Safra in Brazil we were very successful, and I called in my managers and I said "You want to be successful?  Make sure you’re number two and number three and not number one."  In the last... I went to Russia right after Glasnost and Perestroika, and was invited to address the city council of Moscow on anti-Semitism.  So I gave my presentation, and at the end a gentleman got up and said, "Well Mr. Foxman, you haven’t really told us why there’s anti-Semitism."  I said "Well, anti-Semitism is a disease really of the Christian world.  Why don’t you tell me?"  He said "I’ll tell you," and then he got up and said well when I was a kid in my small town, the best students were Jews.  And then I became a member of the communist youth party, the Komsomol, the best Komsomoliks were Jews.  And then in University the best students were Jews, and then the communist party the best communists were Jews.  So he says, but you know why there’s anti-Semitism?  Because they only excel for themselves; they’re only best for themselves.

What are the five most common bigoted misperceptions of Jews?

Abraham Foxman:  Well, I guess the first probably in Western society is that Jews are responsible for killing Christ, and that’s the mother of all.  And then I think the greed issue continues.  Then you follow control; Jews want to control the world for their interests, it could be money or whatever.  That’s the conspiratorial.  Jews are on the top of the hit parade of conspiracy, so for example we’re in an economic crisis.  In Europe, over 30 percent believe that Jews are responsible.  In the United States, one out of five Americans believe that Jews are responsible for the economic crisis because they see Jews in Wall Street, they see Jews everywhere.  Then you have different issues of control of Hollywood is big, and I guess it’s the whole conspiracy that... you’ll find conspiracies anywhere.  So if you don’t like something that’s happening, maybe you screwed up, you did something wrong, it’s because the Jews are behind it.  There are a lot of people who think that the Secretary of Treasury is Jewish; he’s not, that Volcker is Jewish, he’s not, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s the Jews who are controlling finances; it’s Jews who are controlling foreign policy.  There’s also a canard that’s out there, very big, about loyalty.  The Jews are not loyal.  Not loyal to their community, but not loyal to their country.  Thirty percent of the American people to this day believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.  In Europe, it’s 60, 70 percent.  In Poland 60 percent believe there’s what, 10,000 Jews that are not loyal to Poland.  In Norway, there are 5,000 and it’s 70 percent.  So that’s a canard which goes to the essence that you can’t trust Jews, you can’t rely on them.  With all the education, with all the exposure, and then you come down to some of my best friends are Jewish.  The guys that I know, they’re fine, but over there, out there; that’s another canard.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman