“People said to me anti-Semitism is finished. But it’s no longer history. It’s current”: Abraham H. Foxman

Abraham H. Foxman, who has been the national director of the Anti-Defamation League since 1987, is retiring on July 20. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Abraham H. Foxman, who has been the national director of the Anti-Defamation League since 1987, is retiring on July 20. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Joseph Berger writes:

Is Abraham H. Foxman’s retirement good or bad for the Jews?

Mr. Foxman would chuckle at the grandiose presumption in that cliché of a question, but as the national director and the voice of the Anti-Defamation League for almost three decades, he has been one of the nation’s most prominent Jewish spokesmen.

Out of a Holocaust-era childhood in which he was raised and baptized as a Catholic by a Polish nanny before reuniting with his parents, he has become a Jeremiah excoriating anti-Semitic bigots and has won access to presidents, popes and prime ministers. In the process, he has elevated the group he leads into a major civil rights organization with influence beyond the Jewish community.

He has been accused of crying wolf too often, of raising the specter of anti-Semitism even as Jews have become one of the most successful, prosperous and admired ethnic groups in the United States and seemingly secure in most of the world. A profile in 2007 in The New York Times Magazine described him bluntly as “an anachronism.”

But in a two-hour long interview on Wednesday in his Midtown Manhattan office, surrounded by boxes of books and photographs he is packing up before his July 20 exit, Mr. Foxman said that “unfortunately time has proven me correct.”

Worldwide, he said, anti-Semitism is as rife today as at any time sinceWorld War II. An Anti-Defamation League survey last year of attitudes in 102 countries found that one in four people held classic stereotypes, believing Jews control finance and media and were more loyal to Israel than to their home countries. In many Middle Eastern and North African nations, the proportion of such attitudes was over 80 percent. Half of the 53,100 adults surveyed had never heard of the Holocaust. And since 2000, he said there had been an increase in violence against Jews, noting that in recent weeks a Jewish teenager with a skullcap was beaten in France.

“I did not think in my lifetime, the Jewish communities of Europe would struggle with the question of whether they have a future there,” said Mr. Foxman, who is 75. “People said to me anti-Semitism is finished. But it’s no longer history. It’s current.”

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