“While it is a hopeful sign that relatively few Americans openly and deliberately embrace anti-Semitic stereotypes today, it’s disturbing that so many people have absorbed biased beliefs about Jews and money to the point where they don’t even realize that these beliefs are false, bigoted and offensive.”
— From a chapter in Abrahm H. Foxman’s Jews and Money: Story of a Stereotype
Abraham H. Foxman is known throughout the world as a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism, hatred, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.
Here in Orange County on a book tour for Jews and Money: Story of a Stereotype, Foxman spoke at the Jewish Community Center in Irvine and the Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. The book was written in the wake of Bernie Madoff’s ruinous investment schemes. Foxman takes a cultural and political look at the historical assumptions made about Jews and money. He makes the case that the stereotypes have permeated cultures globally and argues that these beliefs are rooted in deep-seated and pervasive anti-Semitism.
The appearances were done as informative “question and answer” programs. The audience asked for clarifications of Foxman’s views of whether or not the mosque should be built at Ground Zero (which he said they have the right to do, but out of sensitivity to those who were killed and their families they shouldn’t) to how anti-Semitism has changed through his years with the ADL.
Foxman has been with the ADL since 1965 and became national director in 1987. Prior to that, he worked in the ADL’s international affairs and civil rights divisions. He has spoken to the heads of many countries and several Presidents in the name of educating the world to the horrors of bigotry and hate.
According to Foxman, the difference between anti-Semitism today and that of when he first started with the ADL is the Internet. “With the invention of the Internet, as with all new and wonderful things, there has also been the rising problem of cyber-bullying and the ability to spread hate anonymously and within a matter of seconds around the world. It is a superhighway of bigotry. An unintended consequence, but a consequence no less.”
He added, “Unfortunately, no matter where I go and no matter whom I talk to, I’m finding that anti-Semitism is still prevalent and that some people are not even aware that what they are doing is wrong and hurtful. One of the most recent stories I like to tell people is about when I was in Poland. In a mall, many of the stores had artwork as both gifts and souvenirs, depicting Jews as caricatures, sculptures and other artwork, all with hook noses and holding money bags. I asked the employees why they were selling such demeaning things. I was told that they didn’t see this as a bad thing. After all, Jews were always rich and successful, and to give someone one of these items was akin to giving them a good luck charm. They saw it as something good! I spoke to the Minister of Education about this and he asked me what harm is it — that no one was hurt and no Jews died for this. I in turn, asked him how many Polish Jews had died during the Holocaust.”
Pointing out that this was not an isolated case, Foxman said that right here in America was the same type of unintentional smear. Three years ago the governor of Wisconsin wanted to run for President and was told he would need to get the support of the Jewish community. He spoke to a rabbinical group and used some anti-Semitic references. One of his entourage came up and told him that this was considered insulting, and he replied, “I didn’t think I was being insulting. I thought what I was telling them was a compliment.”
Since the latest economic crisis began, the ADL has found that there has been a rise in people feeling that Jews are to blame for the loss of homes, money, lifestyles and jobs.
“We did a study two years ago and found that 31 percent of Europeans blame us for the economy,” Foxman said. “One in five Americans has the same feeling. That’s why I wrote the book. There’s no antidote for anti-Semitism other than education.”
One interesting question for Foxman was about was his recent run-in with Twitter. Someone was using a picture of him, with the ADL logo, and adding some highly inflammatory remarks. Foxman asked Twitter to remove the posting. Even though this was free speech, it was not acceptable. The site removed it, only to have the offender re-do the picture and re-post it. Foxman complained again, saying bigotry is not funny in any context. “It’s important to stand up and challenge those who find hatred amusing,” he said.
The ADL’s main focus is to educate non-Jews to secure justice and fair treatment to all. According to Foxman, “We need to make people aware of who we really are and teach those what is fact and what is myth or fiction. There is that subculture that we are all rich and successful. And when something happens that makes it tough on the country or world, that somehow we are to blame. The latest is the Bernard Madoff fiasco. There’s no doubt he is a fraud and a bad person, but when the story first broke, the New York Times mentioned three times that he was Jewish. Why? If he were Protestant, would they have done the same? This is the type of thing that needs to be changed. Yes, later religion was part of his doings, but not at first.”
Are there any other ethnic groups that are feeling the heat of bigotry? “Yes, today there are unfortunately many,” Foxman said. “The Hispanics, the gays, there’s also a rising amount of Islamaphobia, and there is still a huge amount of racism against the Africans happening.”
Yet, with all his years of fighting bigotry in all forms, Foxman remains an optimist about the future of Israel and the Jews. “I was one of the lucky ones who survived World War II,” he said. “I have no right to be pessimistic. There will always be bigots — 24/7 — but with the persistence of education, we can try to change minds and hearts, so we can all learn to be good.”