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Abraham Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a position he has held since 1987.  He has worked for the organization since 1965. In 2006, he was awarded[…]

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

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

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

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

What are the five most common bigoted misperceptions of rnJews?

Abraham Foxman:  Well, I guess the first probably in rnWestern society is that Jews are responsible for killing Christ, and rnthat’s the mother of all.  And then I think the greed issue continues.  rnThen you follow control; Jews want to control the world for their rninterests, it could be money or whatever.  That’s the conspiratorial.  rnJews are on the top of the hit parade of conspiracy, so for example rnwe’re in an economic crisis.  In Europe, over 30 percent believe that rnJews are responsible.  In the United States, one out of five Americans rnbelieve that Jews are responsible for the economic crisis because they rnsee Jews in Wall Street, they see Jews everywhere.  Then you have rndifferent issues of control of Hollywood is big, and I guess it’s the rnwhole conspiracy that... you’ll find conspiracies anywhere.  So if you rndon’t like something that’s happening, maybe you screwed up, you did rnsomething wrong, it’s because the Jews are behind it.  There are a lot rnof people who think that the Secretary of Treasury is Jewish; he’s not, rnthat Volcker is Jewish, he’s not, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s the Jews rnwho are controlling finances; it’s Jews who are controlling foreign rnpolicy.  There’s also a canard that’s out there, very big, about rnloyalty.  The Jews are not loyal.  Not loyal to their community, but notrn loyal to their country.  Thirty percent of the American people to this rnday believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.  rnIn Europe, it’s 60, 70 percent.  In Poland 60 percent believe there’s rnwhat, 10,000 Jews that are not loyal to Poland.  In Norway, there are rn5,000 and it’s 70 percent.  So that’s a canard which goes to the essencern that you can’t trust Jews, you can’t rely on them.  With all the rneducation, with all the exposure, and then you come down to some of my rnbest friends are Jewish.  The guys that I know, they’re fine, but over rnthere, out there; that’s another canard.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman