NEW YORK (JTA) — When Abraham Foxman steps down next summer from his longtime post as national director of the Anti-Defamation League, he’ll be leaving his successor with a much brighter picture on anti-Semitism in America than when Foxman joined the organization in 1965.
In an age when anti-Semitic incidents appear to be on the upswing in many parts of the world, America tops the list of countries where Jews suffer least from anti-Semitism, Foxman says.
Jews can live, study and work anywhere they want in America. Yes, there’s Mel Gibson, Louis Farrakhan and the occasional swastika scrawled on a synagogue wall, but Jews in America for the most part live free of discrimination or the threat of violence.
“Statistically, yes, the picture is pretty good,” Foxman told JTA in an interview this week. “We’ve made an awful lot of progress in this country in terms of social anti-Semitism.
“Socially, Jews in America have ‘made it.’ But it hasn’t eliminated some of the vestiges of anti-Semitism,” he said. “America is not immune to anti-Semitism. We’re not immune to racism and bigotry and prejudice.”
In Europe, the wellsprings of anti-Semitism are relatively well-known: the far right, which is the traditional bastion of neo-Nazism; the far left, where Israel-bashing sometimes translates into anti-Semitism; and Muslim extremists.
But where is the anti-Semitism in America? Partly what makes it so difficult to find is that it’s hard to agree on what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Most of what we talk about when we talk about anti-Semitism today fits in one of three categories.
The most obvious and easiest to define is classic anti-Semitism: Jew-baiting, swastika scrawling, physical violence.
A recent example cropped up last fall in the Pine Bush school district in upstate New York, when The New York Times ran a front-page story describing how Jewish students there were being bullied, beaten, taunted and harassed while authorities looked the other way. Last month, three Jewish families from the district filed a lawsuit claiming that their children were forced to endure “rampant anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment.”
Then there’s Israel-related anti-Semitism, where there is wide disagreement even among Jews over what constitutes anti-Semitism. When does anti-Zionism become anti-Jewish? Is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement anti-Semitic? College campuses from California to Florida have become the flashpoint for these battles.
Finally, there is attitudinal anti-Semitism. Approximately 12 percent of Americans hold deeply entrenched anti-Semitic views, according to ADL polling, which uses an 11-question index to measure anti-Semitic opinions. Respondents are asked if they agree with such statements as Jews have too much power in America, Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States, and Jews have a lot of irritating faults. (Some critics have noted that some of these statements, such as one about Jews sticking together more than other Americans, also could be answered in the affirmative by respondents who admire Jewish cohesiveness and success rather than harbor genuine anti-Jewish attitudes.)