Abraham H. Foxman » ADL Blogs
July 2, 2014 Off

Thoughts on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act


by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in The Huff­in­g­ton Post on July 2, 2014

Fifty years ago today, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don Baines John­son signed into law the land­mark Civil Rights Act of 1964. With the stroke of a pen, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment blot­ted out “sep­a­rate but equal,” put the power of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice behind deseg­re­ga­tion of pub­lic schools, and laid the foun­da­tion for racial, reli­gious and gen­der equal­ity in the workplace.

Despite the enor­mity of the change it ush­ered in, Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. hailed the leg­is­la­tion not as a vic­tory but as the “dawn of a new hope” and a “cool serene breeze in a long hot sum­mer” of racial oppres­sion. Dr. King rec­og­nized that the law did not mark the end of the strug­gle, but the begin­ning of fun­da­men­tal change.

A half-century later, the Civil Rights Act still stands as both a sig­nal achieve­ment and a reminder of the work that lies ahead for the attain­ment of true and last­ing equal­ity. The law dis­man­tled the edi­fice of “sep­a­rate but equal” in its most odi­ous form.

Today, the notion of a “Col­ored Only” drink­ing foun­tain seems alien and unthink­able. The Civil Rights Act changed more than the law; it changed atti­tudes. The recent down­fall of L.A. Clip­pers owner Don­ald Ster­ling demon­strates that the strongest enforcer of civil rights remains the court of pub­lic opinion.

In spite of the great progress that has already been achieved and the poten­tial for more, the promise of the Civil Rights Act has yet to be fully real­ized. The law autho­rized the Attor­ney Gen­eral to sue pub­lic schools for fail­ing to heed the charge of Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion to deseg­re­gate “with all delib­er­ate speed.” Today, an esti­mated 74 per­cent of African-American stu­dents and 79 per­cent of Latino stu­dents attend majority-minority schools.

Edu­ca­tion equity remains largely elu­sive. Less than one-third of schools serv­ing the most African Amer­i­can and Latino stu­dents offer cal­cu­lus. One-quarter of those schools do not even offer alge­bra II, 60 per­cent have no physics classes, and one-third do not offer chem­istry classes of any kind. Sixty years after Brown and fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, the work to close the edu­ca­tion equity gap continues.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act required employ­ers to pro­vide male and female work­ers equal pay for equal work. But a sub­stan­tial pay gap per­sists. The first piece of leg­is­la­tion signed into law by Pres­i­dent Obama–the Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act–makes it eas­ier for women to secure back-pay when they suf­fer years of unequal com­pen­sa­tion. In April, how­ever, another bill would have banned com­pa­nies from retal­i­at­ing against women for seek­ing equal pay. It was blocked in the Sen­ate. And, in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court made it harder for female work­ers to band together to sue their employer for unequal pay, mak­ing it nearly impos­si­ble for women to wage costly lit­i­ga­tion bat­tles on their own.

For mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity, who are not explic­itly included in the Civil Rights Act, mon­u­men­tal change is afoot. Today, in most states, work­ers can still be fired or denied a job sim­ply for being gay. But in the com­ing days, we hope and expect Pres­i­dent Obama will amend an exist­ing exec­u­tive order bar­ring employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion by fed­eral con­trac­tors to add sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity to the list of pro­tected categories–a move that will extend work­place pro­tec­tions to approx­i­mately twenty per­cent of the nation’s work­force. The order could pave the way for leg­is­la­tion that would pro­hibit employ­ers from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against LGBT individuals.

Dr. King famously said, “The arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice.” The Civil Rights Act changed the face of the nation, bend­ing the arc sharply on July 2, 1964.

But much work remains. On the 50-year anniver­sary of its pas­sage, let us reded­i­cate our­selves to the task of build­ing a fairer, more just society.

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June 23, 2014 Off

Answers to the FAQs on “The Death of Klinghoffer” Opera

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

Since the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s announce­ment that it would can­cel plans for a global simul­cast of the con­tro­ver­sial John Adams opera, “The Death of Kling­hof­fer” in response to con­cerns that the opera’s broad­cast to 66 coun­tries around the world could pro­mote anti-Semitism and legit­imize ter­ror­ism, there have been impas­sioned argu­ments on both sides of the debate. Some music crit­ics and fans have mis­un­der­stood — or mis­char­ac­ter­ized — our con­cerns about the opera, while oth­ers have ques­tioned why so many in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the daugh­ters of Leon Kling­hof­fer, con­tinue to object to per­for­mances of this flawed and biased work.

AP/Kathy Wil­lens

Here is my attempt to answer some of the most com­mon ques­tions, and to clear up some mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing the Anti-Defamation League’s advo­cacy on behalf of the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily in work­ing to con­vince the Met that, given the sub­ject mat­ter at hand, a simul­cast of this opera in more than 2,000 the­aters world­wide would be ill-advised at this time of ris­ing anti-Semitism around the world.

  • Who was Leon Kling­hof­fer, and what exactly hap­pened to him?

The ter­ror­ist mur­der of the 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound Amer­i­can Leon Kling­hof­fer in 1985 was a water­shed event for Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can Jews who were then mostly unaf­fected by ter­ror­ism. Klinghoffer’s death was sense­less and hor­rific. Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ists took over the Ital­ian cruise ship Achille Lauro on Octo­ber 7, 1985. The ter­ror­ists, affil­i­ated with the Pales­tin­ian Lib­er­a­tion Front, sep­a­rated the Amer­i­cans and the British cit­i­zens from the more than 400 peo­ple on board. Kling­hof­fer and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, were on the cruise with a group of 11 friends cel­e­brat­ing the couple’s wed­ding anniver­sary. The fol­low­ing day, on Octo­ber 8, the ter­ror­ists viciously shot Leon in the head and pushed him in his wheel­chair over­board into the Mediter­ranean Sea.

  • Why is the John Adams opera such a light­ning rod?

The opera jux­ta­poses the plight of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple with the cold-blooded mur­der of an inno­cent dis­abled Amer­i­can Jew, and attempts to take this bru­tal act of ter­ror­ism and ratio­nal­ize, legit­imize and explain it. The opera has been a source of great dis­tress for the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily and par­tic­u­larly his daugh­ters, Lisa and Ilsa, who co-founded a memo­r­ial foun­da­tion at the Anti-Defamation League that works to com­bat the threat of ter­ror­ism. They strongly believe that the opera is a ter­ri­ble dis­tor­tion and triv­i­al­iza­tion of their father’s death.

  • Do you believe the opera is anti-Semitic?

No. While the opera is highly prob­lem­atic and has a strong anti-Israel bias, it is not anti-Semitic. A scene fea­tured in the opera’s 1991 pre­miere, in which some of the Jew­ish char­ac­ters exhib­ited stereo­typ­i­cal behav­ior, was removed by the com­poser and to our knowl­edge has not been fea­tured in any pro­duc­tion since that time.

  • Is it true that one of the char­ac­ters in the opera makes anti-Semitic remarks?

Yes. In Act 2, Scene 1, the char­ac­ter of “Rambo,” the ter­ror­ist who sub­se­quently shoots Leon Kling­hof­fer, sings an aria in which he taunts Leon with anti-Semitic invec­tive. We do not view this openly artic­u­lated ani­mus toward Jews as pro­mot­ing anti-Semitism; rather, it exposes Rambo’s and the hijack­ers’ entrenched and destruc­tive anti-Semitism. Other operas, films and plays fea­ture char­ac­ters whose anti-Semitism is part of their char­ac­ter and part of the plot’s devel­op­ment. In such cases, the char­ac­ter is anti-Semitic, but the opera, film or play is not.

  • If the opera is so offen­sive, why didn’t you ask the Met to can­cel the entire production?

We reached a com­pro­mise. In my dis­cus­sions with Peter Gelb, the Met’s gen­eral man­ager, I empha­sized that our great­est con­cern would be that the opera, in reach­ing such a large audi­ence through the Met’s high-definition simul­cast, would reach into coun­tries where anti-Israel atti­tudes are at an all-time high and anti-Semitism is resur­gent. Mr. Gelb under­stood this, but defended the work on its artis­tic and musi­cal merits.

While not every­one will be pleased with the out­come, I believe that this was the best solu­tion given the fact that the opera will now only be seen by patrons attend­ing the pro­duc­tion at Lin­coln Cen­ter in New York. More­over, the Met has vol­un­teered space in the Play­bill pro­gram for an essay by the Kling­hof­fer daugh­ters explain­ing their point of view. It should be noted that other recent pro­duc­tions, such as one staged ear­lier this year by Long Beach Opera in Cal­i­for­nia, have made sim­i­lar accom­mo­da­tions to the Kling­hof­fer family.

  • Isn’t this a form of censorship?

We don’t believe so. In Amer­ica, the First Amend­ment guar­an­tees the right to free­dom of expres­sion, and the com­poser John Adams cer­tainly has the free­dom to write any opera of his choos­ing. But the First Amend­ment also gives us the right to raise our voice, and to appeal to the con­science of those who mount pro­duc­tions of the opera or any work of art, to do so respect­fully and responsibly.

  • What con­di­tions glob­ally have made the air­ing of this opera in the­aters so fraught with risk? Isn’t anti-Semitism largely a thing of the past?

In the United States, it is true that anti-Semitism is at its low­est recorded lev­els in his­tory. But con­di­tions are much dif­fer­ent in other parts of the world. In Europe, a ter­ror­ist who said he wanted “to kill Jews” recently opened fire in the Jew­ish Museum, killing four peo­ple, and we have recently seen a rise in the num­ber of anti-Semitic attacks against Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Our recent Global 100 sur­vey of anti-Semitic atti­tudes in 100 coun­tries around the world found that 24 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of West­ern Europe har­bors anti-Semitic atti­tudes; the num­ber was even higher, in East­ern Europe, at 34 percent.

The con­tin­ued elec­tion suc­cess of far-right par­ties in the recent Euro­pean Union elec­tions has also height­ened con­cerns about the rise of xeno­pho­bic and anti-Semitic polit­i­cal par­ties. Play­ing into this dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ment, we feared that the opera could reaf­firm hate­ful views of Israel and of Jews, par­tic­u­larly among those who already are infected with anti-Semitism.

  • I heard you haven’t seen the opera. How can you com­ment on a pro­duc­tion you haven’t seen?

While I haven’t per­son­ally seen the opera, numer­ous experts on anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli con­flict on the ADL staff have, and our objec­tions are based on their analy­ses and a full read­ing of the libretto.

  • So why object to this opera, and not to per­for­mances of oth­ers in the canon, such as Richard Wager’s “Der Meis­tersinger,” which some say embraces com­mon anti-Semitic stereo­types once preva­lent in 19th Cen­tury Germany?

Wagner’s operas are unde­ni­able mas­ter­pieces. He was a flawed genius whose anti-Semitism came through in his volu­mi­nous writ­ings and may have been woven into the ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work of some of his operas. But Wagner’s opera are fic­tional and mod­ern per­for­mances are con­tex­tu­al­ized with com­men­tary, and his operas are no longer con­tro­ver­sial or con­tentious. “The Death of Kling­hof­fer,” how­ever, por­trays a real and prac­ti­cally cur­rent event that is, even by the composer’s own admis­sion, used in the opera to make a larger polit­i­cal point that many Jews find offen­sive. The fact that some have taken to twit­ter to make anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in the wake of the Met’s announce­ment shows how this opera still has the poten­tial to bring out man­i­fes­ta­tions of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes.

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January 30, 2014 1

What Targeting SodaStream Reveals About the BDS Movement

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in The Huff­in­g­ton Post on Jan­u­ary 30, 2014

SodaS­tream, the Israeli gad­get for home­made seltzer and soda is the boogey man– du jour for activist sup­port­ing the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) move­ment. Retail­ers around the world have been lob­bied to remove SodaS­tream prod­ucts from their shelves.   A pub­lic radio sta­tion in San Fran­cisco recently suc­cumbed to pres­sure to remove the soda machine as a pledge gift.  Most promi­nently, Star­let Scar­lett Johans­son is being vil­i­fied for her Super Bowl com­mer­cials for the product.

What com­pletely upends the defama­tion of SodaS­tream by these entrenched anti-Israel activists is this this boom­ing global company’s humane and prac­ti­cal com­mit­ment to true Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

The ral­ly­ing point for BDSer’s is that one of SodaStream’s 22 man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ties is located in an indus­trial park in the Israeli set­tle­ment of Maale Adu­mim, and they accuse the com­pany of “prof­it­ing from the occupation.”

But SodaS­tream is far from an evil prof­i­teer, colo­nially exploit­ing the Pales­tini­ans.  The fac­tory employs 500 West Bank Pales­tini­ans out of its 1300 on-site employ­ees.  Describ­ing the work­ing con­di­tions in the plant, in a 2012 inter­view with Al-Monitor, CEO Daniel Birn­baum, explains:

“We are build­ing bridges between us and the Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion, and we pro­vide our Pales­tin­ian employ­ees with respectable employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and an appro­pri­ate salary and ben­e­fits. We “even” pur­chase med­ical insur­ance for them from a pri­vate Israeli com­pany, because I am not con­fi­dent that the money we pay to the Pales­tin­ian Author­ity for such social ben­e­fits will actu­ally be used for med­ical insurance.”

“Our fac­tory has a syn­a­gogue, but it also has a small mosque. We all eat the same food in the same din­ing hall, and if nec­es­sary, we will go through the same secu­rity inspection.”

Birn­baum told the For­ward this week, SodaS­tream will not close the facil­ity and move employ­ees to its new plant in the Negev, because of the impli­ca­tions for those Pales­tin­ian work­ers: “We will not throw our employ­ees under the bus to pro­mote anyone’s polit­i­cal agenda,” he said.  Chal­leng­ing the BDS activists, he added:  he “just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Pales­tini­ans if we fired them.”

As for SodaS­tream as the poster child of Israel’s “occu­pa­tion,” Birn­baum posited to the For­ward that should a Pales­tin­ian state be estab­lished, SodaS­tream will remain in the West Bank and “pay its taxes to the new Pales­tin­ian state.” “We already have fac­to­ries under the con­trol of the Chi­nese, the Ger­mans, the Amer­i­cans and many other coun­tries,” he said. “So what’s the prob­lem to have a fac­tory in the in the Pales­tin­ian state-to-be? We don’t give a hoot where the fac­tory is going to be.”

The pil­lo­ry­ing of SodaS­tream by BDS activists only reveals the absur­dity of their blind cam­paign, and their mis­guided refusal to engage in con­struc­tive dia­logue regard­ing the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and, at their core, rejec­tion of Israel as the Jew­ish national home­land and the two-state solution.

Retail­ers and con­sumers have voted with their pock­et­books to make SodaS­tream a global suc­cess in the home bev­er­age market.

Sadly, those tar­get­ing SodaS­tream only con­tinue to pro­mote divisiveness.


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