Abraham H. Foxman » ADL Blogs
February 13, 2015 0

A French Leader Speaks for His Nation’s Jews and His Nation

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

The hor­rific ter­ror­ism that took place in Paris at the offices of Char­lie Hebdo and at the Hyper Cacher mar­ket last month still res­onates with all of us.

When we real­ize that Ahmed Coulibaly delib­er­ately chose to attack a small and vul­ner­a­ble unguarded kosher mar­ket on a Fri­day after­noon just before the Sab­bath as his tar­get to take Jew­ish hostages, we are eerily drawn to con­tem­plate ques­tions such as: Do Jews Have a Future in France? Is it hap­pen­ing all over again in Europe? What is the rela­tion­ship between the old and the new anti-Semitism? How can this evil best be com­bat­ted, in all its forms, and hope and lib­erty restored?

As the events at the kosher mar­ket unfolded, I couldn’t help but remind myself of Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoller’s now famous com­ments as Nazi Germany’s ter­ror spread: “First, they came for the social­ists, and I did not speak out because I was not a social­ist. Then they came for the trade union­ists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade union­ist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The real­ity is that, since 1980, 17 French Jews have been mur­dered by vio­lent ter­ror­ists and the wave of attacks on Jews in France has inten­si­fied dur­ing the past ten years. Each and every one is an abom­i­na­tion, and we have always said that they are not only a threat to Jew­ish life in France, but to France itself.

This con­nec­tion between anti-Semitism and threats to demo­c­ra­tic life has a long and tragic his­tory. Unfor­tu­nately, it all too often takes ter­ri­ble events such as what recently occurred in Paris to wake peo­ple up to that real­ity. One can’t help but won­der, then, just how much the world has really learned from Niemoller’s reflection.

For­tu­nately, the Prime Min­is­ter of France, Manuel Valls, gets it more than most. In a recent inter­view with The Atlantic, Valls stated that “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Repub­lic will be judged a failure.”

In a dra­matic speech before the National Assem­bly, he went on to rein­force that truth:

“With­out its Jews France would not be France, this is the mes­sage we have to com­mu­ni­cate loud and clear. We haven’t done so. We haven’t shown enough out­rage. How can we accept that in cer­tain schools and col­leges the Holo­caust can’t be taught? How can we accept that when a child is asked ‘Who is your enemy,’ the response is ‘the Jew?’ When the Jews of France are attacked France is attacked, the con­science of human­ity is attacked. Let us never for­get it.”

Why the reluc­tance of many demo­c­ra­tic soci­eties, in Europe and beyond, to rec­og­nize that anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine, alert­ing them to the exis­ten­tial threat they face? Why does Prime Min­is­ter Valls seem more like an excep­tion than like the rule, espe­cially when he bluntly and truth­fully sources the present threat as com­ing mainly from “ter­ror­ism and rad­i­cal Islam,” as he told the French peo­ple just days after the attacks?

Partly, this hes­i­ta­tion comes out of a desire to live with illu­sions, to con­vince our­selves that things are not so bad. “Attacks on Jews are one thing, but that doesn’t mean that we all are at risk.” And, partly, it’s a rem­nant of the deeply embed­ded stereo­types about Jews that held sway for cen­turies: the Jews are the ‘other’ and the Jews “bring their vic­tim­hood upon themselves.”

This is a time for all of us to stand firmly with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity of France; rather than telling them what they should do, urg­ing them to leave or stay, we should reas­sure them that there is Jew­ish sol­i­dar­ity, that Israel and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity will do all we can to assure their safety and security.

The sim­ple, yet pro­found, act of thank­ing Prime Min­is­ter Valls for speak­ing up, for not wait­ing until they come for the non-Jews of France before tak­ing an unequiv­o­cal stand for decency and democ­racy, plays no small part in that effort.

We hope our thanks, and yours, will rein­force the resolve of France’s lead­ers and its peo­ple to take the steps nec­es­sary to ensure a safe, secure and vibrant Jew­ish life for the Jews of France.

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February 9, 2015 0

Time to Stop the Circus and Focus on Iran

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

I have recently writ­ten about the enor­mously high stakes involved in get­ting the Iran nuclear issue right. There is a broad con­sen­sus on this and on the dan­gers of a nuclear armed Iran. Yet, as the clock winds down on nego­ti­a­tions between Iran and the P-5+1, impor­tant dif­fer­ences in just how to effec­tively accom­plish the goal have emerged.

These dif­fer­ences are not about whether diplo­macy is the best way to resolve the issue — all agree it is.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu assesses the risks to Israel, the region and, ulti­mately, the world through a dif­fer­ent lens than Pres­i­dent Obama and some other world leaders.

Israel is directly in the cross-hairs of Iran­ian ambi­tions for regional dom­i­na­tion, as are the Gulf states, Egypt, Jor­dan and oth­ers. Pres­i­dent Obama and many among the Amer­i­can peo­ple are rightly wary of entan­gling the U.S. in yet another Mid­dle East war and Euro­pean lead­ers are focused on their fal­ter­ing economies, which would ben­e­fit from the reopen­ing of full trade with Iran.

This is pre­cisely the moment when there should frank, direct and open dis­cus­sion of the dif­fer­ent perspectives.

Now is exactly the time when Israel’s leader should be hav­ing those dis­cus­sions with all who have a say in shap­ing pol­icy out­comes on this issue, includ­ing the U.S. Con­gress. And the views of America’s clos­est ally in the Mid­dle East should be heard, so pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the Amer­i­can peo­ple will have the ben­e­fit of hear­ing directly from Netanyahu how he sees what is at stake and what he believes is the best way to reach an agree­ment with Iran that will ensure the long term safety of Israel, the region and the world.

Yet, this point has been nearly oblit­er­ated by the waves of con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the invi­ta­tion to the prime min­is­ter to address Con­gress. I have called it a tragedy of unin­tended con­se­quences — and it is.

Instead of stay­ing laser-focused on the very real, very com­plex and very dan­ger­ous con­se­quences of the out­come of the nego­ti­a­tions with Iran, the pub­lic dis­course is now being hijacked by pol­i­tics.

It is being dom­i­nated by mock­ing come­di­ans, moan­ing pun­dits and manip­u­lat­ing politi­cians all talk­ing about who is insult­ing whom, who will and who won’t be in the cham­ber for the speech, who may or may not be pun­ished for not show­ing up, who will get an elec­toral advan­tage from the appear­ance, and who won’t.

These are absolutely the wrong ques­tions, and this is absolutely the wrong time to be rais­ing them.

As time grows shorter, there needs to be a pause in the uproar to enable every­one involved to find the way to get back to talk­ing about what really counts — Is Iran ready to give up its nuclear plans or must the West revisit its whole approach?

The venue for the dis­cus­sions on this weighty ques­tion mat­ters much less than actu­ally hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion — and hav­ing it sooner rather than later. Now is a time to recal­i­brate, restart and find a new plat­form and new tim­ing to take away the distractions.

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January 26, 2015 0

What We Learned From Auschwitz

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

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

The 70th anniver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz, which will be marked Jan­u­ary 27 on Inter­na­tional Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, comes at a time when some are ask­ing: is it hap­pen­ing all over again in Europe?

We know the ratio­nal answer to that ques­tion. As bad as the resur­gence of anti-Semitism in Europe is, there is no com­par­i­son to Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.  Then, a party com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple gained total power in Ger­many and even­tu­ally con­trolled most of Europe, enabling the sys­tem­atic mur­der of six mil­lion Jews and mil­lions of oth­ers in the Holocaust.

Today, gov­ern­ments in Europe are not espous­ing anti-Semitism; they are coun­ter­ing it, even if not strongly enough.

If it isn’t the Holo­caust – and, if it isn’t help­ful to under­stand today’s immense chal­lenges by com­par­ing it to the Holo­caust — does Auschwitz present any lessons at all for today?

I would say there are several.

First is the role of hate­ful ide­olo­gies in pro­duc­ing vio­lent, anti-Semitic behav­ior. While today’s anti-Semites in Europe do not con­trol gov­ern­ments, they are able to mobi­lize indi­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to vio­lence on the basis of fan­tas­ti­cal notions about the unique evil of Jews.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s min­is­ter of pro­pa­ganda, con­vinced Ger­mans not merely to dis­like Jews but to believe that they had to pro­tect them­selves from the evil, all-powerful Jew who was poi­son­ing the Ger­man body politic. So too today, the Islamic extrem­ists, whether it’s Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, or Hezbol­lah, see the Jew as the source of evil in the world.

The Hamas char­ter not only repeat­edly calls for the destruc­tion of Israel. It claims that Jews are respon­si­ble for all the ills of the mod­ern world going back to the French Revolution.

When Al-Qaeda decided to attack the World Trade Cen­ter on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, it was only after they con­sid­ered hit­ting Jew­ish tar­gets in New York. Even the World Trade Cen­ter was seen as partly a “Jew­ish” tar­get since it was deemed that Jews con­trol world com­merce, per the “Pro­to­cols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”

Once it is decided that Jews are the source of evil, then it is almost a respon­si­bil­ity to act against them. And so attacks on Jew­ish civil­ians, who rep­re­sent evil in ordi­nary form, become permissible.

We must fight this ide­ol­ogy of hatred. We must not equiv­o­cate in call­ing it what it is and in ral­ly­ing peo­ple of all faiths against it.

A sec­ond les­son is that shame about what anti-Semitism could lead to, which man­i­fested itself with the appear­ance of the first pic­tures of Auschwitz after the lib­er­a­tion, is an impor­tant inhibitor of anti-Semitism.

It does not cure the world of the dis­ease of anti-Semitism, which is so deeply embed­ded and serves so many pur­poses, but it does affect the level and inten­sity of anti-Semitic behavior.

For decades, anti-Semitism did not explode as a phe­nom­e­non, partly because of this shame. As time passes, and the imme­di­acy of the Holo­caust recedes, it makes more impor­tant than ever the need to develop new and cre­ative ways to reach younger peo­ple about its horrors.

I remem­ber hear­ing some years ago from Rita Suss­muth of the Ger­man Bun­destag, who talked of the need for new and emo­tional meth­ods in reach­ing each gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who are fur­ther and fur­ther removed from the events in World War II. We must never give up the strug­gle to explain what anti-Semitism can lead to.

A third les­son for me is the inti­mate con­nec­tion between anti-Semitism and the health of a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. Whether it is the expres­sion that Jews are the canary in the coal mine or Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoller’s famous lines about the con­se­quences of not stand­ing up in the face of evil, Auschwitz is not only about the evils of anti-Semitism, but also how its going unchecked invari­ably endan­gers all of society.

The fight against anti-Semitism should never be seen as sim­ply a moral strug­gle. It is a prac­ti­cal one, as spo­ken so elo­quently by Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls to the French par­lia­ment after the ter­ror­ist attacks on Char­lie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket.

How, he asked, could French soci­ety not speak up and be out­raged when Jews were insulted, when van­dals vio­lated Jew­ish insti­tu­tions, when pro­tes­tors sought to invade a syn­a­gogue?  His mes­sage was clear: All of France needs to stand up early and loud when Jews are under attack. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is vital for the well-being of French society.

The mur­der­ous attack on Char­lie Hebdo inevitably fol­lows the mur­der of three Jew­ish chil­dren in Toulouse. The tar­get­ing of Jews in Nazi Ger­many invari­ably led to the efforts by Hitler to dom­i­nate and enslave the world.

So as we observe the 70th year of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz and Inter­na­tional Holo­caust Remem­brance Day on Tues­day, the impor­tance of know­ing what hap­pened there and of trans­mit­ting it to the next gen­er­a­tion is more urgent than ever.
Threats to Jews today are greater than they have been since those darker days.  And those threats, as taught by the lessons of Auschwitz, threaten all of us.

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