Abraham H. Foxman » ADL Blogs
July 2, 2014

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

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

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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