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Abe Foxman. (AP)

The Anti-Defamation League is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a summit detailing its history of important work in combating anti-Semitism and bigotry around the world. Synonymous with the ADL is its chief Abe Foxman, who has been at the helm of the group for more than a quarter of the organization’s life.

Foxman has been polarizing at times, walking a tightrope of the arbiter who often gives the loudest word about whether a statement, film, public utterance, or policy is anti-Semitic or not. It’s a tough job precisely because it requires interpretation–why anti-Muslim bigotry is wrong, but a mosque near Ground Zero is somehow also wrong, how an Oscar host’s joke about Jews controlling Hollywood trumps a broadcast full of sexist and homophobic jokes or whether someone like designer John Galliano, who once said horrifying things about the Jews, has adequately rehabilitated himself.

Over the weekend, Chemi Shalev sat down with Foxman for a lengthy interview. In it, Foxman pinpointed aspects of the blight of anti-Semitism that should continue to cause worry.

But he also said some things that surprised me. Apparently, the job of defending Jews against dangerous stereotyping requires a fair amount of stereotyping itself. Or at least that’s some of what I found while reading his words. See for yourself:

Responding to a question about whether Representative Peter King’s suggestion that American law enforcement should monitor Muslim communities is Muslim-baiting:

Foxman: I don’t think that’s Muslim-baiting. It’s a natural response. It may be wise or unwise. But I think America’s got an issue now, and not only America. You look at France, you look at London, you look at Amsterdam – most of these incidents have come from Muslim communities that have been brought in and are not assimilating. Just like after 9/11, America is now questioning where the balance is between security and freedom of expression: Should we follow the ethnic communities? Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn’t Muslim-baiting – it’s driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.

Commenting on his disappointment with the ADL-estimated rates (30%-40%) of high anti-Semitism among African-Americans:

The last time an African-American leader stood up to anti-Semitism was Martin Luther King Jr., who said it’s a sin. The only leadership that now exists in that community is Louis Farrakhan.

On anti-Semitism among Hispanic and Latino immigrant communities in America:

But the bad news, he says, is that nearly one in two Hispanic and Latino immigrants from abroad are “seriously infected,” as he puts it, “because of the Church – the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate [absolving the Jews of collective guilt for Christ’s death] hasn’t reached Mexico City – and because of ignorance and stereotypes.”

Something that may explain this seemingly incongruous dynamic is Foxman’s take on the criticisms of him from both the left and the right:

“But I wake up in the morning, and I think that the fact that I am in nobody’s corner, and nobody owns me and no one can predict me – I think that serves the community better. A colleague from the Jewish community once told me – You’re unpredictable, and I said, that’s what I want it to say on my tombstone – ‘He was unpredictable.’

True that, I suppose.





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