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 their children were forced to endure “rampant anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment.”
Then there’s Israel-related anti-Semitism, though there is wide disagreement even among Jews about when anti-Zionism becomes anti-Jewish.
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. The proportion of Americans who hold these viewpoints has held relatively study in recent years, at 12 to 14 percent. In 1964, by contrast, roughly 30 percent of Americans held such views.
Among those with anti-Semitic attitudes today, African-Americans and Latinos have disproportionately high numbers – above 30 percent. Foxman attributes the persistence of anti-Semitism among African-Americans to denial of the problem and a dearth of black leaders speaking out against anti-Semitism.
Among Latinos, the attitudes are seen as a holdover from Latin America, where traditional Catholic anti-Semitism persists and anti-Semitic attitudes are higher than in America. Once they acculturate to the United States, Latino anti-Semitism declines: Among first-generation immigrants, about 40 percent hold anti-Semitic attitudes; among those born here, the number falls to 20 percent.
Of the 5,790 bias incidents in the U.S. in 2012 recorded by the FBI, 19 percent were motivated by religious bias, compared to 48 percent by racial bias and 20 percent by sexual-orientation bias, according to the bureau. Of the 1,166 religious bias incidents, 60 percent were anti-Jewish, while the next highest number was anti-Muslim incidents at 13 percent. The approximately 700 incidents of bias against Jews ranged from vandalism to physical assault.
“It’s distressing that Jews are still the No. 1 religious target of bigotry,” Foxman said. “Pine Bush is a wake-up call to say to me that, you know what, you have to be careful that these statistics don’t lull you.”