Abraham Foxman, director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League | Credit: Courtesy

For about 2,000 years now, anti-Semitism has been alive and kicking, just not always in plain sight. That, at least, is the contention of Abraham Foxman — director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League and guest speak at Monday night’s panel discussion at Santa Barbara’s Bronfman Center on the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. The issue achieved more immediate urgency after Donald Trump recently invited the rapper formerly known as Kanye West and far-right agitator Nick Fuentes — both unapologetic anti-Semites — to Mar-a-Lago to dine. But Foxman insists the problem goes much deeper than Donald Trump. Foxman responded via email to a list of questions posed — also via email — by Independent writer Nick Welsh. He will be speaking Monday, December 5, at 6:30 p.m. at the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center on Chapala Street.

When was the last time you personally experienced an act of anti-Semitism? How often do you experience such things?  I experience it every day on social media. I am constantly barraged with anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially when I speak out to condemn anti-Semitism, racism, or hate in general. 

We read that we are experiencing a spike in anti-Semitic actions both in the United States and throughout the world. Here in Santa Barbara, this is not so evident, especially for those of us inclined not to see it — either because it’s not happening in front of us or we think it’s a settled matter. Please paint a picture of what is happening. The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States is at an all-time high. FBI statistics report the highest number of religious hate crimes in the U.S.A. are directed at Jews. ADL statistics bear that out as well. It’s the first time, in over a hundred years, since the lynching of Leo Frank, that Jews in the state of Georgia have been killed because they were Jews. This has also happened in Pittsburg, Poway, CA, and Jersey City. Jews have been assaulted in the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, and many others. Jewish students are harassed as Jews because they may support Israel and that happens on dozens of campuses in the United States. In Europe, Jews are constant targets of desecration of cemeteries, and synagogues are under constant security. Jews have been killed because they are Jews in France and other European countries. Here in America, Kanye West and company spew anti-Semitism in the house of former President Trump and over TV, radio, and social media. 

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It seems incongruous that Trump appears to encourage it, while being a staunch supporter of Israel. To what extent do you see this linked to the rise of Trump? Trump did not create the 200 neo-Nazi anti-Semites in Charlottesville. They were there before. But he did embolden them and give them license. By removing all taboos on hate and racism, he gave all bigots and especially anti-Semites a green light. Anti-Semitism is the big lie — its antidote is truth. Trump destroyed truth in America and made lies okay. His support for Israel does not obviate his megaphone of hate and permissive hate speech. The Jewish community should welcome Trump’s decision on Jerusalem and reject his positions on immigration, racism, media, etc. 

What is happening now that’s giving rise to this increase in anti-Semitism? What explains this?  First, it has always been there. It is an ancient disease without an antidote or vaccine. It serves many interests and metastasizes with the times. In recent years the containment element, or the firewall of civility, has dissipated. There is no truth. Weakened media, tribalism, a lack of solid coalitions, political extremism, and most important, the internet and social media [have become] a global superhighway for anonymous distribution of misinformation, hate, and above all, anti-Semitism. The internet and social media can deliver the hate globally in nanoseconds. We must find a balance between freedom of speech and civility. 

Do you — as a Holocaust survivor — feel that comparing Trump to fascisim and Nazi Germany when making political arguments dooms the argument because it seems too far-fetched? What’s the most effective response?  There should be no comparison of Trump to Hitler or Trumpism to fascism. It distorts the former and doesn’t apply to the latter. There is enough current political extremism to condemn it on its own. Criticize what it is without making distorted comparisons. January 6 is serious on its own without being compared to other coup attempts.

There are people who equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Where do you draw the line? Criticism of Israel is okay. There is more criticism of Israel in Israel by Israelis, Jews, and Arabs, than any place in the world. So, criticism is okay. It only becomes anti-Semitism when the criticism or standards or values established apply only to Israel and not to anybody else, such as inferring that only Israel is guilty of violating human rights (see UN Human Rights Council) or that every country can defend its citizens except Israel, etc.

Editor’s Note: The introductory paragraph was revised on December 5, 2022.

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