As he celebrates his organization’s centennial, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman believes that religious fanaticism could pose the greatest threat toward peace and stability in the Middle East, causing civil wars within fracturing nations as well as wars between nations.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, the ADL’s national director said he’s frightened by the rise in battles based on religious ideology, such as the struggles between Sunni and Shia.
“In Syria, it’s easy to see (the results) of a religious struggle. Al-Qaida is motivated by religious extremism, not by territory or property. Their desire is to impose their will, which is Sharia, or Islamic law. It’s very hard to compromise with people’s religious fanaticism,” Foxman said.
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Foxman speaks not only from expertise, but personal experience of religious hatred. A child survivor of the Holocaust, his parents secreted him out of a Nazi-created Jewish ghetto and placed him with a Polish Catholic woman who had him baptized. When the war was over, Foxman was reunited with his Jewish parents.
In contrasting the current turmoil in Egypt with the reign of former President Hosni Mubarak, Foxman said today’s fanatics often desire to carry their views to a completely different level.
“Mubarak was a dictator, but he kept a certain balance. Now that he’s gone, everything is out there, but what seems to be out there more now is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is totally intolerant,” Foxman said. “They’re anti-Semitic and want to impose their will.”
When asked about the Obama Administration’s overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood, Foxman believes that the dialogue is designed not so much to align the United States with that movement, but to find a way to help create a moderate government in Egypt.
“You can’t ignore a country of 90 million that is so important and significant. You also can’t ignore the fact that Turkey has moved toward Islamists in the last 10 years,” Foxman said. “We’re struggling to find a way to keep them as allies and keep them as moderate as possible,” Foxman said.
He believes Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi needs to understand that the support and engagement of the United States is conditioned on Morsi promoting democracy, peace with Israel and an end to bigotry. Morsi himself was recently outed for a 2010 speech he gave in which he described Jews as the “offspring” of pigs and apes and urged a crowd to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” of Israel.
Broadly speaking, Foxman believes insufficient attention has been paid to the rise of religious persecution, especially of Christians by Islamic fundamentalists. He said this makes it essential for the United States to deliver the message that America is watching and that we care.
“We need to set standards and to say that persecution is unacceptable. We’re watching a world where on Sunday, they burn churches and on Friday, they burn mosques,” he said.
Turning to current events, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, who President Obama has nominated to be the next defense secretary, caused an uproar when he made references to “the Jewish lobby” in the United States. Following a private meeting with Hagel last week, Foxman believes he understands the concerns many have over those comments.
“He’s beginning to understand what concerns and troubles us. He’s trying to get into synch with some of the policies of the current government,” Foxman said. “He’s said all the right things and I want to reserve judgment during the confirmation hearings. There are a lot of questions. I look forward to the hearings on the Hill and for him to have an opportunity to say publicly some of the things that has said to me privately. Then we’ll see.”
The ADL weighed in on the gun debate following an analogy that some made between gun control proposals of today and Nazi Germany in the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler confiscated weapons. Foxman strongly objected to that characterization because he believed it trivializes the Holocaust.
“People can feel passionately about things, but if you don’t understand the Holocaust, you better learn to understand the consequences of language and hate. If you do understand and you trivialize it, then you’re insensitive and maybe even bigoted,” Foxman said. “Our message is you can be passionate about what you believe, but if you compare movements in history, you need to understand them. Undermining their value in history is counterproductive to the lessons that we hope are universal and to what was achieved.”
Foxman recently authored a book titled "Viral Hate,"
which will be released June 4 and is available for pre-order now. It examines the pervasiveness of bigotry and anti-Semitism on the Internet. He likens the Internet’s anonymity to the masks once worn by bigots in the Klu Klux Klan.
“People can act anonymously, hide who they are and say horrific things, which impacts civility. We do have free speech and a First Amendment, but the question is how do we balance it with privacy and civility?”
Foxman believes the Internet is spreading more anti-Jewish messages and while they may not impact civil people, they do have a role in spawning bulling and cyber bullying.
“This bigotry and bullying in the courtyard of the school has now gone global. The problem is determining who is responsible. There are issues that we struggle with for which we don’t have answers.”
When asked to grade President Obama on his Israeli policy, Foxman believes his second term should stand on its own.
“It’s a new semester now and I would wait to see how he does. I don’t want to pre-judge this one based on the other one, which had mixed things,” he said.
Foxman said the first test will be his nominations.
“They’re mixed, so (the question is) what will that represent? I’ll come back when the semester’s in a little bit and we’ll try to deal with that question.”
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