The Anti-Defamation League, founded 100 years ago to combat anti-Semitism, bigotry and to promote civil rights, can celebrate many achievements.
Over the course of a century, it has stood up to Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan, fought for ground-breaking civil rights legislation and served as a global monitor to identify race hatred and religious persecution. Still, as its current leader reflects on those achievements, it's the failure to end bigotry once and for all that saddens him most.
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In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the organization's founder, Sigmund Livingston, would have mixed feelings on the fact that its mission would still be necessary today.
“What are we celebrating? We’re celebrating 100 years of a nation that still needs to fight bigotry, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. We really debated: Should we commemorate or celebrate? And I think Sigmund Livingston would say ‘You know what, there’s enough to celebrate,” he said.
The ADL chose the theme “Imagine A World Without Hate” for its centennial celebration and while Foxman concedes that many may view it as an unrealistic goal, he believes it’s one worth pursuing.
“I’m an optimist in life for all kinds of reasons, but I also believe that if you set up a challenge, we can achieve it,” Foxman said. “I go back to my own survival and wonder what was in the DNA that made my nanny risk her life to save me at the same time there were others who collaborated to kill Jews?”
Foxman believes a great scientific discovery for the understanding of the world’s future would be if one day it was known whether there was an ingredient in an individual’s DNA that makes them prone to be exhibit bigotry and hate.
Foxman is proud of the ADL’s success at increasing understanding, changing laws and bringing about change in many minds and hearts. However, he believes as long as hate, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism exists, much work remains.
Speaking broadly about the League’s achievements, Foxman believes it was the fact that the League, in concert with local officials, were able to get a law passed in Georgia in 1954 during the heyday for the Ku Klux Klan banning masks.
“The First Amendment guarantees your right to be a bigot, but at the same time, it says you have to take responsibility for your bigotry. The mask permitted bigots to hide their identity, permitted them to during the day be politicians, businessmen, whatever and at night or even during the day to cover their heads, march with a burning cross intimidating African Americans, Jews, etc.
Interestingly, Foxman believes the Internet is fostering a venue for the same behaviors to be displayed today, only in an anonymous fashion.
Foxman is concerned that anti-Semitism, which appeared to be retreating decades ago, has once again moved to the forefront.
“The two statistics that still haunt me, which I guess our children and grandchildren have to deal with, is that with all the interfaith dialog and openness, 30 percent of American people still believe Jews killed Christ and that almost 30 believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. That’s a question of loyalty, (which means) Jews can’t be trusted,” Foxman said.
Another key issue that concerns Foxman is the fact that, with the passage of time, today’s children often have a diminished understanding of the Holocaust and its significance in world history. He attributes part of this trend toward popular culture and its casual treatment of very significant world events.
“When people compare things to the Gestapo or the Nazis – I guess it comes out of movies and stuff – it means they don’t understand. Either it’s total ignorance about what Nazism and the Holocaust was and what hatred brought that about or you’re just insensitive,” Foxman said.
This decreased sensitivity is one reason that Foxman believes more education on the Holocaust would be beneficial, not just to promote the history of the Jewish people but to promote a message that conveys the negative power of hate and the positive impact of human courage.
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