Anti-Jewish double standards infuriate ADLs Foxman

Once Abraham Foxman gets going on a subject, stopping him is like chasing down a runaway stallion.

Double standards, maintains the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, are the lifeblood of anti-Semitism. You want double standards? He's got double standards!

While many claimed a cabal of Jews such as Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle were pushing America into war, no one ever formulated a black conspiracy based on the high-ranking positions of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, he said last week during a San Francisco visit.

Or, take the media reception of Rep. James Moran (D-Va.). When he commented that the United States was headed to war because that's the way the Jewish community wanted it, why did members of the government and media call his remarks "ignorant"?

"To say the moon is made out of cheese is ignorance. To say in a public forum that the reason we're going to war is because the American Jewish community is in control of Washington is not ignorance. It's bigotry," Foxman said while slicing the air to ribbons with his emphatic gesticulations.

"And why do good people feel the need to wash it down rather than challenge it?"

Or take the instance of poet Amiri Baraka, whose poem "Somebody Blew Up America" repeated the canard that Israel orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center and warned 4,000 Israeli employees to take the day off. Why was New Jersey's poet laureate lionized by the city of Newark, which named him an honorary member of the city council and board of education?

"Look how they embraced him to show he's not a bigot and a racist," said a disgusted Foxman, in town for the regional ADL's annual meeting.

"If someone said these things about blacks, why debate? No one would defend it. When it comes to Jews, it's a different level of debate."

Sitting in the ADL's downtown San Francisco offices, Foxman noted that the Bay Area is the home base for one of the nation's more disturbing trends. While reported anti-Semitic incidents rose only slightly last year nationwide, the Bay Area experienced a 900 percent jump. In fact, the slight nationwide bump was solely due to the Bay Area.

"Nowhere else in the country did anyone experience such a spike of anti-Semitic manifestations, and it was all over the board. It wasn't limited to campuses, it wasn't limited to institutions, it ran the gamut," said Foxman in his unmistakable gravelly voice.

"This was primarily a Bay Area phenomenon."

Despite alarming statistics, Foxman doesn't believe the world has suddenly become a much nastier place in the past several years. On the contrary, it's always been like this.

"Three years ago, I think the average Jew in this country, and, I believe, in many parts of the world, had begun to believe the world had changed in terms of anti-Semitism, that we would be handing a different world over to our children. A world where it would matter less and less that they are Jewish," he said.

"I think we've woken up in the last two or three years and are shocked that it does matter. The world will still view our children and grandchildren differently."

As a result, on the High Holy Days "there was not one synagogue from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Fairbanks, Alaska, that did not have security. Many did not have rabbis or cantors, but they did have security."

Foxman noted that Bay Area incidents were illustrative of those recorded nationwide in two key manners: A great deal of anti-Semitic behavior stemmed from anti-Israel activities, and much of today's anti-Semitism comes not from the far right but the far left.

While it is possible to be anti-Semitic but not anti-Israel — he brings up President Nixon as a case in point — Foxman believes that, in recent years, anti-Israel behavior can morph into anti-Semitic action much more easily than in the past.

A recent ADL survey of college students revealed that only 3 percent are "classically" anti-Semitic (compared with 17 percent of Americans), according to Foxman. Yet, when asked questions about Israel, many of the students "cross the line [into anti-Semitism] without recognizing it."

While critiquing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic, Foxman feels that "anti-Zionism" — i.e., denying Jews the right to a nationalist movement — is anti-Semitic unless one denies all forms of nationalism.

Regarding the anti-Semitism of the left, Foxman said that's old news.

"The left has been there before on issues of anti-Semitism: The 1967 war, the Lebanon War, the first intifada," said Foxman, a Polish-born child survivor of the Holocaust.

"This is not a new phenomenon. You're not old enough to remember."

And, glancing at ADL's regional director, Jonathan Bernstein, Foxman added, "you're not old enough either."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.