As he travels the country speaking at college campuses — commonly hotbeds of anti-Israel radicalism — Abraham Foxman often hears some surprising words: “Thank you.”
The thanks come from curious students of all backgrounds eager to learn more about Jews, Israel and anti-Semitism. “They say just because we don’t know, we’re not bigots,” Foxman notes. “There’s an open discussion.”
As national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Foxman devotes his energy to combating anti-Semitism. Though some people might feel that battle largely has been won in America, Foxman isn’t so sure.
He will address the topic in an 8 p.m. lecture Monday, April 7 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The title of his lecture: “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”
That also happens to be the title of Foxman’s most recent book. And what are those deadly lies?
“They are the beliefs throughout history that Jews are in control beyond their numbers,” he says, “that Jews are not loyal to the countries they’re in. These are classic anti-Semitic canards that have resurfaced in America in recent years, through the sponsorship of a couple of professors and a former president who gave them vibrancy and viability today.”
Foxman refers to former president Jimmy Carter, whose book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” caused an outcry in the Jewish community. As for those professors, he means John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who wrote “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
Like Carter’s notorious anti-Israel tome, the Mearsheimer/Walt book increased the risk of an anti-Semitic backlash in this country, according to Foxman.
“Mearsheimer and Walt fulcrummed the canards into the mainstream,” adds Foxman. “You no longer dismiss it as hate speech or conspiracy theories. [The two authors] are persona grata.”
Foxman felt their offenses were serious enough to merit a line-by-line refutation in the form of his latest book.
Rather than some fifth column, the pro-Israel lobby is part of a long-standing American tradition of interest group agitation, Foxman says. He compares AIPAC and similar interest groups to AARP, the National Rifle Association and even the Greek lobby.
“Nobody has charged the Greek lobby of having conspired to undermine the best interests of this country,” he says.
Foxman is more circumspect when it comes to the current election cycle. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the ADL does not engage in partisan politics. Still, Foxman has his opinions.
Regarding Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on race relations following the Rev. Jeremiah Wright flare-up , Foxman says, “It was a serious challenge to confront issues of race with us today. I was troubled by another element: What I heard was an effort to justify why there is this anger and hatred. From my perspective, no amount of pain justifies bigotry.”
Foxman also weighs in on evangelical minister John Hagee’s support of Republican John McCain. Hagee has made what some consider anti-Catholic statements. Others have questioned whether Hagee’s support of Israel masks a hidden apocalyptic Christian agenda.
Foxman is fine with Hagee’s cheerleading for Israel as long as “[evangelical] support is not conditioned on our accepting their social or theological agenda. If it becomes tied to supporting their position on abortion or the Second Coming, then we reject it. They’re not my pastors.”
Still, Foxman lauds America’s repugnance for anti-Jewish sentiment, citing the Mel Gibson dust-up as a good example.
“In his heyday, he was No. 1 in Hollywood,” Foxman says, “the most sought-after star, the people’s choice, the icon. Then he revealed himself as an anti-Semite, and look where he is today. That’s the beauty of America.”
That doesn’t mean Foxman drops his guard.
Though a whopping 60 to 70 percent of Europeans polled feel Jews are not loyal to their home countries, the number drops to 30 percent here, according to Foxman, which still seems awfully high.
“We are better, but not immune,” he says. “I think we need to be vigilant. We need to speak up.”
Abraham Foxman will speak at 8 p.m. Monday, April 7 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., S.F. Tickets: $8-$10. Information: (415) 292-1200 or www.jccsf.org.