Since President Donald Trump took office a little more than 100 days ago, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have been on the rise. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there have been 541 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since the beginning of 2017, a spike of 86 percent.
It’s an issue that Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director emeritus, feels the Jewish people must confront head on.
“We have to make sure the political, civic and religious leaderships condemn anti-Semitism,” Foxman told an audience of approximately 700 on Apr. 27 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s 4th annual Dahan Lecture. “One thing that happened in Europe [during World War II] is no one stood up for the Jews. We now know to what extent the world knew, and they did nothing. So the anxiety of Jews about Trump not speaking out is understandable.”
But Foxman, who served as the ADL’s national director from 1987 to 2015, emphasized that those concerns and anxieties must be kept in check.
“I think Jews have to take it seriously but not panic because if they panic, then it would undermine Jewish life,” he said. “If they over-exaggerate, if they hype what’s going on, then Jews won’t send their kids to day schools and they won’t go to synagogue. So we have to be serious, but not panic.
“We need to take it seriously, we need to be vigilant, but not to the point where it could be counterproductive to our future.”
During the lecture, which honors the memory of longtime Beth Tfiloh and community benefactors Haron and Rachel Dahan, Foxman said Trump is not necessarily to blame to for the increase in anti-Semitism.
“Trump did not create the evil behavior that we see. As far as I’m willing to go, he legitimized it,” he said. “Trump removed all the taboos, al the things we could think and believe in at home but wouldn’t say out loud. He’s not a bigot, he’s not an anti-Semite and he’s not a racist. We kept the ugliness in America in the sewer with a cover on it. And all of a sudden, the sewer covers were removed and the ugliness was out. What we need to do is to put the cover back on. And little by little, it’s happening. But we have to be careful not to blame Trump.”
Since Trump assumed the presidency, some Jewish leaders have criticized the way in which he has handled certain matters, such as failing to mention Jews in his January statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
But Foxman said Jews and others should realize “the world’s not coming to an end. It’s a learning process, and the president finally got it. It took him a while, but he finally said what he had to say about anti-Semitism.”
During his hour-long talk, Foxman also touched on the president’s son-in-law and close advisor Jared Kushner, Trump’s stance on Israel and his relationship with the media.
“On the issue of Israel, we don’t know. The tone is much better, but we have no idea where it’s going and no idea how it’s going to end,” Foxman said. “A lot of us see him as a friend to Israel, but we just don’t know and the anxiety of not knowing is very troubling.”
The lecture, which is sponsored by the Pikesville synagogue and the Haron Dahan Foundation, features leading Jewish community figures from around the world to speak about matters of Jewish interest.
“The lectureship’s intent is to maintain a high level of relevancy,” said Sandy Vogel, Mercaz director at Beth Tfiloh and organizer of the Dahan lecture. “Since the level of anti-Semitic activity around the world has been increasing, Mr. Foxman’s message and experienced viewpoint is important to share in an open program.”
Nick Dahan, son of Haron and Rachel Dahan, said he found Foxman’s talk eye-opening.
“I thought he was excellent,” said Dahan. “I had one impression of the Anti-Defamation League as drawing a hard line in certain respects, but Foxman showed how deliberative he is and how he weighs different options and cites ways to take a position that won’t be too offensive.
“My parents felt that Jewish education was at the heart of what it would take to survive as a people,” he said. “They wanted to perpetuate our people through education. I think Abraham Foxman is very much in keeping with that. … He took a strong position to defend our people against defamation. Similarly, my parents wanted to perpetuate learning for the sake of perpetuating our people.”
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltmore-based freelance writer.
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