The events and publications of the fall of 2003 hammer away at the theme of anti-Semitism. In October Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s made anti-Semitic remarks at an Islamic summit meeting.
Abraham Foxman’s Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism masterfully documents the message that anti-Semitism is everybody’s problem. For 15 years Foxman has been national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a group opposing all forms of bigotry, particularly when directed against Jews. He wrote Never Again? as “a wake-up call” for our time, when “the oldest and most resilient form of hatred” has “moved into an alarming new phase” in “the era of the intifada, the war on terrorism, the deepening conflict in the Middle East, and the broader clash between Islam and the West.”
Foxman carefully examines the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Roman Catholics and the religious right come under his scrutiny. While Foxman gives Catholics high marks for Nostra Aetate, the groundbreaking 1965 Roman Catholic document on Christian and Jewish relations, he overlooks numerous Protestant statements such as that by the Alliance of Baptists in 1997 and 10 others cited by Mary C. Boys’ Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (Paulist Press, 2000).
Foxman thoroughly probes anti-Semitism among far right extremists and Muslims. Readers who have not followed carefully current anti-Semitism will get new information in his chapters on American blacks and popular culture (including Dolly Parton!).
He critiques anti-Semitism in the religious right in a chapter that also covers the dangers of theological particularism and Bailey Smith’s flip-flop after meeting with Foxman on the heels of Smith’s comment that “God does not hear the prayers of a Jew.” (See earlier article, “Jewish Leader Decries ‘Particularist’ Religious Claims.”)
Foxman met with the then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1980. At their meeting Smith told Foxman he had not realized before there was anti-Semitism in the United States. He asked for Foxman’s help in standing against bigotry and trying to undo the damage he had done. After talking for a couple of hours and joining hands in silent prayer, Foxman thought the two were having “a real breakthrough moment.” Later Smith said he had “been ‘forced’ to back away from his original statement by pressure from the Jews.”
Autobiographical details season the book. There is a moving account of Foxman’s experience as a Jewish child hidden during the Holocaust with a Polish Catholic nanny who had him baptized. He and Colin Powell served together in ROTC at New York’s City College. “He went a little further in the military than I did.”
Foxman says not all groups criticized in the book deserve to be labeled anti-Semitic. “We are well aware of the power of that epithet, and we’re very careful about how and when we use it.”
He understands that there are those who oppose anti-Semitism but are also troubled by Israeli-Palestine relations. He distinguishes “anti-Semitism from opposition to Israeli policies and actions.”
“Principled, fair criticism of Israel and Israeli leaders is always permissible,” he says, so long as there is the same fervor in condemning other countries pursuing similar or worse policies than those of Israel.
Foxman wants equal concern for the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, and the killing of civilians in Chechnya, Rwanda and the Sudan. He holds that unless these acts are condemned with the same fervor as used in condemning Israel, “it’s hard to deny that anti-Semitism explains the discrepancy.”
Unfortunately only in his epilogue do we get nine specific steps to take in combating anti-Semitism beyond reading Foxman’s book and absorbing its lesson. As serious as the problem is, we need more help.
Foxman closes with a quote from Elie Wiesel, “Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must–at that moment–become the center of the universe.”
John Ewing Roberts is pastor emeritus at Woodbrook Baptist Church and associate scholar at the Institute for Christian and Jewish Relations in Baltimore.
Buy Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism now from Amazon.com.