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The ADL will continue to speak out against violence by a minority of settlers opposed to the government's 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in Judea and Samaria, according to the newly elected National Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, Robert Sugarman, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday as he concluded a week-long trip here.
The 70-year-old New York City native, who began his three-year term at the end of October, maintained that his organization's recent statements condemning violence between settlers and police and the torching of a West Bank mosque were in line with the ADL's long tradition of standing up in the face of violence and intolerance.
"Our basic philosophy is that when we see something that's inappropriate or unfair, we speak out," Sugarman said.
Additionally, Sugarman said that his organization's recent statement describing the settlement freeze as "courageous and unprecedented," was also in line with the ADL's longstanding support for the Israeli government and its moves toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Sugarman said his Israel trip had been "exciting," and that he and veteran ADL National Director Abe Foxman, who accompanied him on the week-long tour, had met with various Knesset members, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and officials from the Foreign Ministry.
Regarding the ADL's continuing work in the US, Sugarman said that "In the last year, particularly outside the US but also in the US, we found a significant rise in anti-Semitism, and there have been a number of reasons behind it.
"First, the worldwide reaction to Operation Cast Lead was extremely vocal and continuing - meaning it wasn't just a brief blip. And if you add that together with the financial crisis the world and the United States have been facing, [the result has been] an increase in the level of anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Semitic activity.
"We've seen Jewish institutions being targeted, and additionally, in the US, there's been an increase [in anti-Semitic rhetoric] surrounding the health-care debate," Sugarman continued.
"It's a sensitive issue, and some of the protesters, at Tea Parties for example, are making comparisons to the Holocaust, using Nazi imagery or comparing [US President Barack] Obama to Hitler. There are also conspiracy theories... including theories that the US government is moving closer to socialism, and while it's not all anti-Semitic, it's becoming more and more prevalent and creeping into the mainstream."
Sugarman, who practiced law in New York City for 40 years before becoming the ADL's national chair, said he had been involved with the organization since his youth, and was first introduced to it at home.
"My parents were always active," Sugarman recalled. "And I was born and raised in the Bronx, in a mixed neighborhood - half Jewish, half Irish-Catholic, which was my first real exposure to inter-group relations."
Sugarman attended public high school in the Bronx, and later went to Yale for his undergraduate degree. He also attended Yale Law School and served for two years in the US Army before beginning his law career.
His involvement with the ADL has always been on a volunteer basis, first on the organization's New York regional board, and for the past 25 years on the national level.
Sugarman has also been participating in triathlons for the past 10 years, something he was also able to do in Israel, during the Maccabia games last July.
"It was just a wonderful experience to be here and swim in the Kinneret," Sugarman said. "I even won a silver medal - in my age group."
As far as any changes he planned on making, Sugarman said he was satisfied with his organization's current state.
"The ADL has been in business for 97 years," he said. "And I don't envision there being any particular change in the way we've operated in the past. There's no need for a change, nothing is broken."