Foxman: Good PR can't stop anti-Semitism

Anti-Defamation League director says the truth has little impact on how Jews or Israel are perceived.

foxman 66 (photo credit: )
foxman 66
(photo credit: )
The problem of anti-semitism cannot be solved by a clever publicist, several panelists at the Facing Tomorrow conference said Thursday in Jerusalem. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, through which he has been battling anti-Semitism for the past 43 years, said it matters little what and how Jews do - the truth has little impact on how Jews or Israel are perceived. The paradox, he said, is that despite all evidence to the contrary, Jews believe that "it will matter what we do, what we say and how we act." Foxman attributed anti-Semitism to jealousy that so many Jews excel at what they do. "What is the antidote? Not to tell our children to succeed, not to win wars, not to defend our people?" This was obviously not the solution to a persistent problem, he said. "The perception of a Jew is irrational and it's a disease." Adding that anti-Semitism comes out of religion or economics, Foxman said the truth matters little to the minds of those who are diseased. Yet for all that, he said, Jews don't have a choice. "We have to go out there and try and correct the faults of defamation." While the Internet is widely regarded as the golden age of information, he said, "it is also the golden age of disinformation and mis-information. We are living on a super highway of canards." According to Foxman, the Internet had changed the nature of the challenge with which Jews are confronted when combatting anti-Semitism. American pollster and opinion analyst Stanley Greenberg, a former pollster for President Clinton, who in recent years has been commissioned by numerous Jewish organizations to take surveys on matters relating to Jews and Israel, said that, while no amount of information will change anti-Semitic attitudes, "the stakes are too high to make the assumption that we can't impact these attitudes.." In Greenberg's opinion, Israel does not need a good publicist, it needs a good strategy. Citing surveys that he had taken over various periods of time, he pointed out that since 9/11, Americans are more inclined to see Israel as an ally of the United States than they were before. Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of the Publicis group, which is the largest advertising group in Europe, was upset that in this day and age there has to be a session at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration that deals with anti-Semitism. "[Anti-semitism] should not exist - it's almost insane. No other religion has been targeted so widely or so generally as the Jewish religion - and not just for ten years but for 2,000 years." Focusing on attitudes in Europe, Levy said that after World War Two it was taboo to express anti-Semitism by word or deed, so people hid their anti-Semitic inclinations in public. There was also sympathy for Holocaust survivors and the fledgling state of Israel. But that didn't mean that anti-Semitism was not lurking beneath the surface. After the Six Day War in 1967, he recalled, he was lunching with a colleague who said to him: "Now that you've won, you can go back to your country." In 1977, sympathies in France shifted gears, Levy said, moving from the Jews or the Israelis to the Palestinians. People who had once supported Jews and Israel began to criticize. Their anti-Zionist criticism of Israel quickly moved to anti-Semitism, especially among young politicians and intellectuals, and for the past 15 years. extremists have been making anti-Semitic utterances on television, and using Jewish-related expressions which are unacceptable. Linda Lingele, the first female Governor of the State of Hawaii, said that when she first came to Israel in 2004, she saw that the reality was much different from the perception. Difficult though the task may be, Lingele was convinced that the Jewish people, acting on a one-to-one basis, can change perceptions and convince the world that Israel has the right to exist. "As Jews we have to insist that Israel has a responsibility to exist," she said. "We have to each commit ourselves to be personal publicists for the State of Israel."