The director of the Anti-Defamation League warned of the dangers of modern anti-Semitism and discussed misconceptions about the influence of the American pro-Israel lobby in a speech on campus Wednesday night.
The event, hosted by LionPAC, featured ADL head Abe Foxman in the Robert K. Kraft Center for Jewish Life. The speech was scheduled in part to respond to an on-campus speech earlier in October by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The ADL is a Jewish-based anti-bigotry organization.
Foxman began by emphasizing that anti-Semitism is still a relevant issue in the world today despite gains that have been made. "I was convinced that certain issues of the past, certain concerns that the Jewish community has had, were relegated to history," he said. "Unfortunately, in the last several years I've been convinced that it isn't yet so."
Foxman railed against Mearsheimer and Walt, claiming that their book's underlying sentiment was that Jews desire control, are disloyal, and are responsible for sending nations to war.
In response, Foxman wrote his own book, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control, which attempts to undercut Mearsheimer and Walt's arguments.
"The American Jewish community is more opposed to the war in Iraq than are Democrats, liberals, and Quakers," Foxman said. "If you did a little bit of research, you would find this [the book's argument] is abject nonsense."
Foxman also criticized former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for supporting Mearsheimer and Walt and writing a book that called Israel an apartheid state.
Foxman claimed that Mearsheimer and Walt's arguments rang eerily close to those made by Hitler early in his career.
"Whether they are or aren't [anti-Semitic], I don't know, but I do know what they say and I do know what these arguments have brought about in the past," he said.
"One out of three Americans believe that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S.," he added. "It's in this atmosphere, on this playing field that Mearsheimer and Walt and Jimmy Carter are playing. They are giving fuel, energy, air, and credibility to those who, from a prejudiced point of view, don't trust Jews."
After his speech, Foxman fielded students' questions.
Regarding a question about possible tenure proceedings of controversial Columbia educators such as Joseph Massad, Foxman stressed the need to use facts to question professors' statements. "At the end of the day it is a question of scholarship, of credibility, of standards," he said. "Before you make charges of bias or bigotry [against a professor], you better have your facts ... because if you don't, you undermine the credibility when it's serious."
In response to questions regarding the recent string of bias incidents which have hit Columbia, Foxman emphasized the destructive power of hate symbols such nooses and swastikas. "The [correct] response is to take it seriously, not just to see it as a prank, because it's more serious," he said.
Foxman also described Columbia's invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "a lesson that backfired."
"We [the Anti-Defamation League] didn't think he [Bollinger] should have invited him, but if you invite him you should treat him with courtesy," Foxman said.
Devora Aharon, CC '10 and LionPAC director of academic affairs, said Foxman's statements were apt in light of the bias incidents. "I, personally at least, hope that the anti-Semitic and racist events [at Columbia] are unique and don't reflect a larger issue on campus," she said. "But if they do, it's important that speakers like Mr. Foxman bring forward the ideas that he did."