President Donald “Trump is a demagogue and his presidency threatens American democracy,” former Anti-Defamation League (ADL) director Abraham Foxman wrote on September 11, 2020, in opposition to Trump’s reelection. Yet review of Foxman’s 2003 book, Never Again: The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, actually indicates that Jews such as him and others should have voted for Trump over Vice President Joe Biden.
Foxman himself had conceded in his editorial that his Biden endorsement uniquely broke with Foxman’s traditional abstinence from partisanship. “For more than half a century, I avoided public positions on electoral politics,” he noted. “Everyone knew Foxman was liberal, but he kept his personal views distinct from his work,” Alex Van Ness from the conservative Center for Security Policy wrote in 2016.
Yet in Foxman’s book tour d’horizon of antisemitism’s various ideological currents, Islam holds throughout center stage. Indeed, the book’s longest chapter is “From Hatred to Jihad: Anti-Semitism in the Muslim World.” “The fact is that virulent anti-Semitism is widespread throughout the Arab Middle East,” he wrote.
This danger was a revelation for Foxman. “For many years ADL and others at the forefront in the war against bigotry and hatred treated anti-Semitism in the Arab world as a marginal issue,” he wrote. In reality, “[a]nti-Semitism is tolerated or openly endorsed by Arab governments, disseminated by the media, taught in schools and universities, and preached in mosques.”
In a realistic assessment of Arab antisemitism’s roots in Islamic doctrine, Foxman noted that
in the traditional Muslim view, Judaism and Christianity were both distorted by human frailty and ultimately superseded by Islam, which is the perfect expression of the one true religion. Therefore, Jews and Christians were permitted to live in Muslim lands as tolerated minorities (dhimmis), free to practice their religions but subject to the humiliations of second-class status.
Foxman correctly analyzed the canonical Islamic history of Islam’s prophet Muhammad and how his seventh-century Islamic community expelled and exterminated Arabia’s Jewish tribes that had resisted his religious claims. “This hostility and triumphalism set the tone for Islam’s subsequent attitude toward the Jews. As descendants of those who distorted God’s truth and opposed his Prophet, Jews would rightly be humbled before Muslims.” Likewise modern sharia supremacists have sought inspiration in the “Qur’an and the history of al-Rashidoon, the ‘rightly guided ones,’ the first four caliphs after Muhammad, who ruled over a militant, ever-expanding, triumphant Muslim empire.”
Islamic oppression of Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims often led them to welcome European colonial empires that began to dominate Muslim countries beginning in the 19th-century, Foxman noted:
In the early twentieth century there were still many Jews living in Arab lands, but their status had changed significantly since the pre-imperialist days of dhimmi-hood. Jews had generally embraced the Western newcomers to the Arab world. Under Western protection, they had cast off many of their traditional restrictions and humiliations.
The 1948 establishment of a sovereign Jewish state of Israel, a Western outpost in the Muslim-majority Middle East, thus easily appears to Muslim eyes as the ultimate manifestation of this Jewish-Western alliance. Accordingly, for Islamists, Foxman noted, “Jews came to be described as the ‘eternal’ enemies of Allah and of Islam, a satanic, diabolical force, locked in a lethal struggle with Islam.” In modern Arab-Islamic antisemitism,
Jews, who in the past were the greatest enemies of Prophet Muhammad, have resumed their role and are today the greatest enemies of modern Islam. Thus, just as the defeat and slaughter of the Jews of the Arab world by the Prophet Muhammad helped promote the rise of Islam and its conquests in the seventh and eighth centuries, the annihilation of Israel will bring into being a new golden era of contemporary Islam.
Even secular Arab rulers have had their reasons to support Islamic antisemitism, Foxman noted. They
promulgated anti-Semitism to appease and draw support away from the Islamists, whose goal was still the overthrow of the secular governments to establish new Islamic regimes. Thus the leaders of the Arab world have chosen for their own reasons to treat the conflict with Israel not mainly as a secular conflict over land or resources but as a religious one. It’s a dangerous game for them to play.
Islam additionally brings particular advantages to the anti-Israel cause, Foxman observed. For Arab leaders, piety
provides a pretext for calling upon all their coreligionists around the world to support the Arab jihad (holy war) against Israel. Thus the energies and resources not just of the 300 million Arab Muslims but of over a billion Muslims around the world can be directed against the tiny Jewish state.
Islamic ideological motivations are painfully clear in the violence inflicted upon Israel, Foxman wrote. “When terrorists record videotapes to inspire their followers and frighten their opponents, they don’t talk about demands for land or autonomy; they talk about religious martyrdom and about their wish to kill Jews.” This would not surprise others, including Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer and Israeli historian Benny Morris, who have examined the historic jihadist nature of Israel’s enemies.
However Foxman questionably claimed that faith-based hatred of Israel
is relatively new. It’s easy to forget that only a generation ago the mainstream Arab leaders tried hard to avoid the appearance of outright anti-Semitism. Even when they promoted a trade boycott in an attempt to strangle Israel economically, they stressed that this was a boycott against a country, not against Jews in general.
Foxman strove to present an optimistic vision of Islam. He condemned evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for having used “words of bigotry” by respectively “tarring Islam as an inherently violent religion” and Muhammad as a “terrorist.” “The demonization of Jews was not a traditional component of Islam,” Foxman wrote, notwithstanding copious contrary evidence.
The tolerant Islam invoked by Foxman inevitably involved the ever-mythologized, medieval Islamic Spain:
Not all Muslim governments were equally eager to impose strict interpretations of the dhimmi paradigm on their Jewish subjects. Many Muslim societies, especially during the High Middle Ages (tenth to twelfth centuries), exhibited a rare tolerance for Jews and other minorities.
Nonetheless, Foxman’s prognosis for peace with Israel and the wider Middle East remained realistically bleak. Modern Islamic “anti-Semitism in the Middle East may not be easily overcome. Religions are self-propagating, and theologies possess remarkable staying power across generations.” Yet “no true peace between Israel and its neighbors will be possible until the Arab press ceases its drumbeat of anti-Semitic propaganda.”
Islam’s illiberal elements worried Foxman beyond the Middle East in a modern age of significant Islamic immigration into the West. He disturbingly quoted Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi of Rome’s University of Vellectri, a rare Zionist Muslim: “Over 80 percent of European mosques are controlled by extremists who belong to radical pseudo-Islamic movements that have absorbed anti-Semitic motifs.” Foxman accurately noted that, “unfortunately, as the political pressures from the growing Muslim population mount, few European politicians have had the courage to denounce and actively discourage the spread of anti-Semitism.”
Antisemitism was merely one flashpoint in Foxman’s analysis between Islam and the West, with its various sexual, political, and religious freedoms. “It’s clear that American culture, along with the economic and social influence of our country, is abhorrent to the extreme fundamentalists among Muslims,” he wrote. Upon retiring in July 2015 from directing the ADL after 28 years, he noted in an interview “significant elements that are at war with our civilization and values.”
In the same interview, Foxman emphasized the importance of properly defining the West’s Islamic foes. “A first step is recognizing your enemy,” he said, but the West’s politically correct sensibilities meant that “you can’t even call it jihadism.” “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim,” he added in his pithy description of jihadists.
Earlier while still heading the ADL, Foxman had expressed similar thoughts following the January 7, 2015, jihadist massacre at the Paris offices of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. French President Francois Hollande had claimed that these murderers of cartoonists who caricatured Muhammad had “nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” “For Hollande to stand up in front of the world and to say that Charlie Hebdo had nothing to do with Islam is closing your eyes to a reality, to a truth,” Foxman had countered.
Foxman deviated from leftist orthodoxy on Islam on other occasions as well, as in the instance when he warned against a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt during the 2011 “Arab Spring.” In 2010 he also opposed a projected Islamic center (the so-called Ground Zero Mosque) near the former site of World Trade Center destroyed by Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, New York City terrorist attacks. He called the project legally permissible, but politically insensitive.
Expressed in 2003, Foxman’s perceptive understanding of jihadist dangers have since found little support among Democrats, as Barack Obama’s presidency showed. Now Foxman’s wished-for Joe Biden presidency shows every indication of following Obama’s defense against “slander” of Islam. As a concluding article will show, Foxman’s many differences with modern Democratic orthodoxy over Islam, Israel, and other matters may cause him to regret his Biden support.