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Anti-semitism Continues to Be Major Problem for U.S. Jews

May 14, 1982
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Anti-Semitism continues to be a major problem for the American Jewish community, according to a group of experts. While overt anti-Semitism has been placed beyond the pale of decent conduct, there is no basis for complacency, they noted. In addition, a major factor in igniting the flame of anti-Semitism is the continual efforts in the United Nations to “de-legitimize Israel.”

These were some of the observations by members of the American Jewish Committee’s national staff at a panel discussion of “Anti-Semitism and Other Threats to Jewish Interests” at the opening plenary session today of the AJ Committee’s 76th annual meeting; which continues through Sunday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Hyman Bookbinder, reflecting the concerns of his position as AJC’s representative in Washington, asserted that “although the fight against crude, vulgar, explicit anti-Semitism in America has been essentially won, the fight against the more subtle, insidious allegations against American Jews and their goals has only begun.” He cautioned that “when Jewish advocacy of a public policy cannot be refuted by facts or logic, as in the AWACS debate last year, Jewish motives will be impugned and the ugly charge of dual loyalty will be raised.”

Nevertheless, he declared, “we must reject the advice of those who ask us to desist from public debate or advocacy on controversial subjects lest that lead to anti-Semitism. To do so is to lose the battle against anti-Semitism even before we begin. Rather, with confidence, we must show how the Jewish interest and the American interest are not in conflict.”


Theodore Ellenoff, chairman of the AJC’s national executive council, who chaired the session, pointed out that “despite the fears of some Jews that there would be anti-Semitic repercussions following the AWACS debate, a Gallup poll commissioned by the AJC and conducted this past March indicated that there has been no significant change in American attitudes toward Jews or Israel.”

From his personal point of view. Ellenoff said he was particularly concerned with “the effort to de-legitimize the State of Israel in the halls of the United Nations and to characterize her as intransigent in pursuing peace. Such de-legitimization and false characterization tend to resonate throughout the American public, to undercut American Jewish positions of support, and to inject in a less than subtle way anti-Semitic themes into discussions of American foreign policy,” he said.

Irving Levine, director of the AJC’s Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity, reported that there is an increasing incidence of teenage vandalism, especially against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. He said that “we must take these acts seriously since they show the potential for the growth of a ‘new bigotry, especially among teenagers.”


Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, ACJ’s national director of interreligious affairs, acknowledged that anti-Semitism “is far from dead.” But he said he found encouragement in the fact that “major Christian churches have enlisted themselves in the continuing struggle against it.”

In addition to condemning anti-Semitism, “major church groups have stressed the spiritual link between Judaism and Christianity,” Tonen-baum noted. “They have also cautioned that religious instruction should be cleansed of hostile and distorted teachings about Jews and Judaism, and provided specific guidelines for achieving these goals.”


Milton Ellerin, director of the AJC’s trends analysis division, which monitors the activities of extremist groups in this country and abroad, reported that both the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party were “no longer a factor on the American scene.” Both groups are fragmented, he said, and added that the Nazi movement “has failed to establish any base or potential here, ” while the Klan, “despite a spate of current activity in Georgia, has failed to sustain the growth in membership so apparent two years ago, and is utterly devoid of any political influence in today’s America.”

However, Ellerin warned, “while the current ambience in this country has placed overt anti-Semitism beyond the pale of decent conduct and labeled it as an unacceptable aberration of normal conduct, mores and standards can and do change. Despite today’s seemingly favorable circumstances, there is no basis for complacency.”

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