Arnold Forster, longtime ADL leader, dies


(JTA) — Arnold Forster, an attorney who had a nearly 60-year career at the Anti-Defamation League, has died.

Forster fought against anti-Semitism and extremism, and advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel. He was 97 when he died Sunday night.

In 1938 he organized a team of lawyers to serve as the volunteer legal arm of the Anti-Defamation League. He joined the staff of ADL in 1940, and as associate national director was primarily responsible for building ADL’s law department and civil rights program. In January 1946 he was appointed general counsel, a position he held until 2003, though he retired from the ADL in 1979.

ADL’s Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents evolved from the annual audit of religious prejudice conceived by Forster in 1947 and has been adapted by many human relations agencies. His memoir, "Square One," was published in 1988, and he co-authored several books with then-ADL National Director Benjamin Epstein.

In 1967, Forster wrote "Report From Israel" based on his frequent trips to the Middle East to observe firsthand the Arab-Israeli situation for his radio-TV series for broadcast to the United States, Europe and Africa. His documentary film “Avenue of the Just” was among the programs that won the 1980 Emmy Award for the ABC network.

“Combating anti-Semitism became his life’s work, and his approach was to take the fight both into the courtroom and directly before the public by shining the light of day on the bigots and their actions," said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director. "And he was also one of the first Jewish leaders to publicly advocate for Israel.”

Born Arnold Fastenberg in Brooklyn, Forster was a graduate of St. John’s University in Queens and its law school. He changed his name at the suggestion of a director when acting at a local playhouse during law school. 

Recommended from JTA