Anti-Semitism, Part II

Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Benjamin Epstein with Arnold Forster
Title: Anti-Semitism, Part II
VTR: 8/20/1981

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on the OPEN MIND. As I said last week, hanging on my office wall in a place of high honor is an award dated 1957 for a series of programs done right here on the Open Mind on the nature of anti-Semitism. That subject some believe is no less pressing today. My guests from 1957 surely still feel that way and they’ve come back here to the Open Mind nearly a quarter of a century later to talk about anti-Semitism with the same deep concerns and convictions: Benjamin Epstein, for over thirty years national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and now executive vice president of the ADL Foundation; and Arnold Forster, for forty-one years the Anti-Defamation League’s chief attorney and now also engaged in private law practice with Shea & Gould.

When the world was so much younger, and we were too, these fellows often joined me here on the Open Mind talking about the substance of such of their books as “The Trouble-Makers”, “Cross Currents”, “Some of My Best Friends…”, and now “The New Anti-Semitism”. Last week, we talked together largely about anti-Semitism in this country. We want to move on again today. And so let me introduce my two guests once again, Mr. Epstein and Mr. Foster.

Look, I don’t mean to be provocative of course…

EPSTEIN: Why not?

HEFFNER: …in the face of two such benign fellows. But we said last week that we ought to move on to the international stage, not that we can’t go back at points and elaborate upon some of the things we said last week. But in reading “The New Anti-Semitism” and in talking with you fellows in the interstices between the two programs, talking about Israel, I really decided that I wanted to ask you a question. It had to do with myself. How critical can I be of Israel without being accused by you two fellows of being anti-Semitic?

FORSTER: I think that one can be anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish. Indeed, one can even disagree with the philosophy of Zionism without being anti-Jewish. But there are too many who camouflage pure anti-Semitism behind an alleged political position with respect to Israel. As for example the man who says there should be no state of Israel in the Middle East, the people there should be driven into the sea, their state should be disestablished, is not politically anti-Israel; he’s anti-Jewish. He wants to destroy a Jewish community. A man who says that the boundaries of Israel today are larger than they should be and they ought be a little smaller is not being anti-Jewish. He’s not even being anti-Israel. He’s disagreeing with the Israeli constituency’s attitude as to what its proper biblical, legal size is. So the distinction is very clear, at least in our minds. And what we’ve tried to say, Ben and I, in “The New Anti-Semitism” was that Israel was now being used as a lever for anti-Semitism. And what we warned then surely came true right in the United Nations where two and a half years ago they adopted a resolution which said Zionism is racism. And for the United Nations to charge a community with being racist is for the United Nations by its charter to say that state does not deserve to live. Hence, you’ve found inside the United Nations pure, blatant anti-Semitism.

HEFFNER: Ben, you obviously feel the same way?

EPSTEIN: Yes, I do. But I would like to be a little bit more specific on one part of this answer. And that is this: Why do we feel that he who supports the PLO is really seeking the destruction of Israel? This hasn’t been made adequately clear in my judgment, because the PLO has a covenant which calls for the destruction of Israel. It does not call for a change; it calls for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. It says that there should be a state that is non-sectarian. It sounds beautiful, but that would mean the destruction of what we have today and what Israel means to the Jewish community of the world. And therefore when we see spokesmen say that Israel must deal with the PLO – I applaud what Secretary of the State Haig said the other day when he said we will not, the United States will not deal with the PLO as long as it will not recognize the right of Israel to exist, it will not recognize resolution 242 and 338 of the United Nations. All of that adds up to this very simple, basic point: the PLO seeks the destruction of Israel. The destruction of Israel would be the greatest horror since the Holocaust as far as Jews of the world over are concerned.

HEFFNER: Ben, do you think it’s possible that someone could on a geopolitical basis, having examined the nature of the present situation and the past situation in the Middle East, be opposed to the very existence of Israel without being subject to the charge on your part, to the feeling on your part that that person was anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish? I’m talking about Israel…

EPSTEIN: I understand what you’re saying. And I have to answer you, Dick, by saying I don’t believe it’s possible.

HEFFNER: Because Israel means so much as a homeland?

EPSTEIN: Because Israel means so much to the Jewish world. Remember that Israel was established at a time when Jews had no place to go. This is the realization of a dream that goes back to the end of the nineteenth century, the establishment of a state where Jews could go for their own protection. And with the advent of the Holocaust, the destruction of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel was the one positive hope for the Jews of the world; that here a democratic society could be established in which Jews would have their own country, their own state. To destroy that would be the equivalent to us, to me, to Arnold, of another Holocaust.

FORSTER: But I want to put a question to you, Dick, remembering that Israel is a Jewish state. Now let’s move away from it, back into our own home. Supposing there was a force abroad in the world that wanted the destruction, the elimination, the obliteration of the United States. Would you be unwilling to suggest that that person is anti-American?

HEFFNER: I find that a passing, strange question. Ben is shaking his head either because…

FORSTER: Well now, you said it’s a Jewish state.


FORSTER: And now you’re saying somebody wants the elimination of a Jewish state.


FORSTER: The heart and soul of the Jewish community is a Jewish state. If you want to eliminate the Jewish state, replace it by a secular state, or an Arab state, or a Palestinian state, whatever, the mere wish to destroy the Jewish state is by its own terms anti-Jewish.

HEFFNER: May I ask then in turn, Arnold, whether you feel that the anti-Zionist Jews are anti-Semitic?

FORSTER: I wonder if an anti-Zionist Jew wants to see the destruction or the elimination of the state of Israel. An anti-Zionist Jew as I understand it is one who does not believe either that he is required as an individual on the face of the Earth to support Israel or required to make immigration to Israel or required in any way to support an international Jewish people.

HEFFNER: So you’re bringing it back and I think quite appropriately to the question of the destruction of the Jewish state.

FORSTER: That’s right.

EPSTEIN: Right, right. Let’s just stop for a moment, if I may, and just say in answer to your question about the anti-Zionist Jew which you just raised which is an entirely different area of concern. There are sects in Israel who don’t believe in the state of Israel. They believe there will come one day the messiah, and then for the first time there will be established what they believe will be the Jewish state, a totally religious country. This is a totally different set of discussions. We’re talking about the role of Israel in the world. We’re talking about the role of Jews in the world. We’re not talking about differences of opinion within the Jewish community as to the relative position that different minorities – we have minorities within minorities within our own community. But what I’m trying to say, Dick, is that the issues that we raised in “The New Anti-Semitism” are issues that still prevail today in very serious form.

HEFFNER: I’m impressed, but the fact is I look back at this book that you had some questions about Sadat and his attitudes toward the Jewish state. You changed your minds?

FORSTER & EPSTEIN: No, Sadat has changed.

EPSTEIN: We said that together and we didn’t rehearse that.

HEFFNER: Oh, I’m sure you have. You’ve said it before.

FORSTER: You see, Sadat had a record, like it or no, and it’s even unfortunate to have to remind today, which was pro-Nazi, openly, blatantly. Sadat also recognized that the time had come when he had to learn how to live with a Jewish state. His economy in Egypt was a disaster. His army was not existent. His friendly Allied nations were unwilling to let their people die in the sacrifice of Egypt’s needs. It became quite clear to Sadat that the best way for Egypt to survive was to live in peace with Israel. I think any head of any state who does not move in the direction of securing the integrity of his own nation is not fit to be a leader. And it doesn’t matter what the reasons were. The fact is that Mr. Sadat was impelled to peace with Jerusalem in an effort to preserve and protect and build the strength and the integrity of Egypt. And having made that decision he stopped being an enemy of the Jewish state. And he’s today a leader in the Middle East, pleading with the still intransigent, radical Arab nations to understand that peace will come to the Middle East when they make genuine peace.

HEFFNER: Arnold, do you really think that anti-Semitism is a sometime-thing, that you wear it today and dispose of it tomorrow? Is it really possible? Are you happy by being…

FORSTER: I didn’t say we’d eliminate anti-Semitism. I said we’d bring peace to the Middle East and thereby peace to the Jewish state in addition to many Arab states that surround it. There are a hundred million Arabs who are still in turmoil, many of them still in hunger because most of their leaders will not commit a peace to be arranged with a little Jewish state of three and a half million. And Sadat has been trying, thus far in vain, to show these intransigent Arab leaders that peace and food and contentment and decency and proper human life can come with peace with the Jewish state.

HEFFNER: And you feel perfectly comfortable by this new alliance?

FORSTER: With Sadat?


FORSTER: Absolutely. I think he has proved time and again since he made his trip to Jerusalem that he sincerely and devotedly means for whatever reasons peace with Israel. And I do not need to go into the reasons. They are not even important. But I accept for myself that he is personally, individually, totally sincere.

HEFFNER: Between the programs, between this taping and the previous taping, we talked frankly again about the question of anti-Semitism being a matter of emotions, a matter of feelings, a matter of gut reactions, not so much subject to the change of national interest, it seemed to me. And that’s why I raised the question. I respect your answer. You feel comfortable with Sadat because you feel he acted earlier in terms of his perceived national interests and he’s acting now in terms of his perceived national interests.

FORSTER: Precisely.

HEFFNER: I always thought that the roots of anti-Semitism were far different; that they had to do with hate, they had to do with prejudice, they had to do with feelings, emotions that weren’t subject to the question of what am I selling abroad today and what am I importing and how many troops does the Pope have and how many do I have.

EPSTEIN: At last week’s discussion Ben opened by saying to you, in our judgment the nature of the Jew changed to a political problem. And that’s exactly what he meant. He spelled it out. Today anti-Semitism comes out of the United Nations. It comes out of Moscow. It comes out of the Arab world. And these fellows are not prompted to their hated for Jews out of emotions. They’re prompted out of pure political consideration. And that’s what we tried to say in the book.

EPSTEIN: I would just like to speak for myself for a moment on that last comment because I believe that the political motivations of those who are anti-Semitic on the world scene are also colored by hatred of Jews, by prejudice against Jews. I cannot believe that there isn’t a line through history that starts with the pogroms of the Tsars and continues in the Soviet Union to the day when Jews are treated the way they are in the Soviet Union today. I cannot believe that the hatred against Jews that started back in the days of the Crusades didn’t continue through modern times. The one hope I have and I make the point that anti-Semitism is an emotional and a deep-seated and a beneath the surface problem and will raise its ugly head again even in the United States, but I firmly believe that in this country, in our country, like no place else in the world there is the opportunity to maintain equality and justice and seek the kind of thing that George Washington said in that famous letter to the Congregation in Newport, to give prejudice no sanction, to bigotry no sanction, so that each man may live in peace and quiet under his own fig tree. This is possible.

FORSTER: Dick, in 1948 the Soviet Union for its own reasons, wanting to get Britain for example out of the Middle East, supported the concept of an Israeli Jewish state.

EPSTEIN: Recognized it immediately after Truman recognized it.

FORSTER: Recognized it and tried to support it. The government of the Soviet Union was politically pro-Jewish. The government of the Soviet Union today, financing the PLO which would destroy a Jewish state is anti-Jewish, and it runs all the way up and down the line of that benighted country. The discrimination against Jews who are Soviet citizens is rampant. The barriers of discrimination in colleges make what happened in the United States twenty-five years ago look as nothing. So that political anti-Semitism which is opportunistic and which is purposed politically has nothing to do with emotions. Those same Soviet non-Jews who tried to create a state of Israel may personally have hated Jews. It had nothing to do with it. And today those same people who are punishing Israel and financing the PLO may have no feelings against Jews whatever. So you’ve got to understand the connection, why we say it’s integrated, you can’t separate it. The reasons for anti-Semitism are therefore multifold. They’re on every level and many faceted. They’re religious, they’re economic, they’re psychopathic, they’re political, et cetera.

EPSTEIN: Have you read the book, “A Promise to Keep”?


EPSTEIN: I happened to bring it along. I’m going to leave it with you because I think this is the best single volume of American anti-Semitism.

HEFFNER: No commercials.

EPSTEIN: Very definitely a commercial. I think this is an important statement because America has made a promise to keep prejudice out of our lives. It’s a promise that hasn’t been achieved by a long shot, but the promise is here. There is no such promise anyplace else in the world in my judgment.

HEFFNER: You know, I promised that – my promise was that we would stay on the political international level for a while, but I was thinking back to those early days of the Open Mind when each year we’d do a sort of a box score.

EPSTEIN: Right, right.

HEFFNER: And Irving Engle and Roy Wilkins and Father LaFarge and I would get together and we’d talk about the previous year. And talking about the roots of anti-Semitism, I understand why you want to talk about the international level and why you want to talk about it as a political force. But let me get back a moment and ask you; in this country where the promise is so different, where the promise is of something much more humane, something much more human, what are the roots of anti-Semitism? Why when the Yankelovich study comes up with in its comparison with the study made a decade and more ago, why do we find that still such an extraordinary percentage of Americans can be labeled as…?

FORSTER: Not every man succeeds in life, Dick.


FORSTER: And many people who are failures must find scapegoats, must find reasons outside themselves for their failures, for their frustrations, for their inability to achieve what as young people they sought. It’s easy to find as a scapegoat a Jew, because a Jew is a member of a minority, a Jew is in a sense different, that’s certainly religiously different, and the Jew is a stranger in that he has refused to accept the majority’s positions in many areas of our community. And hence, you blame him. You say he’s the banker. You say he owns the newspapers. You say he owns the televisions. It has nothing to do…

EPSTEIN: Arnold, you are repeating anti-Semitic canards and I wish you’d label them as such.

FORSTER: Sure, exactly. Well that’s just exactly what I’m trying to do.

EPSTEIN: I’m trying to make a point.

FORSTER: And yet the evidence is that they don’t control the newspapers, they don’t control television; they don’t control the things that they’re alleged to control. But the dissident, the dissatisfied person whom has to scapegoat then has to make up evidence.

EPSTEIN: But I would like to get to another reason for anti-Semitism. I am firmly convinced that deep-rooted anti-Semitism exists in the religious communities of this country because of an anti-Jewish orientation that goes back, and I must say it, to the way Christianity has been taught over the years, to the inherent anti-Semitism in much of the teachings of Christianity. And it wasn’t until Pope John came along and said what he did about anti-Semitism and rooted out some of the prayers that talk about the Satan, the Satan of Judaism. It wasn’t until that movement, until that day that you had a turning point in the dealings of the Catholic Church with anti-Semitism. Today we have an international conference annually and in between of subcommittees on the international level with the Catholic Church, with representatives of the Vatican. We have similar meetings with the Protestants, on a world basis, on a national basis. There’s been a lot of talk about the moral majority. A lot of people are surprised that they are so friendly to Israel. The moral majority does not begin with an orientation that’s anti-Semitic. Unfortunately some of the representatives of the group on the lower levels have made statements that reveal a very, very deep ignorance of Jews and shows hostility, I would say ignorance which could be interpreted either way.

But what I’m trying to say is that one of the basic problems that goes back and keeps repeating itself and keeps raising its ugly head is religious anti-Semitism. And it exists not only in the Christian community; it’s deep-seated in the Muslim community. And this is something that just can’t be ignored because, look let’s face it, there was a thirty year war fought between Protestants and Catholics. What’s all the shooting about in Northern Ireland? Religious emotions are so difficult to deal with. And Dick, I’m not telling you something you’re not aware of. But I’m trying to make the point that anti-Semitism has that characteristic that can’t just be eliminated. Or we can take solace from the fact that our good friend Mr. Yankelovich says Americans have more gracious attitudes toward Jews today, and look upon Jews who have become more acceptable in the society of America today.

HEFFNER: But what’s the percentage?

FORSTER: Thirty-seven percent is what he said.


FORSTER: And he said – well, still. No, he said it’s lower than it was sixteen years ago when he found according to our studies, the ones the Anti-Defamation League did, it was forty-five percent agree.

EPSTEIN: This is “The Tenacity of Prejudice”, which was the book that found the study that was the first study by the University of California at Berkeley that did this basic document that Yankelovich has compared itself with.

FORSTER: But Dick…

HEFFNER: Wait a minute, and indicated today what percentage you could legitimately identify as anti-Semitic?

FORSTER: Thirty-four percent which is seventy million Americans if he’s correct.

HEFFNER: Which is an astonishing figure when you give your definition of the reasons for anti-Semitism; basic failure, basic dissatisfaction. Are you saying that about seventy million Americans?

FORSTER: No, I’m not ready to accept that figure at all. I have an argument with all these polls from the beginning. I think polls that find their results by the way of leading questions may warp entirely the results. For example, an open question is: Which group in the United States is dishonest? This is an example. And then you let the man answer the question.

EPSTEIN: Don’t give any suggestions.

FORSTER: As against the leading question: Is the black man dishonest?

EPSTEIN: Which of these groups do you think is dishonest? With a listing, and check them.

FORSTER: Now, you’ve got to watch the way you ask the question; you’ll get a totally different result. I’m not prepared to say there are seventy million conscious, or unconscious if you’ll forgive the expression, anti-Semites in the United States.

EPSTEIN: The other question, Dick, that you have to face is what is the definition of anti-Semitism.

HEFFNER: What’s yours?

EPSTEIN: When is a man an anti-Semitic?

HEFFNER: What’s your definition?

EPSTEIN: A man is anti-Semitic when he hates Jews because they are Jews. Now that sounds like a pretty glib statement, but let me go a little bit further. An anti-Semite is one who doesn’t consider facts, who is completely emotional in his reaction to Jewish individuals. Take this question. In this book, the one that was done in 1944, the figure is forty-five percent of the people questioned had hostile images of Jews. Query: Is that anti-Semitism? The study that Yankelovich has done now says that this has been reduced from forty-five to thirty-seven, so he says anti-Semitism is less. I’m not so sure it depends on how you define anti-Semitism. If forty-seven percent, as the Selznick-Steinberg study, “The Tenacity of Prejudice”, the University of California at Berkeley sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in 1964 found…

FORSTER: Plug, plug.

EPSTEIN: Of course. I say to you that you must distinguish between anti-Semitism, hostile images of Jews, ignorance of Jews. There are gradations. Does it mean that you would take physical action against a Jew if you have a hostile image of him, if you are ignorant of what the Jew is?

HEFFNER: Ben, I just got a signal – one minute left. Let me ask you a question. What’s your sense as a man about the world of the prevalence of anti-Semitism, in terms of your definition, in this country?

EPSTEIN: I think that the prevalence of anti-Semitism in this country is still a problem for our concern. I personally believe that Jews are much happier in the United States than any other country in the world because I believe we have been accepted in a way in this country where we are part of the warf and woof of America. That makes us proud to be Americans.

HEFFNER: Arnold, what about the prevalence of witches?

FORSTER: Well, my definition of anti-Semitism is slightly different.

HEFFNER: You have to tell me in twenty seconds.

FORSTER: It’s treating a Jew differently because he’s Jewish, and unfavorably differently. And if that’s the criteria then I’m afraid that the problem that Ben points to is very much with us. But it’s not hopeless. And I still think there’s a chance for this country to continue to be what it’s been since the beginning of the state, the United States, and that is the best country in which one can want to live.

HEFFNER: That’s the upbeat note in which we have to end. Thanks so much for joining me today Benjamin Epstein and my good friend Arnold Forster.

EPSTEIN: Thank you, Dick.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you’ll join us again here on the Open Mind.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.

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