Benjamin Epstein, Arnold Forster

Anti-Semitism, Part I

VTR Date: August 20, 1981

Guests: Epstein, Benjamin; Forster, Arnold


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster
Title: “Anti-Semitism”, Part I
VTR: 8/20/81

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND.

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. Now that subject, some believe, is no less pressing today. My guests from 1957 surely still feel that way and they’ve come back again today, nearly a quarter century later, to talk about anti-Semitism with the same deep concerns and convictions.

Benjamin Epstein, for over 30 years, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and now Executive Vice President of the ADL Foundation.

And Arnold Forster, for 41 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, as we were, too, these fellows often joined me here on THE OPEN MIND talking about the substance of such of their books as The Troublemakers, Cross Currents, Some of my Best Friends, and now The New Anti-Semitism.

Gentlemen, thanks for coming back. You both look as though it was just yesterday that we spoke together, instead of twenty-five years ago, and I guess, Ben and Arnold, I ought to begin by asking, in terms of the most recent of the books, The New Anti-Semitism, what is this new anti-Semitism? Something that didn’t exist before? Something no one ever heard of?

Voice: Well, what we tired to say, very quickly, in this book, was that anti-Semitism had taken a new step. It had developed in something that had not happened before. Previously we were talking about discrimination in education, in housing, in employment. What we were talking about here was the advent of political anti-Semitism, on the world scene. Anti-Semitism at the UN, soviet anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism directed by the Arabs against anyone sympathetic to Israel. And we were talking about the insensitivity of Americans whom we had always felt, certain Americans, certainly only a segment of the American public, who felt that since the Jews were not really minorities, they no longer needed, in quotes, the sympathy or the understanding, or a sensitivity to anti-Semitism.

Heffner: Ben, what do you mean, “felt that since the Jews were no longer a minority”? I don’t understand that.

Voice: Well, I think in about the 60s, it became even more clear that studies were made of minorities in the United States. The minorities were Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaskan Indians. Jews were rarely included among the minorities because the feeling was the Jews had “made it” on the American scene. And that they were not to be considered the subject of concern. Now prejudice and discrimination and vicious anti-Semitism has nothing to do with minority status.

Heffner: Well, you…

Voice: It has to do with an attitude or an action against Jews.

Let me way it another way for you, see if I can communicate. The Jews have become an accepted part of the American scene. They’re now fair game. They’re no longer even with respect to government decisions and government regulations, are a recognizable minority. When you read much of the legislation or the administrative language of who is a minority, you read primarily about non-Whites in this country, or other ethnics. You do not read about the Jews. As a matter of fact, t came as a startling discovery to some men in government that there was a Jewish poverty group, for example, in New York. They were never reached with any kind of help because the image of a Jew was not the image of poverty. The image of ghetto today is the Black area.

Heffner: In terms of the attitude towards Jews in this respect, would you have it otherwise, Arnold?

Voice: Well, I could only wish that the world would recognize that while they continue to treat the Jew differently and less favorably in this difference, that they are a minority.

Voice: Well, now Ben…

Voice: Is that clear?

Heffner: That’s clear. Now let me ask you something. Ben was saying before that there had been, I don’t think he used the word “elevation”, but there had been a shifting of the grounds of anti-Semitism. Let’s say from the kinds of…

Voice: Social discrimination, domestic…

Heffner: Social discrimination for the international…

Voice: Right.

Heffner: …or national…

Voice: Right.

Heffner: …level.

Voice: Political.

Heffner: Political. Have the grounds disappeared? Is what you’re saying that the social discriminations…

Voice: We have hundreds of cases of social discrimination, meaning discrimination in employment, or discrimination in admissions, but these are not major concerns. Each case is treated seriously. If a man, for example, works in the United States Post Office, and they won’t let him take off a Sabbath or the holiday, which means a great deal to an Orthodox Jew or to any Jew, and he comes to us and says “Look, I’m being discriminated against”, that’s a case for us to be concerned with . But that’s not, if I may say, a Federal case. It’s not an international case. It’s an individual case that’s very serious to Mr. X, who is the employee of our government and he feels he’s being discriminated against by a government that says “equal treatment for all citizens alike”.

Heffner: Is…

Voice: It’s serious, but what I’m saying is that today those problems and those cases are dealt with, and handled, not just by ADL, by the Anti-Defamation League, but by commissions, by Federal laws, by civil rights laws. What I’m trying to say is that today, the problems are much, much more serious. Walk across the street from the Anti-Defamation League Building at 823 UN Plaza to the United Nations. Sit in the General Assembly and listen to the vicious anti-Semitism of representatives of Arab nations, and people sit there and very rarely does anyone…the Israeli representative, once in a while some very outspoken American representative will speak, but it’s every day fare and we say this is pretty horrible.

Heffner: Let’s go back to the discrimination problem.

Voice: Right.

Voice: As Ben indicated, the institutions of discrimination that we were so concerned with twenty-five years ago, where Jews found quotas against admission in higher education, where Jews found they could not live in the Bronxville’s of America, where Jews found they were not welcome in certain areas of employment, in certain industries. Today, that’s a part of the past. As Ben indicates, there still is an incidence of discrimination against Jews. But the complaint that the Jewish community has had really in the last five years is in the interpretation of affirmative action, where we’ve seen the development of quotas. Quotas not rooted to anti-Semitism at all. But quotas rooted to a desire to get a fairer share of the pie for the non-White community. And in an effort to reach out for that kind of equality, they have developed a theory of law which justifies a quota system as a result of which they insist on one Black and one White until a certain percentage is reached in a certain industry. Willy-nilly. The Jew who has fought for a kind of equality finds himself on the wrong side of the equation, so that while he’s discriminated against, the discrimination is not rooted to hatred of the Jew, it’s rather attached to the need to try to correct on behalf of the non-White.

Heffner: You know, you use an interesting phrase. You say “on the part of the non-White to get a fairer share of the pie”. Twenty-five years ago my suspicion is that you probably would have used that expression “fairer share of the pie”, but you would have used it in connection with your concerns about anti-Semitism. Is it so appalling, so distressing, so surprising that there should be those who would look for a “Fairer share of the pie”?

Voice: No, we’re all for a “fairer share of the pie”.

Heffner: What’s your concern then?

Voice: Our concern is that you don’t make the decision on the basis of race. Because once you do that, you’re making a new victim of discrimination, based on an unconstitutional, undemocratic measure. You’re denying a person a job or a place to live or a seat in the classroom on the basis of his color. And it’s wrong whether you do it on the basis of his White color or his Black color.

Heffner: Arnold, you raise this question of quotas. You raise it in terms of our discussion of anti-Semitism. Do you assume that this is an expression of anti-Semitism? Or are you talking about something else?

Forster: No.

Heffner: That impacts on…

Voice: I thought I made it quite clear, Dick…

Voice: That’s exactly what we’re trying to say.

Forster: It’s not motivated by prejudice against the Jew. It’s motivated by a desire, to repeat myself, to get more equity for others. But the impact may be discriminatory. And the Anti-Defamation League and Ben and I are concerned about discrimination of this kind.

Epstein: Let me say something else…

Heffner: Sure, Ben.

Epstein: …about that, if I may, Dick. We would like to see those who do not have a fair share of the pie, do not have adequate job opportunities…we would like to see them have all the opportunities in the world. We think that the great mass of American Blacks and Hispanics are struggling in a system that has made it very difficult, and it will take a long time. And I understand, I sympathize deeply for the impatience of the leadership of the Black and Hispanic communities because they haven’t gotten where they would like to be fast enough. And it’ll take time, let’s face it. But, it should not be done by saying “Here. Twelve people here who are Black; seven here who are Brown; twenty who are White”. There ought to be a pool of those who are qualified, and out of that pool, anyone who is qualified gets picked for the job. It is essential that hey not be picked because of color. We believe that the use of such a test, of such an approach can be to the detriment of the very people who are being helped today. They believe…twenty–five years ago we’ll say “Now just a minute. We’re only entitled to twenty percent because we’re twenty percent of the population, or four percent of the population”. This is exactly the issue. We were terribly disturbed, Dick, in the days of the German “numerous clauses” (???). There are four percent Jews in Germany, there will only be four percent doctors; four percent lawyers; four percent professors. That’s outrageous. That’s autocratic. That’s undemocratic. Anyone qualifies should have the opportunity to move ahead in a free, democratic society. That’s what it’s all about. And we want the minority groups to have that opportunity, whether we’re considered a minority or not. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

Heffner: It’s interesting…more than interesting…it’s distressing that very quickly a discussion of anti-Semitism in this country…because immediately after you made your first statement (garbled)…brought it back to this country, and we’ll go on…

Voice: Yes.

Heffner: …to the UN in a moment…seems inevitably to be placed in the context of Black, Hispanics, on one side…Jews on the other.

Forster: Dick, it’s important because the United States Supreme Court, in our judgment, has gone down the wrong road. The United States Supreme Court has constitutionalized, so to speak, the concept of racial quota, and by doing it had destroyed, in effect, the merit system, something that had been built into the jurisprudence of this country over a period of thirty years that brought about, at least legally, a correction on the basis of which there could have been equity. Instead the United States Supreme Court because of tremendous pressure, went down the road of accepting the idea of quota systems, even if temporarily until there is a correction. Well, that’s about like being a little bit pregnant, which is why Ben and I dwell on it.

Forster: If it was simply a matter of practice in the system of America to which we could address ourselves that would be one thing. But when they build it into law, it becomes a giant problem.

Heffner: I would suspect, Arnold, that back…we’re talking about doing a program in ’56…Two years before, at the time of the school desegregation case, at the time of Earl Warren’s unanimous Supreme Court decision, that there must have been many people who had said, “The Supreme Court has taken us down the wrong path. We had been here for the past fifty years with separate and equal”…

Voice: Which was wrong.

Heffner: You say, “Which was wrong”. I’m making the point only that at that point, in ’54, I’m sure there were many who said the Supreme Court has…

Voice: Oh, there’s no question.

Heffner: …taken us down the wrong path…

Voice: But…

Heffner: …and yet, the rest of us…

Voice: …don’t (garbled) the impression…

Heffner: …said…wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute…

Voice: Go ahead.

Heffner: …that the rest of us then said, “So be it. You feel that way…

Voice: Yes.

Heffner: …but the Supreme Court has spoken. And this is now the law of the land”. You won’t accept it.

Voice: We didn’t say that.

Voice: Alright, now wait a second…just a minute…

Voice: We fought the Supreme Court.

Voice: Well let’s go back…

Heffner: In the segregation decision?

Voice: …you did not fight the Supreme Court in the segregation decision.

Voice: We fought the Supreme Court in every one of the decisions that resulted in segregation in this country.

Voice: Oh.


Epstein: We filed a brief amicus. Okay, let’s make it clear because you’ve created the wrong impression, Arnold.

Forster: How?

Epstein: By…well let me just finish. You asked a very specific question about the Supreme Court desegregation cases…

Heffner: Yes.

Epstein: School cases.

Heffner: Yes.

Epstein: ’53, ’54. The ADL took a position supportive of the position of the Black community in this country and we welcomed that decision overwhelmingly. We supported the NAACP against the great state of Alabama when the state of Alabama demanded the membership records of the NAACP, and they refused to give them to them. And we said “We agree with the NAACP because we believe a private organization in a democratic society has a right to the privacy of its membership list”.

It happened to Jews in Nazi Germany when they came and asked the B’nai B’rith for the lists of their members. For what purpose? Same thing was true in Alabama. There is no argument on that score. We’re talking about an entirely different thing. We’re talking about a much more recent Supreme Court series of decisions which used the technique of the quota system to do what they thought was a perfectly fine thing, and they was to achieve more opportunities for minority groups, Blacks, Hispanic and what have you. That purpose…just a minute, let me finish my point, Dick.

Heffner: Go ahead.

Epstein: And that is this: Those decisions, and there were a series of them, fixed into law and this is what Arnie was saying a minute ago…fixed into law the concept of a numerical quota in order to achieve justice…

Forster: Or correct future balances.

Epstein: …for all. Or correct the imbalance, or correct the injustice…

Forster: The language is (garbled)…

Epstein: …of a hundred years of history. And in doing that the technique that was used was to set up a numerical distribution, a numerical evening-out, in fact saying to the person who worked the hardest and needed the opportunity the most to achieve distinction, “Just a second, we’re going to even it all out. We are giving justice to mediocrity, not to merit, because what we need is an equality of numerical distribution”. I think that’s undemocratic even though it’s done, and I don’t want, for a moment, to leave the impression that we’re criticizing the motivation of the great, gray-bearded Supreme Court. The motivation ws to do justice, to help poor people. But the technique they used, we are saying, was itself wrong.

Heffner: Ben, certainly I understand what you’re saying there and appreciate what you’re saying. I was just pointing out to Arnold that in being critical of the court for having been wrong, for having taken a position that you will not accept, I was just indicating that in ’54, at the time of Brown versus Board of Education, certainly the three of us at this table had to do battle with those who were saying the same thing about the Warren Court when it reversed a fifty year long process by which…or a sixty year long process by which discrimination had taken place in the schools.

Heffner: And I understand what you’re saying. I don’t want to…

Epstein: I just want to add one word, if I may.

Heffner: Sure.

Epstein: In the decisions on the quota system I would hope that we have a chance, in this discussion or some later date, to quote from Justice William O. Douglas.

Heffner: Be my guest.

Epstein: And it was very simple. He just said that in a democratic society we have no right to be color blind. We must be color blind. We have no right to make decisions on the basis of color. Arnie said it before, “either Black or White”. What does the quota system do? It determines, on the basis of color, on the basis of race how…

Forster: And it’s gone worse that that. We’ve come full circle. They’re now doing quota on the basis of proportional representation, bringing you right back to where Ben indicated Germany was with the numerous clauses (???). If Jews were four percent then you would have four percent population whether it was in employment, in education or in housing. Today they examine the number of Puerto Ricans or Chicanos or Japanese and Whites in a West Coast city and they decide that the personnel of the Fire Department should fairly well reflect that population.

Heffner: In order to achieve social justice?

Forster: Yes, in order to achieve social justice. Thus, if the Polish ethnic group is one percent of the community, any fireman or would-be fireman who happens to be a Pole, who goes beyond the one percent, is out of a job because his father came from Poland. Now this is no basis on which you deny a man the opportunity to be a fireman, or a lawyer in the County Division in Sacramento.

Heffner: Obviously, obviously in terms of the time we have spent on this subject, this is where your concern about anti-Semitism in this country…

Voice: No.

Voice: No. Not anti-Semitism, no.

Voice: As we indicated earlier, it’s not motivated by bigotry or prejudice at all.

Heffner: Let’s move on to the question.

Voice: It creates…it creates…just one minute…creates an area of difference of opinion which has created tensions.

Voice: And injustice.

Voice: Among…among the various groups…

Heffner: What do you mean, Ben?

Epstein: For example, right in New York City…

Heffner: Yes.

Epstein: The Mayor of this city is struggling with the problem of how to have more jobs for minority groups without establishing a quota. And he’s seeking a way of developing a pool of qualified candidates of various civil jobs which will be picked rather by random than on a percentage basis, to avoid the quota process.

Heffner: Okay, but I was interested in what you said about “it creates tensions”.

Epstein: Oh, it does.

Heffner: (garbled) the question of (garbled)

Epstein: The Black community believes in the quota system because they think this is the way to achieve what they are seeking.

(Much garbled and stepping on)

Heffner: Do you think that the conflict over this matter of quota has lead to a resurgence of what earlier we would have called anti-Semitism?

Epstein: (???) No, but we have two problems with it…

Heffner: Well, wait a minute…

Epstein: (???) …Dick, I want to answer it.

Heffner: Okay.

Epstein: (???) When Andy Young was fired by President Carter for meeting with the PLO, and there was a cry out of the Black community that it was precipitated by the Jews who resented his working with the PLO, in the discussions that ensued the Black leadership said to us, very clearly and very simply “The Blacks are tired of the opposition of the Jews to their effort at affirmative action”. So that the thing went way below the surface in the Andrew Young…and it gets documented by the Yankelovich study which indicates that there’s more anti-Semitism today in the Black community that there is in the White community. So that you can’t separate it into whether or not the discrimination about which we’re concerned is motivated by anti-Semitism or motivated by a desire to get equity for those who have been disenfranchised. It becomes an integrated whole.

Heffner: Do you make a connection between what you just said and the fact that if you…well, Newsweek, February 16th, 1981 “Again Anti-Semitism”, the crosses, the Nazi marks on Jewish headstones, example after example of attacks upon synagogues. Newsweek, October 1980 – another story about anti-Semitism. Time, October…

Voice: Is that the same Newsweek, Dick, last year, which suggested that American Jews can be a spy core for Israel?

Heffner: I honestly don’t know.

Voice: Well I can honestly tell you it’s true.

Heffner: Well, I think maybe we ought to get onto the question of Israel and the relationship of American Jews to Israel…

Forster: (???) Before, befo9re you do that…go ahead…

Heffner: But I k now what I’m going to…

Forster: (???) I want to go back for a minute to the question you were raising. The outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in the last year which our studies have shown increased in number considerably. People have said “Well this is because there is more accurate record-keeping. Because incidents are being reported more”.

Heffner: You don’t believe that, do you?

Forster: (???) I don’t think that’s so at all. I think it may be partially true, but I do believe that the hoodlumism of the year 1980 was a reflection of a general sense of uneasiness, of wide-spread crime, of young people giving vent to frustrations, much of which was direct anti-Semitism, on an individual basis, and a lot of it absolutely without any hatred of Jews, but rather the attention-getting, publicity-seeing kind of youngster, who figures if he dabs a swastika on a synagogue “we’ll get a lot of attention”.

Heffner: But my question really had to do with whether the tensions that you referred to in terms of the conflict between some of the Black community and some of the Jewish community in terms of quotas, the difference of opinion about quotas, whether those tensions contributed…

Voice: Most of these things happen with White lower-middle class fifteen to seventeen year olds…

Heffner: Okay.

Epstein: I would not…I would not say, on the basis of what we know, that Blacks participated in any perceptible number in these incidents.

Forster: No, but I would say the incidents themselves, and all the things to which Ben refers are an evidence of a deeper-rooted disease.

Epstein: Okay.

Forster: A condition, if you please. And when you talk about the confrontation, the unhappy confrontation between Blacks and Jews that we’ve described. And then you find that Jews are found by the Yankelovich study…Blacks are found by the Yankelovich study to be more anti-Semitic. You’ve got to recognize that these incidents do, indeed, reflect a condition. There’s an insensitivity, there’s an indifference that would allow a Ku Klux Klansman to run for Congress or a neo-Nazi member to run for Congress…Republican or Democrat…California or Michigan…to get fourteen to thirty-two percent of the vote. What are they saying? They’re saying they cannot be concerned with the Congressional candidate’s participation in the Ku Klux Klan or in a neo-Nazi movement. There are more important things on which to base a vote for him. So that these incidents to which we refer I say are reflective of much more serious circumstances, far beyond the problem of superficial dabbing of a synagogue, or of a church, or a school. As Ben indicates there’s a certain illness, if you please, below the surface that’s reflected in these kinds of incidents about which we must be concerned. And the answer is not simply how much organized anti-Semitism is there? But how deep is the problem reflected by these incidents of organized anti-Semitism?

Heffner: Okay. This is the point at which I have to say that our time is up. Just when we going…about the answer the questions that you’ve raised, but I’d like you gentlemen to stay and join me on the program that will be shown next week, to discuss the questions you’ve just raised, and that you raised, Ben, and also this question of Jews and Israel and anti-Semitism in the United Nations. Thanks for joining me today, Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster.

And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you will join us again here on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.