Though great strides have been made in combatting bigotry, it now "travels the globe in nanoseconds, protected by the anonymity" of the Internet, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a recent lecture at Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim. "We have not eradicated [anti-Semitism], and now, on the Internet, it's very heavy."
The scientists behind the Web have a responsibility, said Foxman, because "we're being bombarded by misinformation, disinformation and hate, and we have not yet figured out how to quantify it, much less defeat it."
The Internet, though, offers bigots only the relative safety of anonymity, said Foxman.
"Our laws permit you to be a bigot … only if you take responsibility for your bigotry."
Foxman cited Georgia's Anti-Mask Act of 1952, which he said helped break the back of the Ku Klux Klan.
"Our civil society is such that, yes, you can be a bigot. But there are consequences. You can be a bigot but, if we have anything to say about it, you will pay a price."
Foxman used Mel Gibson as a prime example of the "social consequences" of public anti-Semitism.
"Mel Gibson, in this country, in the entertainment world, was an icon … . What he was doing was giving credibility, on film, in our lifetime, to deicide."
Foxman continued: "Where is Mel Gibson today? He did his movie, and one day he revealed himself to the American people. He's no icon anymore."
He lamented that, because of bigotry and security fears, "there are synagogues that [don't] have rabbis or cantors, but they'll have security" for High Holiday services.
"Would you have believed that, gathered here tonight, we'd need police cars?"
Speaking on the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly — and the day Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also appeared on "Larry King Live" after addressing the assembly — Foxman said that, even after surviving the Holocaust and seeing the worst of the hatred the world has to offer, he was overwhelmed that human beings must still confront issues thought to have been overcome.
He said he couldn't believe that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hadn't the courage to stand up and say, "This crosses the line of diplomatic courtesy," and so allowed the U.N. to act as a platform for Iran's president to spout prejudice.
He also lambasted King for interviewing Ahmadinejad on TV: "Who cares what this bigot says?" shouted Foxman.
At one point, he cited a recent report from the Pew Survey of Global Attitudes stating that anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe. Despite that sobering news, he said there is "a window of good news in Europe today," and that the leaders of Germany, France, England and Italy were all dedicated to the security of the Jewish state.
"You have, at this time, a stronger constellation of European leaders close to Israel" than at almost any other time in history, said Foxman.
Discussing the current election, the ADL head said the presidential campaign had been "so politicized in our community that it's almost silly to a point."
Jews, he said, generally vote 80 percent Democrat and 20 percent Republican, and he said the fight for the Jewish electorate essentially boils down to a struggle for that 20 percent.
"The difference between [U.S. Sens. McCain and Obama], when it comes to the words about Israel — I can't find it," said Foxman, adding that when trying to determine which would be the best candidate for Israel — or on any other issue — "the answer to the question is to ask yourself who's best for America."
Even after more than two decades at the ADL, where he's faced down the ever-present threat of bigotry, both at home and abroad, Foxman said he was still an optimist.
After surviving the Holocaust, seeing Israel established and freeing Soviet Jewry, "how dare we be pessimists?"