Foxman, Abraham

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FOXMAN, ABRAHAM (1940– ), Anti-Defamation League (adl) executive. Born in Poland in 1940, Foxman survived the Holocaust when his parents entrusted him to their Catholic nursemaid, who baptized him and raised him as her own son. After the war, which Foxman's parents, Helen and Joseph, miraculously survived, they returned to claim him but faced several custody battles, which they ultimately won. Following their safe passage to a Displaced Person's Camp in the American Zone in Austria, the family eventually moved to the United States in January 1950.

Three imperatives that have shaped his life are the legacy of the Holocaust, particularly his experience as a hidden child, and his belief in the necessity of working to insure the security of the State of Israel and the safety of Jews to live freely as Jews everywhere, especially the United States.

Foxman's first assignment at the adl was as assistant director of the Law Department, where he worked under the guidance of the legendary Arnold Forster and the leadership of the late national director Benjamin R. Epstein. His ascension through adl's professional staff ranks mirrored the growth of the organization itself. As the first director of national leadership, Foxman created the annual Washington Leadership Conference. He founded and directed adl's International Affairs Division, launching an Israel missions program that, at one point, had brought nearly one-third of all members of Congress on their first visit. When Nathan Perlmutter succumbed to cancer in July 1987, Foxman was appointed national director.

Foxman elevated the profile of adl through a combination of passion, intuition, and intellect. Two seminal and defining events would propel him to a mantle of moral authority: the first was adl's response to the virulently antisemitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-white diatribe delivered in November 1993 at New Jersey's Kean College by the Nation of Islam Lieutenant Khalid Abdul Mohammed. Among other rants, Mohammed wondered what was under the Pope's skirt, mocking the aging John Paul ii and infuriating American Catholics. adl's public rebuke of the noi leader in a full-page New York Times ad triggered a hailstorm of condemnation, from the halls of Congress to pulpits across the country. By meeting such hate head-on, Foxman placed adl on a stage that transcended the perceived boundaries of the organization's public advocacy.

Shortly thereafter, adl released its benchmark survey on the growing influence of the Christian right. Titled The Religious Right: the Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, this book-length report, intended to be a factual and critical assessment of some of the individuals and groups within the movement and their efforts to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state, was met with near universal hostility from those whom it addressed. Nonetheless, the resulting public hue and cry, and the "summit meetings" that would follow, established Foxman as the linchpin in a major national debate, which continued into the first decade of the 21st century, of the role of religion in American national life.

In 2000, Foxman rebuked Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Joseph *Lieberman, who spoke of the need for religious values in American life, for injecting religion into the public square. Foxman did not repeat this call during the 2004 election, when religion again entered the public square, for he was still regaining his balance after a nearly year-long controversy over Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ. Foxman's initial private and respectful inquiries to Gibson went unanswered. Instead of following the customary American protocol and meeting with Jewish leaders in the hope of finding common ground, Gibson and his followers turned the tables and accused their accusers of being anti-Christian, a charge reiterated so often on cable television shows, in conservative newspapers, and among web "bloggers" that it became the dominant story. Some in the Jewish community would come to accuse Foxman of generating more interest in the film than it might have otherwise garnered.

[Richard S. Hirschhaut (2nd ed.)]