Abraham Foxman called it "a speech that I didn’t think I'd have to give."
It was a talk on the recent rise of anti-Semitic acts and attitudes.
Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he'd planned to give the assessment next year, at the organization's centennial. But he said events in the last couple of months had changed his mind.
"However great the progress, complacency is not in order," Foxman told 250 ADL leaders Feb. 10 at their annual meeting in Palm Beach. "We need to be vigilant. We can't slip back."
He cited a few such trouble spots:
The Rev. Keith Hudson, father of pop singerKaty Perry,told hundreds of worshipers at an Ohio church how to make Jews jealous: "Have some money, honey."
A billboard in New York City in December advertised discount vodka: "Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing."
Pro-Israel activists are often called "Israel Firsters" -- allegedly putting Israel's national interests ahead of their own country.
Criticism of Israel often devolves into accusations that "Jews control American policymaking."
Foxman also dipped into an ADL study of American attitudes toward Jews, released this past November. The study found that 30 percent of Americans believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. It also said sizable numbers of Americans believe Jews hold too much power on Wall Street and are responsible for the death of Christ.
Such slurs somehow persist in the face of the obvious growth of tolerance and pluralism in America over the last two generations, Foxman said. Colleges no longer use ethnic or religious quotas. Taunts like "Christ Killer" are no longer heard. Clubs -- and hotels like The Breakers itself -- no longer post signs like "No Jews Allowed."
Some canards just come from ignorance, Foxman said. In one example, he said the ADL had just asked U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to reinstate a Holocaust education curriculum for military officers, a program originally developed in 1970.
The reason: a photo on an Internet blog showing a U.S. sniper team in Afghanistan. The team was posing with a flag displaying the double lighting bolt of the SS -- Hitler's dreaded bodyguard corps which, among other tasks, guarded Jews in death camps.
Finally, he saw a "loss of shame about anti-Semitism" as memories of the Holocaust fade, and as survivors of the Nazi slaughter die off. He mentioned the free use of "Nazi" and "Holocaust" in politics and TV shows -- "trivialization of the Holocaust," he called it.
In an interview afterward, Foxman agreed that anti-Semitic attitudes in America have fallen for years -- from 30 percent to 15 percent since 1965. But he found the recent uptick in incidents still troubling. He added that violent acts against American Jews still amount to 1,200-1,400 per year.
"Jews are still the number one targeted community," he said.
James D. Davis