The Anti-Defamation League is marking 100 years since its founding in Chicago by a group of Jewish leaders who came together to fight bigotry and other forms of anti-Semitism. The ADL's new National Chair, Barry Curtiss-Lusher wants to emphasize that although the world has changed in many ways since 1913, its mission remains essentially the same.
Barry Curtiss-Lusher: At the core we fight hatred, we fight bigotry, we fight discrimination. And one of the oldest forms of that is anti-Semitism. And we're a Jewish organization and we're the first line of defense, both in - we hope - doing things to prevent it. And we're very active in schools. We're very active - out there in the community in a proactive way. But we're also there as one of the first places to call, when there's a hate crime, when there's an incident.
Mary MacCarthy: In Europe - both Western and Eastern Europe - there are some very aggressive forms of outspoken anti-Semitism. My understanding is that in the United States it's not as much of a problem. But are there pockets of anti-Semitism still within the United States?
Barry Curtiss-Lusher: Well, yes - and it's how you define the problem. So ADL has periodically done national polling on anti-Semitism. I think our last one was this past year. We ask a series of questions, that all get at an element that we would consider anti-Semitic. Now we don't consider people who respond to that survey to be an anti-Semite if it's only one question that they answer in that way. I think it's three, or more, that we then classify them that way. Now, in the United States, the people who we classify that way are about twelve percent. A high-water mark a number of years ago was 18 percent. So 12 percent is reduced. It's not very high, you would say. But 12 percent of 330 million people is 40 million people.
As the National Chair of the ADL Mr. Curtiss-Lusher spends much of his time in New York and traveling internationally. But his home base is here in Denver, with a Jewish community that has more than doubled since he moved here in the late 1970s.
Barry Curtiss-Lusher: There's both that well-established community that's been here for multi-generations. And a lot of new people who've come in just in the last twenty years. And so that creates some interesting dynamics. New thinking, freshness, people willing to take risks and do things…
Mary MacCarthy : In your work, here in Denver and nationally, what do you see as the biggest challenges?
Barry Curtiss-Lusher: I think the interrelationship of hate - someone who's involved in gay-bashing is going to tend to have anti-Semitic tendencies. Someone who's a racist tends also to be an anti-Semite and a gay-basher. And so our coalitions with the LGBT community, with the African-American community, with the Latino community, is very important to us. And I think the challenge is continuing to grow those. And be mutually respectful and mutually supportive.
In recent years, the ADL's battle against bigotry has taken on the the newest forum for hate crimes - the Internet.
Barry Curtiss-Lusher: We have a close working relationship now with many of the Internet providers. All the names you'd expect. To work as part of a task force. To address how we define hate on the Internet. What you do about it. Because we're also a free speech civil rights organization. So we believe in addressing hate speech with more speech. With programs proactively, initiatives to educate people not only about what it is but what can be done about it.
Whether it comes to cyber-bullying or hatred on the street, on television or at work, Mr. Curtiss-Lusher wants to bring renewed energy to the national and international conversation about ways to combat discrimination against all minorities.
Mary MacCarthy, JN1, Denver