I was with Will Eisner at his Fort Lauderdale studio in May 2004 as he finished the last page of what would be his last complete book, The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Eisner was extremely excited about getting The Plot into print.

“There will be a lot of challenges to this book,” he told me, anticipating the debate.

“The people who I want to read this are the people for whom Protocols of Zion is being published,” Will said. “The whole purpose of The Plot, the only justification for doing it, is that this medium has the chance of being read by the people for whom Protocols was written. There are 10 books condemning Protocols of Zion,” he said, “all by academics for sophisticated readers. Those are not the people who need to be told that book is a fraud. But in a graphic novel, I have a chance of capturing readers who never heard of this before. The chance of them reading something with illustrations, a picture book, is greater than them reading a condemnation written in text by an academic.”

That’s why Eisner withheld the Arabic language/Middle East publishing rights to the book. He wanted the book distributed there free of charge as educational material.

And that’s why this week’s interview in this series is with Abraham “Abe” Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) since 1987.

Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League

(Photo courtesy of ADL.)

Foxman met with Eisner after The Plot was finished but before it was published and, as you’ll read below, he committed the ADL to realize Eisner’s dream of the book reaching an Arab population that is unlikely to read a more traditional, scholarly work.

A world-renowned leader in the fight against anti-Semitism, bigotry and discrimination, Foxman is the author of Never Again?: The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism. He consistently speaks out against hatred and violence wherever they occur, from the rise of global anti-Semitism to the war on terrorism, church/state issues, religious intolerance and issues relating to the Holocaust. He is a passionate supporter of the State of Israel and a voice for peace in the Middle East.

Born in Poland in 1940, Mr. Foxman was saved from the Holocaust by his Polish Catholic nursemaid who baptized and raised him as a Catholic during the war years. His parents survived the war, but 14 members of his family were lost. He arrived in America in 1950 with his parents.

Foxman was a member of the President’s United States Holocaust Memorial Council, appointed by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

• • •

Will Eisner at work on the final pages of The Plot, May 5, 2004.
(Photo by Bob Andelman.)

ANDELMAN: Where is the intersection of the Anti-Defamation League and Will Eisner? Where do they first cross paths?

FOXMAN: I am trying to remember. Way before he wrote The Plot, I am just trying to remember. I knew we met before. I know we intersected before, because he had I guess a respect and admiration for what we were doing. He reached out, and then we discovered him and began to appreciate his talent, his commitment, his conviction. He began changing the world his way, and that’s when it started, but it really became more intense with The Plot.

ANDELMAN: But at some point did you meet him personally, or were you introduced to him? In terms of discovering his work, did someone introduce you to his work or to him or…?

FOXMAN: We read about it, and then he reached out on some subject. Again, I don’t remember.

ANDELMAN: Why would the ADL be interested in a graphic novel, a comic, as it…?

FOXMAN: Well, we fight bias, we fight ignorance, we fight prejudice, and sometimes the best way to communicate the antidote is in the simplest form of a picture, of a cartoon. People who don’t read books read cartoons. People who don’t read newspapers read cartoons. Unfortunately, the bigot’s message is also very frequently transmitted through cartoons, so here was somebody who saw this vehicle as a means, this tool, as a means to reach out to a greater audience, maybe less sophisticated, I don’t know how one measures that, but certainly part of our society that was infected.

Will Eisner at work on the final pages of The Plot, May 5, 2004.
(Photo by Bob Andelman.)

When he did The Plot, the protocols had been a very painful forgery and Semitic forgery, which has been very painful to the Jewish people in the last hundred years. It has been used to legitimize anti-Semitism, it’s been used to legitimize violence, political bias, etc., and so when we discovered each other again, when he came with the book and he said, look, I did this because of my convictions, and one needs to challenge it and to challenge it in a manner where people will read, let’s join forces. And I think it was about a year before he passed away, and we talked about what we could do with it. Maybe we could some teaching guides to it because it could reach a younger audience. And at the end, he was developing his plans…

And the one thing that we agreed upon, and then he passed away, was, because we raised the issue that it is most prevalent today, most poisonous, the protocols, in the Arab world because of our fundamentalism and Muslin fundamentalism and nationalism, The Protocols were given a life of their own in TV, in cartoons, in books, etc., and he said, okay, you know what? You have the Arabic rights. You do with it… it’s yours, and use it any which way that you think would be helpful to combat the anti-Semitism and bigotry. And then he passed away. We have been in discussions with the State Department, with various elements of the State Department in Washington and here in New York trying to get them to do it. They have new vehicles to communicate to the Arab world to offset the anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic quotient out there, and so I know it is under consideration. The reason we prefer the government is because they have access of delivery. If for any reason they don’t think it’s for them, then we would go the non-profit, commercial route.

ANDELMAN: And where is it right now? What’s the status?

FOXMAN: Somewhere in the State Department, under deliberation.

ANDELMAN: How high has it reached in terms of….

FOXMAN: It’s officially high.

ANDELMAN: What I’ve heard…

FOXMAN: I don’t think it’s helpful to talk in those terms.

Will Eisner at work on the final pages of The Plot, May 5, 2004.
(Photo by Bob Andelman.)

ANDELMAN: Okay. Do you have any sense that it might happen in the coming year? Will it take years?

FOXMAN: Oh yes, one way or the other. One way or the other, it will happen.

ANDELMAN: As I recall, I am trying to think if it was Will who said this to me that what he had envisioned was that it would be published as sort of a newspaper insert the way his old Spirit was and inserted in newspapers in the Middle East. Is that what we are talking about?

FOXMAN: We are talking about any and all possibilities that would get it out there.

ANDELMAN: Why would publishers in the Middle East be willing to even do this? That’s the thing that…

FOXMAN: Well, because there are good people everywhere. Geography doesn’t limit good people, enlightened people. There are good people there who understand that it is a forgery, that it is a blasphemy, that it is hideous, that it has caused hate and prejudice and bias, and who would be interested in educating people as to what it is. I am an optimist. I wouldn’t get up in the morning and go to work if I wasn’t an optimist.

ANDELMAN: Has the ADL ever done anything like this, used something in this format to get the message…

FOXMAN: No, no.

Will Eisner at work on the final pages of The Plot, May 6, 2004.
(Photo by Bob Andelman.)

ANDELMAN: If this gets done or when this gets done, could this open up a new avenue, or would this be a one-time…

FOXMAN: There aren’t too many Wills out there.

ANDELMAN: Yeah. So you see this as kind of a one-time….


ANDELMAN: What did you think when you first read The Plot?

FOXMAN: One is skeptical about this art form to start with. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about Maus, so it took me a while. Then it convinced me, it grew on me, and I realized that it has great potential for education, because, again, the vehicle is such….

ANDELMAN: You said it had to grow on you. Did you read comics as a kid?


ANDELMAN: All right, so it really did have to grow on you. Well, you’re honest about that. I appreciate that. Has there been resistance within the organization to doing this?

FOXMAN: No, no.

ANDELMAN: Have you got an estimate of what this is going to cost? If you had to go a different route, like….

FOXMAN: Yeah, we do have estimates. I don’t think it’s productive to talk about it.

ANDELMAN: Okay. Any conversations that you can recall that you had with Will about this in particular, maybe to kind of get across his….

FOXMAN: Oh, he understood how serious the problem is, and he also understood that there could be a very dramatic counter-force, because it would reach audiences which essays wouldn’t reach, which books wouldn’t reach, which speakers wouldn’t reach. He was very excited about the possibility of this being a significant counter-force to the hate and the prejudice that is out there, especially with the protocols.

Sample page from Will Eisner’s graphic novel, The Plot.

ANDELMAN: Who is carrying the ball on this since Will has passed? Is there someone with his family?

FOXMAN: Yeah, there are people, family and those who hold his commercial interests. There are enough good people out there with whom we communicate, work with, follow up with.

ANDELMAN: Did you communicate with Will while he was working on The Plot, that is to say….


ANDELMAN: You didn’t see it until it was done.

FOXMAN: Well, before it was published.

Will Eisner at work on the final pages of The Plot, May 6, 2004.
(Photo by Bob Andelman.)

ANDELMAN: A lot of people will read this who are not Jewish and don’t know and may not even care about the mission, but I wonder if you could just take one last minute and explain about the mission a little bit of the ADL historically.

FOXMAN: The Anti-Defamation League was established and founded in 1913 partially in response to the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia, where members of the American-Jewish community who felt America is a lot different and were traumatized by the fact that a Jew was lynched in the South because he was accused of killing a Christian girl. Even though the courts found him innocent, he was dragged out of jail and lynched. That started an organization whose vision in 1913 was very, very far-sighted.

It was a vision to establish an organization who would fight the defamation of the Jewish people, which is a 1913 word for anti-Semitism, but had a dual mission, and the other part was to fight for, provide for great opportunity for our people, for all citizens alike. To fight bigotry and prejudice, not only against Jews but against all, understanding you can’t have one without the other. People who are bigots tend to hate today one and then tomorrow another, that you need to lower the level of bigotry, raise the level of tolerance and respect for all in order to protect and provide for the promise of America or to come close.

We have been around 93 years. We have written a lot of laws, we have helped write some laws, change some attitudes, but we haven’t developed a vaccine against prejudice, so some will still be around. We will always need efforts and vision and initiatives such as the ones by Will Eisner to find new ways.

I guess the situation that I can find in comparison is when Roberto Benigni did his movie Life is Beautiful, and everybody said, “You can’t throw comedy and humor at the Holocaust.” And yet it was a brilliant approach, because it attracted younger audiences, new audiences, to confront the issue of the Holocaust but in a different format, and so here, too, I believe the vehicle of cartoons can attract a broader audience to counterbalance hate and prejudice.

ANDELMAN: Is there anything that Will’s fans can do to help this along?

FOXMAN: Well, I don’t know. I guess at this point, promote the book in English. There is a wide world of people who read English, and it has a long way to go, and also to make sure that it is published in as many languages as is possible.