SALT LAKE CITY — Jews and Mormons have a lot in common and should stand closer together.

That's what the leader of the Anti-Defamation League stressed during his first visit to Salt Lake City.

Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the ADL, was in Utah last week and told the Deseret News editorial board Thursday morning that he had learned a lot during his meeting with six apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We have a lot in common, Jews and Mormons," he said.

He said a group of Mormons visited him a few years ago but this was his first time in Salt Lake, outside of a few brief airport layovers.

Foxman said that during his visit he saw in detail the emphasis the church puts on humanitarian service, genealogy and strengthening families.

He said he told LDS Church leaders, "We can maybe help you."

That's because he believes both Jews and Mormons suffer prejudice and bias — mostly from ignorance.

He said the LDS Church also lacks a voice on the outside, such as the Jews have with the ADL.

He said Mormons and Jews need to become closer and that mutual understanding is a good first step to better relations.

Foxman admitted that the Mormon proxy baptism doctrine — which was discussed with church leaders this week — is still a troubling issue for him. But he said, "We understand each other better. We will continue the conversation."

The Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1913 "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all." ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.

Foxman predicts that times will get tougher because there is a lack of civility in the nation more severe than has been seen in a long time.

He said that a "perfect storm" exists right now because of three factors: the election of an African-American as president; immigration issues; and the economic crisis.

But despite some doom and gloom, Foxman is still optimistic.

"I start my day believing we can change people's minds and hearts," he said. He's been the national ADL director since 1987 and has worked for the organization since 1965.

He stressed that no one is born a bigot — the behavior is learned, though it can be difficult to unlearn.

"I want respect," he said of his goal. "Don't love me. Respect me. Love is fickle."

When Foxman began his ADL career, he said polls estimated that one in three Americans were anti-Semitic. Today it is down to 14 percent — though that still equals about 35 million Americans. What's more, Foxman said, 2009 saw the most anti-Semitic incidents worldwide since the ADL has been keeping records.

He also worries that the anonymity on the Internet fosters bigotry, similar to how the Ku Klux Klan was able to thrive facelessly into the mid-20th century.

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