Published on Thursday, December 11, 2003 by the San Diego Union-Tribune
Israel and the Rise of Anti-Semitism
by James O. Goldsborough
We are in the midst, warns the Anti-Defamation League, of an "explosion of global anti-Semitism."
The ADL keeps track of attacks against Jews, and there is no disputing the evidence: There has been an increase in attacks, especially in Europe and the Muslim world.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center reports 15,000 signatures sent to the Greek government, "demanding government action to quell the volume of anti-Semitic invective manifested in Greece over the past 21 months." Meanwhile, says the ADL, "the onslaught of anti-Semitism in the Muslim and Arab press and in statements from Arab leaders continues unabated."
Americans are not immune to these charges of anti-Semitism. Last year, the ADL reported that anti-Semitism was on the rise in America, and last month it reported that the Iraq war has "provided a forum for the sort of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protest that spread across U.S. cities and campuses last fall."
Americans and Europeans have fought for decades to rid themselves of prejudice. Why would anti-Semitism be on the increase? Neo-Nazi fringes still exist on both continents, but any increase in anti-Semitism comes not from them. What is the source?
For example, the ADL states that the rise in anti-Semitism in America reverses a 10-year decline and represents "an undercurrent of Jewish hatred" persisting in America. Its national survey showed that "17 percent of Americans – or about 35 million adults – hold views about Jews that are unquestionably anti-Semitic."
Europe's putative rise in anti-Semitism would reverse a long trend toward tolerance. Europe's religious and military wars are over. The European Union has integrated its many nations and expanded into the heart of Eastern and Southern Europe. Why would Greek and Turkish societies, where Jews have long been accepted, turn anti-Semitic?
Why would anti-Semitic incidents be up in Germany, where anti-Semitism has been a crime for half a century, and in France, home to 600,000 Jews successfully integrated into French society? Why now?
The European Union's answer points in the same direction as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, with its reference to a 21-month-old trend. In 2001, Israel changed governments and the Palestinian uprising took off. The people of Europe have not turned against Jews, they have turned against Israel's government, which, in a recent EU poll, they ranked as the greatest threat to world peace.
People can be against Israeli policy without being anti-Semitic just as they can be against Iranian or French policy without being xenophobic. This is recognized by the ADL when it says, "the ADL does not consider mere criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic or illegitimate."
In fact, however, people who criticize Israeli policy are often called anti-Semitic, a convenient amalgamation whose purpose is to stop criticism of Israel. The rise in European "anti-Semitism" is really a rise in criticism of the Sharon government.
When governments enflame world passions through aggression, they pay a price. Any American who lived abroad during the Vietnam War knows this. American and European Jews should not suffer because of Israel's policies but, in fact, they do.
Here's what Amos Elon, Israel's most important public intellectual, wrote recently: "One begins to realize what 35 years of Israel's mean, arrogant, land-grabbing, and above all, deeply humiliating occupation have wrought in this (Palestinian) society."
Jews, whether they support the occupation or not, are blamed, just as Americans were blamed whether or not they supported the Vietnam War and whether or not they support George W. Bush's war. This is no more anti-Americanism than opposing Israel is anti-Semitism.
As Humphrey Taylor, head of the Harris Poll, wrote recently, current surveys show world opinion "is not so much anti-American as anti-Bush.
Israel's policy under the Sharon government creates a problem for groups like the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal that is largely of their own making. If such groups adopted a responsible position toward Israeli government policy, instead of blanket approval, what passes as anti-Semitism would not be the issue it has become.
Whenever Americans call on Israel to take steps toward a just settlement with the Palestinians, you can count on knee-jerk opposition from Jewish spokesmen. A few weeks ago it was presidential candidate Howard Dean under attack, who had dared call for an "evenhanded" American Middle East policy."
Last week, it was Sen. John Kerry's turn. As president, Kerry said, he would appoint someone such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or James Baker special envoy to search for the Middle East peace Bush ignores.
Appoint any one of them, responded Rabbi Martin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center, and the "Arab side wouldn't need to be represented at all."
That is a gratuitous slap at three Americans who have fought as hard for Middle East peace as any. For groups fighting to abolish anti-Semitism, it didn't help the cause.
© Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.