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The resurgence of anti-Semitism

Posted by Marjorie Pritchard  November 7, 2011 12:05 PM

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By Abraham H. Foxman

Anti-Semitism has been resurging around the world over the last decade. The combination of anxiety over terrorism, concerns about financial stability, campaigns against Israel, and the diminution of the longfelt shame after Auschwitz about exhibiting anti-Semitism have led to this resurgence.

Even in the United States, where Jews feel so at home, there are several disturbing trends. In a new survey of American public opinion and anti-Semitic attitudes, conducted in mid-October, we found a 4 percent spike from two years ago in the number of Americans who hold anti-Semitic attitudes. And our annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents revealed that there were 1,239 incidents in 2010, including 64 anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts alone.

On American campuses, anti-Israel activity has sporadically spilled over into anti-Semitism, making life uncomfortable for Jewish students, albeit at a limited number of universities.

And while the usual extremists and racists such as the National Socialist Movement and Ku Klux Klan continue their anti-Semitic activity on the margins of society, manifestations of anti-Semitism surface as well in more respectable circles, most recently in the case of John Mearsheimer, professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” who revealed his anti-Semitism in a recent endorsement of a racist book in the United Kingdo.

In other words, anti-Semitism is not a history lesson, it is a current event.

That's why I’m so pleased that Gov. Deval Patrick will be joining Elie Wiesel, the moral conscience of the Jewish world, Fred Lawrence, the president of Brandeis University and me tonight at Faneuil Hall to address the challenge of contemporary anti-Semitism. The governor’s appearance makes clear that this is an issue for all residents of Massachusetts, indeed of all Americans, not only for the Jewish community.

So what are the greatest threats and what can we do about them?

The main threat comes from the intersection of old, classical anti-Semitism with what is often called the “new anti-Semitism.”

The “old” are the series of dangerous stereotypes and conspiracy theories that have permeated civilization for centuries, which caused so much damage and eventually led to the Holocaust. The Jews are evil; The Jews have too much power and influence; the Jews only care about money; the Jews killed Christ; the Jews are not loyal citizens. These are some of the classical, pervasive notions that poisoned attitudes toward Jews from time immemorial.

And then there are the conspiracy theories about Jews that have exploded on the scene in the last decade. Millions of people around the world believe that Jews, not Al Qaeda, were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some people blame Jews for the financial collapse of 2008. And there is even a growth in denial of the Holocaust, based on the anti-Semitic fantasy that Jews control all forms of communication and imposed the "lie" of the Holocaust on the world to win sympathy for Israel.

Together with all this is the new anti-Semitism, the campaigns against the legitimacy of the state of Israel as a vehicle to legitimize attacks on Jews.

Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. I am saying that the demonization of the Jewish state, blaming everything that goes wrong on it, the comparison of Israel to the Nazis or the denial of the right of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in their historic homeland are indeed anti-Semitism and must be called what for what they are.

Unfortunately, many, though hardly all, of these attacks emanate from segments of the Muslim world. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly denies the Holocaust and proclaims that Israel will no longer exist in 20 years. Hamas, the Islamic Palestinian terrorist group, has a governing charter that not only rejects Israel’s right to exist but shamelessly blames all the evil in the world on the Jews.

And, when conflict breaks out in the Middle East, as in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, anti-Semitic incidents surged to unacceptable levels. This rise is attributable to the anti-Israel propaganda coming from Europeans seeking to isolate Israel and from Middle East television coverage -- both of which incite Muslim residents of European countries.

Where it all comes together is when ideologues of different persuasions find common ground in blaming and criticizing Israel and spurring anti-Semitism. The left, the right and the Islamic world have little else in common but on Israel, a tacit coalition exists.

At the same time, we in the Jewish community have been and continue to be motivated by the theme of "Never Again."

Fortunately, we have had a great partner in this effort: the US government. Over the years both Democratic and Republican administrations have taken many initiatives -- to help rescue Soviet, Syrian and Ethiopian Jews, to ensure that millions of diverse people around the world would be educated about the Holocaust, and to work tirelessly for Middle East peace and ensure Israel's security.

This is not the 1930s all over again. It is, however, a time of its own dangers for the Jewish people.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author, most recently, of “Jews & Money: The Story of A Stereotype.”

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