Surge of anti-Semitism must not go unopposed

Sunday, May 26, 2002

The aftershocks of Sept. 11 combined with recent events in the Middle East have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism around the globe arguably more vicious and violent than anything experienced by Jews since World War II.

Synagogues in Europe are bombed and Jews are attacked while many government officials appear indifferent or blame the upheaval on Israel. Meanwhile, right-wing candidates spewing fascist rhetoric are being taken seriously by a surprising number of European voters.

The United States is not immune from this latest surge of anti-Semitism. Although Jews are safer here than anywhere in the world, attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are growing. Even in Berkeley – the supposed home of “free speech” – two Orthodox Jews were beaten recently and a cinderblock was thrown through the window of the Jewish cultural center, according to The New York Times.

More disturbing still are the unrelenting campaigns of hate against Jews perpetuated throughout the Arab world. Often framed as “anti-Zionism,” much of what is circulating (including in the government-controlled media) resurrects anti-Jewish images from across the centuries – and goes far beyond any legitimate criticism of Israel.

The infamous 19th-century forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” purporting to reveal a Jewish plot for world domination, has been recently re-published many times in Arab nations. Demonic images of Jews – including depictions of the medieval libel that Jews drink the blood of non-Jewish children in their rituals – are widely disseminated. And, in yet another chapter in the long history of blaming the Jews for every disaster, polls show that millions of Muslims around the world remain convinced that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Is this flood tide of anti-Semitism the second phase of the struggle for a “final solution to the Jewish question,” as George Will argues in a recent Washington Post column? Or is Leon Wieseltier right when he warns in this week’s New Republic against over-reacting to current events – what he calls “Jewish panic” – with exaggerated comparisons to the Nazi era?

Of course, Wieseltier has a point. Synagogue bombings, sadly, are not new. European anti-Semitism is an old disease that even the Holocaust couldn’t cure. And in the Middle East, Jews now have the capacity to fight back in defense of their homes.

Nevertheless, I’m in favor of ringing the alarm bell loudly – without hysteria, but with great vigor. Here’s why.

The terrorists who seek to destroy Israel (and the United States) will stop at nothing. They’ve hijacked Islam and fashioned an ideology of hate and violence no less dangerous than the ideologies of fascism and communism that killed millions of people in the 20th century.

The many efforts to dehumanize Jews – especially in the Arab world – recall Nazi propaganda designed to reduce Jews to a problem of insect infestation requiring extermination. Now, as then, the ground is prepared for ridding the world of the “Jewish problem.”

Does anyone seriously doubt that the terrorist networks (and the rogue states that support them) would use any means – biological, chemical or nuclear – to wipe out what Saddam Hussein calls the “deadly cancer” that is Israel? Once they have the capacity, they will use it. And that, indeed, would be the “final solution.”

That’s why Jews in Israel and throughout the world have much at stake in this war on terrorism. And, truth be told, so do the Palestinian people long held captive by the ideology of hate and terror.

Here at home, this current wave of anti-Semitism represents a small minority of Americans. Nevertheless, in tone and scope it’s the most disturbing outbreak in a long time. Laurie Zoloth, director of Berkeley’s Jewish studies program, reports that earlier this month demonstrators at the university shouted at Jews, “Get out or we will kill you,” and “Hitler did not finish the job.” This is ugly stuff.

In the struggle for religious liberty in Virginia more than 200 years ago, James Madison famously warned that “it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” Tragically, recent anti-Semitic attacks in this country and around the world are far from the first assault on the religious freedom of Jews. But if there is no one left to attack, it could be the last.

That’s all the more reason to sound the alarm loudly – and then do everything possible to ensure that “never again” means “never again.”

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