Anti-Semitism is back with a vengeance: desecration of cemeteries, attacks on synagogues, vicious graffiti, physical assaults, and slurs from global newspapers and political leaders. These old expressions of hatred—taboo for more than 60 years—have a new face and a new life.
Fed from the underbrush of anti-Zionism, the new anti-Semitism is spreading like wildfire throughout the Muslim-dominated Middle East where schoolchildren are taught to hate the Jews. Even more troubling is its resurgence in Europe. Europe’s new agents of anti-Semitism are not the right-wing nationalists of the Nazi era but Islamic extremists supported by the European political left who hate Israel.
Ironically, Israel the redemption of the last European wave of anti-Semitism—has become the touchstone for hatred of Jews in Europe and around the globe. “That the solution to one century’s Jewish problem has become another century’s Jewish problem is a cruel paradox,” notes Jonathan Rosen in the New York Times Magazine.
The worst European offenders are France, Belgium, England, and Germany. France, which has both Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations, has experienced an explosion of hate. French leaders stubbornly continue to deny any problem, blaming anti-Semitic acts on general hooliganism among Muslim youth. Yet hundreds of anti-Semitic acts involving Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, and schoolchildren occurred last year.
This new strain of anti-Semitism, says columnist Suzanne Fields in the Washington Times, is “more dangerous than that of the right because it filters down from the intellectual anti-globalist and anticapitalist, pro-Third World ideologies flowering in the media and in the universities.” It threatens not only the Jews but also efforts to promote global security, democracy, and tolerance.
Sadly, Jews are the scapegoats for the problems in the Middle East, no matter the complexities of the problems or culpability of Muslim tyrants, fanatics, and terrorists. The sharpest rise in recent anti-Semitic incidents began with the breakdown in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and renewal of Palestinian violence in September 2000. Images of Israeli forces fighting the Palestinians continue to feed anti-Semitic attacks in the Arab and European press.
Israel, the face of Western democracy in the Middle East, is treated as the Jewish pariah in the region and in the United Nations. Muslim leaders revile it. Look at what happened after Iran’s terrible earthquake. Iran’s mullahs rejected emergency aid for the shattered city of Bam from only one country—Israel even though Israel was the closest, with the most modern search-and-rescue capabilities to reach victims. Michael Ledeen in National Review Online noted that Iran’s mullahs “preferred to see thousands of [Iranians] die, rather than accept humanitarian assistance from the Jews.”
The United States is not immune to the spread of hate. Too many professors and students on our college campuses cross the line from debate on the Palestinian issue into hate speech against Jews. At the end of last year, a film festival titled “Kill the Jews” was held at San Francisco State University. And in May 2002, the university’s Jewish students, while commemorating the Holocaust, were surrounded by hostile students shouting, “Hitler should have finished the job!” and “Die, Jews, die!”
Pope John Paul II has been clear on this issue. At the start of his historic visit to Israel in March 2000, he said: “We must strive always and everywhere to present the true face of the Jews and of Judaism, as likewise of Christians and of Christianity, and this at every level of attitude, teaching, and communication.” In an address to the chief rabbis in Jerusalem, the pope called the Jews “our elder brothers,” repeating what he said during a 1986 visit to the synagogue in Rome.
Throughout history, attacks on the Jews have been a sign of a tear in the social fabric. The American Jewish Committee’s David Harris writes in New York Magazine, “Anti-Semitism is not a uniquely Jewish problem. It’s a cancer which left unchecked infects and ultimately kills democratic societies.”
Jews cannot win the battle against the new anti-Semitism alone. The plight of the Jews in many ways is the plight of America, defending democracy and freedom in a hostile world. Indeed, the peace and security of all freedom-loving peoples are tied to the outcome of this struggle.