THE wave of anti-Semitic and physical violence against Jews in Europe and elsewhere in the early months of this year is cause for dismay and anxiety. The American Jewish Committee reported 300 incidents of attacks, arson and harassment worldwide, excluding Israel, in April 2002 alone.
But upon closer examination it turns out that almost all the culprits in the incidents in western Europe were gangs of immigrant Arab youths or skinheads. It does not appear that any significant numbers of the local populations in these countries were involved. Obviously, the crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major factor in the recent anti-Jewish acts, but that does not excuse them. Hate based on racial or ethnic identification can never be justified. Still, it should be made clear that protests of Israeli policy are not in themselves anti-Semitic, though there are those who mistakenly hold that *any* criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
European governments in whose countries anti-Jewish incidents occurred were quick to denounce the culprits and take protective measures at Jewish institutions and in Jewish neighborhoods, and nowhere was the legal status or rights of Jews affected. But the reaction within the American Jewish community became one of hysteria and panic. Some within the Jewish establishment here suggested that the future of the Jews is imperiled by a "new anti-Semitism."
The most startling and misleading statement came from Abraham Foxman director of the Anti-Defamation League, who declared at its national convention last February, "I believe that the threat to world Jewry today is greater than it was in the 1930s." Greater than in the Hitler era?!
And Dennis Prager, a widely syndicated Jewish press columnist, opined in April that "This is the scariest time for Jews since the Holocaust. The Jews are being abandoned again," and that they are "threatened with extinction."
A sobering response to this hysteria appeared in The New Republic in an essay aptly entitled "Against Ethnic Panic. Hitler is Dead," written by the magazine's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier. "The community is sunk in excitability, in the imagination of disaster," he asserted. "There is a loss of intellectual control. Death is at every Jewish door ... Imprecise and inflammatory analogies abound. Holocaust imagery is everywhere."
Wieseltier urged a more balanced view of the anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, suggesting that they are not to be compared to Hitlerism either in scope or seriousness. He also took issue with those Jews who insist that "there cannot be a political solution to the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, and that the Palestinians have no legitimate rights or legitimate claims . . ."
THE hysteria seemed to decline in May, especially after a rebuke by one of the principal Jewish leaders in France, where many anti-Semitic incidents had occurred. Haim Musicant, declared, "It's not for Israel or American Jews to tell French Jews what they need to do." He further denounced American Jewish leaders who compared France today to the Vichy (fascist)-dominated France of 1942, saying, "It is totally crazy to compare 1942 and 2002. There is no state anti-Semitism, no occupation, no yellow star in 2002" (Forward, May 17).
Yet it would be wrong to ignore instances where anti-Semitic elements participate in pro-Palestinian demonstrations and shout anti-Jewish slogans. It is an obligation of liberal and progressive people to challenge anti-Semitic statements and literature when they surface at such events.
A forthright response to the wave of anti-Semitism and hostile criticism of Israel was given by Yitzkhok Luden, Israeli correspondent of the weekly Yiddish Forverts, April 12: "The whole world is against us because it wishes to see [Israel] relieved of the outdated occupation and of colonialism. Without a doubt the world will be with Israel again when Israel will take the path that leads to the inevitable peace. This will then become a peace also for the Jewish people in the Diaspora. In addition, this will be the most fitting answer to the new anti-Semitism."
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