The news on July 7, 2005–when a series of bombings in London killed scores of innocent train and bus commuters during morning rush hour–felt eerily familiar. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and another Washington, D.C., landmark (believed to have been the U.S. Capitol building or the White House) were the targets of Islamic extremism. Nearly 3,000 died that day. In London on July 7, more than 50 people were killed, with hundreds more injured. But the carnage wasn’t the only horror those two tragedies had in common.
The lethal stench of anti-Semitism also clung to both nightmares, a type of hatred that is, infuriatingly, not all that unusual.
As the confusing early reports came in from London on July 7, it was quickly reported that Israeli finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been given a head’s up before the attacks, warned not to go ahead with the speech he was scheduled to deliver because of security concerns. That story was bogus, and that would later be reported, too. But Internet, radio, and TV outlets had already run with the advance warning lie; the bell could not be unrung.
On the morning of 9/11/01, one powerful rumor claimed that Jewish people who worked at the World Trade Center were tipped off not to go to work that morning. Ultimately, the “news” came from the same place as the July 7 “blame-the-Jews” scapegoating reflex seemed to: a historically deep store of anti-Semitism.
Make no mistake, anti-Semitism is an undeniable part of the war Islamic militants are currently waging on innocents the world over.
It’s hard to pass a synagogue in a big city, where Jersey barriers and cop cars are commonplace, or hear murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl being forced to “confess” that his “father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish” and not realize how ferociously this hatred is fueled. As Gabriel Schoenfeld writes in The Return of Anti-Semitism: “the United States is now locked in a conflict with adversaries for whom hatred of Jews lies at the ideological core of their beliefs.”
While the use of the term anti-Semitism may seem amorphous, like a media buzzword of the week, it has history and is, to some extent, quantifiable.
According to the FBI, there were 931 anti-Jewish hate crimes in the United States in 2002 (compared with 155 anti-Muslim attacks). Across the pond, a 2003 report noted that “opinion polls prove that in some European countries a large percentage of the population harbors anti-Semitic attitudes and views.”
But this heinous sentiment goes beyond the war, domestic acts of violence, and ignorant personal prejudices. Anti-Semitism can get into the public bloodstream and influence the key debates of the day.
That Jewish “neo-con” hawks in the Bush administration drove us to war in Iraq is commonplace in American foreign-policy debates, for example, their supposed dual loyalties to Israel unduly influencing the president.
Anti-Semitism, in fact, often seems the rule rather than the exception in international relations. It was only days before the 2001 attacks when the United Nations held a shameful conference in Durban, South Africa.
Ironically named the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, it let anti-Semitism all hang out. The conference itself condemned the Middle East’s only democracy, calling Israel a “racist, apartheid state”–not surprising in an atmosphere where Jewish nationalism itself has long been considered a form of racism.
However enlightened we may believe we are, ignorance and hate flourishes in our day. As Phyllis Chesler, author of The New Anti-Semitism, has argued, “Many people still believe that the Jews run the media, control the banks, killed Christ, seek world domination, and have ears everywhere.” And today, add to that a global reach–where “Jew hatred is being mass-produced.” When that hate finds its way into the mainstream consciousness, it might as well be true.
In 2002, for instance, it was widely reported that Israel had perpetrated a massacre in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. The British Guardian editorialized that Israel’s actions in Jenin were “every bit as repellent” as the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The Jenin atrocity, however, never happened, even according to a U.N. investigation. But people believe that it did to this day—again, the damage had already been done.
Instead of being unacceptable–as it should be–all too often anti-Semitism is tolerated by civilized people who should be repulsed and outraged by it. That it is a centuries-old bias often makes it somewhat “dog bites man”–which is all the more reason to condemn it clearly and loudly and often. And it doesn’t help the cause of good versus evil when the prime minister of Britain speaks on the floor of the House of Commons after the London bombing, and, in listing nations that have also fallen victim to Islamic terrorism, leaves out Israel (where bus bombings have long been a reality, not a fear).
You don’t have to be anti-Semitic to be part of the problem. Consciously or not, what is not said by a prime minister and what is erroneously reported by a wire service are all symptoms of a malignant societal tumor.
–(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.