Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century

Taboo no longer?

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It is an irony of Jewish life that it took the Holocaust to give anti-Semitism a bad name. So widespread was international revulsion over the annihilation of six million Jews that following World War II anti-Semitism, even of the polite variety, became the hatred one dared not publicly express. But only for a time.

At the dawn of the 21st century, virulent, open anti-Semitism has surfaced yet again, and in a big way. One need only read a Jewish newspaper or website--replete as they are with accounts of verbal anti-Semitism by high officials and intellectuals, and anti-Semitic physical attacks by common street thugs--to understand the depth of concern this has stirred among Jews.

The United States

The new anti-Semitism is most apparent in Western Europe and the Muslim world. But even in the United States, long viewed as the world's safest nation for Jews, anti-Semitism's resurgence may be seen in the proliferation of websites maintained by right-wing extremists and anti-Israel activists, and in the rhetoric of left-wing anti-globalization demonstrators on the streets of New York and Washington, many of whom equate Israel with fascism.

modern anti semitismModern Israel, the state its founders believed would provide safe sanctuary for Jews, is the prime target of contemporary anti-Semitism. It is recognizable in anti-Israel criticism that blurs the line between legitimate opposition to Israeli government policies and a barely concealed hatred that blames Israel's very existence--and by extension Jews everywhere, all of whom are presumed to support Israel's every decision--for much of the world's troubles.

The new anti-Semitism is also discernible in the claims that "neocons"--now a trendy pejorative for some well-connected, political conservatives (some of them Jews) who are aligned with Republican policies--are manipulating U.S. foreign policy for Israel's benefit. It amounts to a new twist on the age-old anti-Semitic canard that what Jews seek above all else is global hegemony.

How bad is the situation? "The combination of Jew hatred and the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction by hostile governments makes the threat of this anti-Semitism the greatest since the Holocaust," Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman warned in a December 2003 newspaper column.

The Muslim World

anti-semitism today

Foxman's mention of "hostile governments" was a reference to Middle East Muslim nations that view Israel as a colonialist cancer injected into their midst without any moral or historical justification. Tensions have existed between Jews and Muslims since the seventh-century Jews of Mecca rejected the religious and political leadership of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Still, the violent and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ratcheted up Muslim animosity toward Jews--and the Jewish state--to unprecedented global levels. Making it worse are radical Islamists who, to advance their own cause, cast Jews, along with "crusader" Christians, as the enemies of all Muslims, Palestinian or otherwise.

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Ira Rifkin

Ira Rifkin is a national correspondent for Religion News Service based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval.