Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century

Taboo no longer?

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Muslim anti-Semitism has ranged of late from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad's enthusiastically received claim at the 2003 Islamic Summit Conference that "Jews rule this world by proxy," to the Ramadan holy month broadcasts of multi-part dramatic TV series purporting to document Jewish plans to subjugate the world. Such series, widely shown across the Muslim Middle East, rely heavily on the infamous 19th century anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as "proof" of their claims.

Then there's the constant demonizing in Muslim newspapers and magazines of Jews as "pigs and sons of monkeys," and the fiery sermons of Muslim clerics who equate Jews with Nazis and maintain that virtually all Israeli measures to contain Palestinian terrorism amount to nothing less than a new "Holocaust." Yet another example from July 2003 is the charge in a Saudi Arabian newspaper that Jews of Iraqi ancestry will seek to return to their former homeland now that Saddam Hussein has been ousted "for the realization of expansionist Zionist goals."

Given the heightened state of political tensions that have inflamed the Middle East for nearly a century, Muslim anti-Semitism, it may be argued, can be understood as an inevitable, if tragic, group response to a seemingly unsolvable conflict. Surely there are also Jews who, as a result of the conflict, blindly view all Muslims as supportive of hateful terrorism without ever having spoken person-to-person to a single Muslim.


Less easily understood, however, is the resurgence of Western European anti-Semitism. There, French Jews have been attacked and Jewish schools burned by arsonists. Israeli academics--whose area of research has nothing to do with politics or Israeli policy--have been uninvited from European academic conferences that likewise aren't political in nature or subject matter. In Turkey, suicide bombers attacked two synagogues during Shabbat prayers in late 2003.

Writing in The Jerusalem Report, commentator Stuart Schoffman postulates that Western European anti-Semitism is both an attempt to shake off Holocaust guilt by arguing that Jews no longer warrant sympathy due to Israel's alleged wrongs, and "a twisted expression of atonement--in France and Belgium in particular, but elsewhere too--for (Europe's) own sordid colonial past."

Also a factor is Western Europe's burgeoning Muslim population. It is simply politically expedient--not to mention a hoped-for hedge against revengeful terrorist rage--for Western European nations with growing Muslim under-classes and shrinking, if not miniscule, Jewish communities, to excuse or even agree with Muslim anti-Semitism rather than confront it.

A European Union report on growing anti-Semitism on the continent unwittingly highlighted this last factor. The study concluded that Muslim youths were in large part responsible for the surge of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe. The EU withheld from publicizing the study--prompting Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Cobi Benetoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, to jointly accuse EU leaders of exhibiting anti-Semitism. (EU commissioners said they decided to withhold the study because its methodology was flawed.)

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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.