The arrival of the new millennium proved to be a false alarm for computer users. But, it turned out, the switchover from the ‘90s to the ‘00s did unleash the J2K virus.
Think of it as history’s practical joke on the Jews, one that’s still going strong as the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close. Things were going so well through most of 2000 – building on positive trends in the 1990s – when matters took a sudden and sharp turn for the worse.
The Israelis and Palestinians finally were hashing out the details of a final peace deal, an Orthodox Jew seemed poised to be elected vice president of the United States, and it was a time of unprecedented wealth and philanthropic activity in the Jewish community.
For a few months it seemed American Jews could have it both ways: full integration without assimilation at home and a Jewish state free of war in the Middle East. The safety and acceptance that had been denied Jews for centuries and then in Israel for decades appeared to be within reach.
Before 2000 was over, however, the convergence of these utopian developments had unraveled. Joe Lieberman was undone by hanging chads and confused Palm Beach, Fla., voters who ended up voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore. The peace process, meanwhile, collapsed after the Palestinians rejected Israeli proposals for a final deal and launched the second intifada.
Instead of a golden age in Jewish history, the past 10 years ended up bringing waves of unforeseen anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism worldwide, increased scrutiny of Jewish organizations in the United States, and growing threats to Israel and the West from Islamic terrorist organizations and Iran. Not to mention the near collapse of the global financial system, a slumping world economy and a shrinking Jewish philanthropic landscape.
If the eruption of the intifada in September 2000 killed the hopes for peace, then the sure signs that we had entered a new, darker era came almost a year later, starting with the United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa.
Organized and billed as a global forum to combat racism, the meeting also became a magnet for anti-Israel activists. According to an on-the-ground report from JTA, the Arab Lawyers Union distributed pamphlets filled with caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis, spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money at hand.
Nearby, at an overlapping conference of NGOs, fliers were found with a photo of Hitler declaring that if Hitler had won, “There would be no Israel, and no Palestinian bloodshed.” During a Palestinian-led march, one placard read “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.” Not far from there, someone was selling copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Jewish activists were stunned by the intensity of the invective they encountered, underscoring the degree to which they were unaware and unprepared for the scope and intensity of the anti-Israel movement emerging worldwide.
Organizers ultimately managed to keep the harshest condemnations of Israel out of the conference’s final document. But Palestinians and their allies used their time at the gathering to coordinate and launch an international campaign aimed at isolating and delegitimizing the Jewish state through divestment, boycotts and other means.
Days later, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks robbed U.S. Jews (and Americans of all stripes) of any sense of safety from the gathering storm of militant Islamic forces overseas.
Israel, meanwhile, would face a series of violent threats, starting with a relentless Palestinian terrorism campaign that killed more than 1,000 Israelis and crippled the country’s tourism industry. Later, Iranian-aided terrorist organizations – Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon – fought two wars with Israel in less than three years and unleashed a barrage of missile attacks against the country’s civilian population.
While Israel’s southern and northern fronts remain relatively quiet for now, the country’s security establishment is racing to head off what it views as the greatest potential threat: a nuclear Iran.
As the decade comes to a close, the push for new anti-Iranian sanctions has become a top priority for many U.S. Jewish organizations. They enter this legislative battle after years of enduring sharp political attacks from those attempting to neutralize the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.