The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
President Bush has played an unsung role in combating worldwide anti-Semitism and in seeking to stem the surge of anger that has swept the world in the last decade.
The White House required East European nations that sought to join NATO to offer concrete proposals to combat anti-Semitism in their countries. “I have to give a lot of credit to the Bush administration,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “A major decision in NATO enlargement has been dealing with Jewish issues. The U.S. has repeatedly raised these issues.”
Randolph Bell, the second U.S. ambassador and special envoy for Holocaust issues, said, “We had what we called a road show. We went to all seven countries more than once…. We wanted to make sure they came to terms with anti-Semitism in their countries. This is not a Jewish issue. It’s a human rights issue.”
President Bush raises the issue of anti-Semitism at most White House meetings with foreign leaders. Nor is anti-Semitism a partisan issue. As undersecretary of state in the Clinton administration, Stuart Eizenstat created the position of ambassador and special envoy for Holocaust issues. The position gained momentum in the Bush administration. “The Bush administration deserves a lot of credit,” Eizenstat said.
The White House also was instrumental in keeping three European conferences on anti-Semitism on track, against the wishes of some Middle Eastern and European nations. The Jordanian and Egyptian governments lobbied especially hard against these conferences, conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“They wanted no mention of Israel, the Middle East, Arabs or Muslims,” said Abraham Foxman, head of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell “made calls, he lobbied the foreign ministers. The U.S. wouldn’t let go.”
Much credit for Bush’s strong policies in the area of global anti-Semitism goes to the presence of two African-American Cabinet members: Secretaries of state Powell and Condoleezza Rice. In 2004, then-national security adviser Rice was given a book, published in Egypt, containing anti-Semitic cartoons with French subheads. Two days later, she discussed the book and its contents with a high Arab diplomat. “I know what this is all about,” Rice told him, according to a Jewish activist. “I grew up in the South. I saw the cartoons that demonized us, and made us vulnerable to lynching. Why don’t you stop it?”
Prince Hassan of Jordan told delegates at an OSCE conference in Brussels: “I would like to remind you that it is barely 60 years since the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism, that very light sleeper, has again raised its ugly head.”
Many of the delegates who represented 55 nations noted that Jews are not the only victims of anti-Semitism. History shows that anti-Semitism is the harbinger of devastation for larger communities as well – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, even atheists. Hitler’s anti-Semitism ended with his nation and much of Europe in ruins. Most recently, the outbreak of worldwide anti-Semitism has been accompanied by terrorist attacks that target the larger community.
“Jews are the canaries in the mines,” said Rabbi George Driesen of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue in Bethesda.
A January 2005 State Department report stated, “The increasing frequency and severity of anti-Semitic incidents since the start of the 21st century, particularly in Europe, has compelled the international community to focus on anti-Semitism with renewed vigor. Beginning in 2000, verbal attacks directed against Jews increased while incidents of vandalism surged. Physical assaults including beatings, stabbings and other violence against Jews in Europe increased markedly, resulting in a number of cases in serious injury and even death. Also troubling is a bias that spills over into anti-Semitism in a segment of the left-of-center press and among some intellectuals.”
The report was in response to a congressional directive led by Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and Holocaust survivor who is now chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The report cited four reasons for this eruption of anti-Semitism:
● Traditional anti-Jewish prejudice that has pervaded Europe and some countries in other parts of the world for centuries.
● Strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.
● Anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by some in Europe’s growing Muslim population, based on long-standing antipathy toward both Israel and Jews, as well as Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories, and in Iraq.
● Criticism of both the United States and globalization that spills over to Israel and to Jews in general, who are identified with both.
Nonetheless, there are hopeful signs. For the most part, anti-Semitism is no longer state-sponsored, except in the Middle East. Men and women of goodwill, as well as governments and business groups, are organizing opposition to this recurring scourge. The U.S. government has taken a strong stand against global anti-Semitism and is encouraging other nations to do likewise. And the Europeans, at least, are taking steps to rid themselves of this ancient affliction, a centuries-old blight on their otherwise rich civilizations.
About the Author: Martin Tolchin is senior publisher and editor at The Politico (www.politico.com), where this excerpt first appeared. Susan Tolchin is a professor of public policy at George Mason University.
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On his shloshim, I want to discuss a term I’ve heard countless times about Rav Aharon: Gedol HaDor
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