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April 10, 2008

Two cheers for the Administration’s flawed anti-Semitism report

http://www.jewishjournal.com/religion/article/two_cheers_for_the_administrations_flawed_antisemitism_report_20080411

Last month, the State Department issued its report on contemporary global anti-Semitism. There's much to admire in it, albeit with a significant reservation.

It's a melancholy fact that such a report is necessary. Many American Jews of the post-war generation believed -- or at least hoped -- that anti-Semitism was dying. Our experience was of acceptance and assimilation. Surely Jew-hatred was going the way of flat-earthism, demonic possession to explain mental illness and other such irrational doctrines.

We were wrong.

"The oldest hatred," ever smoldering, has burst into flames again. So we have to be aware of anti-Semitism, study it, monitor it, condemn it. Various Jewish organizations are doing a good job of keeping an eye on our enemies. But in this great and good country, the government itself has lent its prestige to officially exposing and deploring world anti-Semitism. It's worth taking a moment to reflect on how unusual that is, historically.

One great virtue of the report is that it rejects the purported distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: Denying the Jewish people its right of national self-determination (the essence of Zionism) is a sort of anti-Semitism. Describing anti-Zionism as "the new anti-Semitism," the report states that it "has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel's perceived faults to its Jewish character."

Anti-Zionism is common among, but not limited to, Muslims in the Middle East and in Europe.

In addition, the report does not just go after the obvious and politically easy targets, such as the Holocaust-deniers, the cemetery desecrators or the Arab disseminators of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The State Department boldly condemns the anti-Semitism of the United Nations. It explores the dismal record of many U.N. bodies, including the Israel-obsessed U.N. Commission on Human Rights (recently replaced by the no-better Human Rights Council), the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. Such undiplomatic honesty is praiseworthy.

But here's a puzzle. The State Department can find anti-Semitism all over the world -- in Venezuela, Argentina, France, Hungary, Belarus, Syria, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, New Zealand and many other countries. It properly identifies anti-Semitism at the United Nations on behalf of the Palestinians. But when it reaches the Palestinians themselves, the report is unexpectedly reticent. Reporting on Hamas is limited to its use of the "Protocols" (footnote on Page 21); a quotation trivializing the Holocaust (Page 24); and a mention of broadcasts featuring the suicide-bomb-encouraging Mickey Mouse rip-off Farfour (Page 56). (Oddly, this is in the section on "Anti-Semitism in Private Media.") When it comes to the Palestinian Authority, the State Department has even less to say: a single reference to Holocaust denial back in the 1990s, and only by the PLO-affiliated Palestinian Red Crescent (page 24).

Given the stated aim of the Bush administration to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, suspicion arises that the anti-Semitism report has pulled its punches for political purposes.

Jaime Petersen, spokeswoman for the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, firmly denies the charge. She observes that the report is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive, and suggests that the department's religious freedom and human rights reports give fuller accounts.

That would be fine, if it were true. But the International Religious Freedoms Report 2007 does not fill in the gaps. Actually, it's more interested in how Israeli security measures impede access to mosques than in anti-Semitism. Indeed, it includes this remarkable claim: "Terrorists did not systematically attack anyone in the occupied territories for religious reasons ...."

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007 is not much better on this score.

So the impression lingers that, for whatever reason, the U.S. government is soft-pedaling Palestinian Authority anti-Semitism. To get a truer picture, one must go to groups like Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). From PMW we learn, for example, that the official PA newspaper described Aladin Abu-Dheim, the murderer of eight students at Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, as a "groom" and his burial as a "wedding" -- the language of martyrdom. We learn that on Feb. 28, 2008, Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper: "Now we are against armed conflict because we are unable. In the future stages, things may be different."

We learn that on April 20, 2007, Dr. Ahmed Bahar, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said on PA television: "Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies.... Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don't leave even one."

America cannot support peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with wishful thinking and willful ignorance of the character of the PA. Only American pressure to liberalize Palestinian society, including the elimination of official anti-Semitism, has a hope of working. So we should thank the State Department for its anti-Semitism report and wish it continued success, and even greater clarity and accuracy.

To view the State Department's report, visit http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/102301.pdf. Palestinian Media Watch is at http://www.pmw.org.il.

Paul Kujawsky (kujawsky@pacbell.net) is a member of the board of directors of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles.

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