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Jewish Journal

Warnings

by Rob Eshman

May 9, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, prophesied that the effect of a Jewish ingathering would be immediate. "Its very inception," he wrote in "Der Judenstaat" in 1896, "means the end of anti-Semitism."

Well, not quite.

Here we are, 54 years after Herzl's dream came true, and no one is feeling very secure these days.

On Thursday, May 2, at a meeting room at Hillcrest Country Club, a cherry-picked group of entertainment industry insiders gathered at the invitation of the Endeavor agency's David Lonner to hear David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), analyze the tremendous upsurge in anti-Semitism in the world.

Over 400 anti-Semitic incidents have been documented in France during the last 19 months. French officials have dismissed the frequency, saying the synagogue desecration, property vandalism and personal attacks are the result of Mideast-inspired friction between France's 600,000 Jews and its 5 million to 6 million Muslims.

But the poisson stinks from the head down: French officials have yet to reprimand their ambassador to Britain who referred to Israel as "that sh--ty little country," and an internal Socialist Party memorandum recommended the party take a strong pro-Palestinian positions to attract more French Arab voters.

There is no question that the source of much of this anti-Semitism is the Arab world. A recently released AJC report documents a "culture of hatred" against Jews that permeates Muslim mosques and schools. One of the most popular series on Egyptian television is a dramatization of the anti-Semitic tract, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." "I hope we've heard the alarm bells," Harris said.

We've heard, but is that enough? Is even being right enough? After all, in the 1930s, Jews weren't just right, they were completely innocent -- there were no Israel Defense Forces on CNN, no conflict between a Jewish army and another nation. Even so, anti-Semitism consumed Jewry.

Are we back to the 1930s, I asked Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum. "I don't think there's any evidence to indicate there is growing evidence of anti-Semitism in the U.S.," he said. But, he agreed with Harris, "there is massive evidence of growing anti-Semitism in Europe. There is wholesale importation into Islam of discredited anti-Semitism.

"We've had the feeling that Israel was the insulation against anti-Semitism," he went on. "What we've seen is that Israel can not only quench the flames, but it can also fuel the fire. If it were a state like any other state, it wouldn't have triggered this vehement of a response."

I'm not sure what to do about this. Nobody is. They will find a cure for cancer before they find a cure for anti-Semitism. Maybe all we can do, if we can't eradicate the disease, is treat the inflammation. Here are a few suggestions:

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•Gang up on them. A diversity of Jewish voices serves us well, but there is also much to be said for engaging, as much as possible, in common action with a common voice.

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•Fence off Israel. I don't believe for a moment that anti-Semites need reasons to hate, or those who want Israel destroyed can be appeased. But pulling settlements out of largely Palestinian-occupied territory and putting up a security fence would enable the Israelis to live in relative security and keep Israeli-Palestinian clashes off the nightly news -- that's why 75 percent of Israelis support the idea. "Israeli policy can intensify [anti-Semitism] or diminish it," Berenbaum said. "Nothing exists in a vacuum."

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•Talk to the Muslim world. An ill-informed and enraged Muslim world is the breeding ground for so much of today's anti-Semitism. As Jews gear up to launch media campaigns aimed at American and European public opinion, we should also find ways to reach Muslim audiences. "So much money and time and ink are wasted to explain Zionism to the Western nations," wrote Muhammed Achtar. "If only a thousandth part of this effort were expended to clarify Zionism to the Arabs." Achtar was editor of the daily newspaper Falestin when he wrote that -- in 1930. Today, we can use the Internet, satellites, e-zines and guerrilla marketing to try reaching Muslims around the world.

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•Boycott Boycotts. Anemone-like, at the first signs of danger, our instinct is to retract. Boycott the Los Angeles Times. Boycott The New York Times. Boycott the United Nations. Boycott France. The call to boycott seems more like a scream than a strategy. But a minority's power is better used through engagement, persuasion and vigilant correction. Jews, who have often been the victim of boycotts, should be especially careful in wielding that blunt and often cruel tool.

In introducing Harris, Lonner said the current crisis must serve as a wake-up call. Find a way to help and help, Lonner urged his audience. The question is not whether to get involved, but how. "Give somewhere and do something," Lonner said. "Give somewhere and do something." Amen.

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