In the overall scheme of things, the incident doesn't seem to merit more attention than the screaming headlines in England's tabloid press. After all, with the world anxiously awaiting the next terrorist shoe to drop on civilization, why make a big deal over "private" comments made recently by the French ambassador to St. James Court at a private dinner party in London.
In between drinks and canapés, Ambassador Daniel Bernard, a close confidant of French President Jacque Chiraq, was overheard saying: "Why should we be in danger of World War III because of these people?" No, the senior diplomat, who previously served his country with distinction at the United Nations was not talking about Sudan, Iraq, North Korea or other nations harboring international terrorists. No, as he emphasized five times, he was referring to "that shitty little country, Israel."
Almost as outrageous as the slur was the reaction, or, more accurately, lack thereof. Absent was the stiff protest from Whitehall to the Quai d'Orsay. Neither British Prime Minister Tony Blair nor Foreign Minister Robin Cook demanded an apology. They need not have worried -- none was forthcoming.
The French Embassy merely released the following statement: "The ambassador regarded it as a private dinner with friends. He was surprised to have his remarks reported in this way."
Actually, no one should be surprised by Bernard's expletives. It only reflects the fact that too many of Europe's elite have come to accept and even embrace anti-Semitism. One can only imagine the outpouring of righteous indignation from the international community if such a slur had been launched against any Islamic state during the holy month of Ramadan. But Jews of Europe and beyond know full well that they can expect no words of solidarity and support.
For the sobering truth is that a generation after the Nazi Holocaust, the new Europe is ready to stand in silent tribute for dead Jews, but has no time for the living. This blasé attitude is manifested in the stinging failure of governments to deal forcefully with the largest onslaught against European synagogues and Jewish schools since the 1938 Kristallnacht. Most of the 200 hate crimes were linked to the current intifada in the Holy Land.
Long before the horrors of Sept. 11, more than 100 of those attacks were launched against French Jewry, while authorities refused and still refuse to deal with the fact that many of these outrages were inspired by Iranian- and Libyan-backed extremist Muslim clerics, whose anti-Jewish and anti-American diatribes continue unabated to this day.
Nowhere was this ill will of apathy and loathing more pronounced than in South Africa at the recent U.N. Conference Against Racism, which despite its lofty title, quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-American hatefest. The overwhelming majority of the 3,900 NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), many of them European, voted for or stood by silently as a document was approved calling for the reinstituting of the infamous 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.
Nor were our fellow European human rights activists much help as we and the other Jewish delegates in attendance were subjected to a crescendo of taunts and physical threats, culminating in a protest march of 17,000 South African Muslims holding aloft banners proclaiming: "Hitler should have finished the job."
Only the United States, itself subject to withering criticism by the international gathering, had the guts to walk out of the conclave that mainlined hate into the bloodstream of the world body charged with protecting the universal rights of man. Forty-eight hours later, the hatred that sank Durban propelled Al Qaeda's suicide onslaught against America.
Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that the Arab world would embrace anti-Jewish racism with a vengeance not seen since the heyday of Nazi Germany.
Witness a new series produced by state-run Abu Dhabi Television, which aired on prime time during the month of Ramadan. Titled "Plots of Terror," this family fare featured Kuwait's most beloved comedic actor as Ariel Sharon. The Israeli Prime Minister was portrayed as a latter-day vampire who mass produces and markets "Dracu-Cola" from the blood of Arabs -- the younger the better.
The climax of the first installment showed Sharon tossing babies into a bonfire, then reflecting on the birthday present of 20 Arab children given to him by the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin: "We drew their blood and drank it. It was one of my best nights."
Not to be outdone by this 21st century update of the Medieval Christian blood libel, Saudi Arabian television plans to air a 30-part miniseries, "Horseman Without a Name," based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a debunked czarist canard invoked by every Jew-hater of the 20th century.
And the cavalcade of officially sanctioned Jew hatred goes far beyond ratings-hungry television executives. The horrific charge of blood libel (i.e., Jews ritually murdering gentile children for the Passover matzah) is the theme of a book authored by Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Talas. The book will soon be made into a motion picture that, in the words of the Egyptian producer, will be "the Arab world's answer to 'Schindler's List.'"
Far from being isolated for his hate mongering, Talas was recently awarded a doctorate in history by France's prestigious Sorbonne. Not to be outdone, Talas' new boss, Syrian President Bashir Assad, used the occasion of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Damascus to accuse the Jewish people of murdering Jesus and plotting against Muhammad. Sadly, the normally outspoken pontiff stood by silently.
There are many historic reasons for the ambivalence of Europeans to anti-Semitism. But if they think for a moment that tacit encouragement of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world will spare the West any further agony and anguish from Al Qaeda-style hate, they are dead wrong. Not when the faithful answered amen to an imam's sermon in Hamburg, Germany, after Sept. 11, which declared: "God, we implore you, to destroy the United States of America!"
And anti-Jewish credentials won't save European elites from the vision of the Turkish-based extremist group IGMG. The organization, which is linked to an outlawed extremist Turkish party, claims to have 500 branches in Germany and more than 200 in France, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium. The group pursues its dream of erecting an Islamic state in Europe, with the "promise that we will fight for the triumph of the Islamic revolution [and] will not accept outside of the Koran any system of government."
A generation ago, Europe's early appeasement of Adolph Hitler led to World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. Ambassador Bernard and others would do well to relearn a basic fact --Jews are often the first victims, never the last. The leaders of the European Union should take their lead from President George Bush, who said, "There is no good or bad terrorism," and remember that hate, the source of all terrorism, must be fought regardless of its target.
If Europe fails to, then we will all soon be invoking Santayana's prophetic warning: "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He can be reached at www.wiesenthal.com.