Amid new excuses and old animosities, anti-Semitism lingers

The following is excerpted from a speech given to the Anti-Defamation League's national executive committee on Feb. 8 in Palm Beach, Fla.:

This is an assessment of the world scene as it relates to the Jewish people, which I believed would never have to be pronounced after the Shoah. Because of the baggage I carry, I had always hoped and believed that the world had learned something from the horror of the Holocaust.

My greatest nightmare has always been that one day I would wake up and something terrible would happen in America and we, Jews and Israel, would be blamed. It happened, on Sept. 11.

The world may be different, but history has taught us that in times of great stress, instability and unpredictability, there is one thing that is predictable — anti-Semitism. When Europe was being decimated by the plague, Jews were blamed, and Jews were killed.

Fast-forward a couple of hundred years to Malaysia's economic crisis. Millions of Malaysians were told by their leader that they were suffering because the Jews, who control the world's finances, decided to punish them because they support Palestinians.

After a devastating earthquake Mexicans were told the Jews were responsible for the hundreds of deaths because Jews controlled the building trade and were more interested in money than lives of the poor.

When the charge was made that Jews, Israel and the Mossad were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, some of us chuckled. But it didn't take long to realize it was not a joking matter. Today, in the Arab world, Asia and Europe, newspapers, radio and TV carry the big lie that has become a truth: Jews are to blame. How classically anti-Semitic!

I am convinced we are facing a threat as great, if not greater, to the safety and security of the Jewish people than we faced in the '30s. Greater, because 40 percent of the Jewish people are centered in one geographic tiny location.

Today we live in a global village in the midst of a great technological revolution that provides knowledge, information, education and enlightenment, while also being a superhighway for hate. A sermon in Cairo travels across the globe within minutes, through the networks, the Internet, e-mail and Al Jazeera. Globalization facilitates the incitement and hate that make the message of anti-Semitism more potent and gives it strength and a power of seduction that it never before had in history.

Consider also the delicate line between anti-Israel and anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism. We have had to define for ourselves when anti-Israel and anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. For me, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

Remember the U.N. resolution declaring Zionism is racism? It signified that what it is permissible, laudatory and universally accepted for all peoples in the world — self-expression, self-determination, independence, sovereignty — is not permitted to Jews.

It didn't say Irish nationalism is racist, or Rwandan nationalism or French or Palestinian nationalism. It said Jewish nationalism is racist. That is anti-Semitism. And it is still with us.

Take Durban and the U.N.'s "World Conference Against Racism." The lesson of Durban makes what is happening throughout the world today much more dangerous and sinister. At the turn of this millennium and century, the nations of the world decided that, since the world has paid such a heavy price for racism, the community of nations would unite to set standards for dealing with racism. Yet the necessary need for the world to set standards of behavior was never realized. Just one subject united them all — the Jewish people and their Jewish "racism."

We should not have been surprised. The moment a planning meeting was held in Tehran, we should have known the direction Durban would take. What was frightening was that aside from the United States and some belated statements from a very few countries, the world permitted the hijacking of the conference to delegitimize the Jewish people. Good people found it impossible to raise voice, to vote against it or to walk out.

Since the events of Sept. 11, we are being told that the world has changed. The fact that the United Nations continues to vote against Israel the way it does is another significant lesson that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What if there is another calamity? What if there will be a greater price to be paid and will have to be paid? Who will stand with us, by us, for us, when the finger will again be U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel?

In France synagogues are being burned and Jewish children are being attacked. We are being told these events are the result of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but we know it to be anti-Semitism. It is politically expedient for French leaders to remain silent as elections loom with several million Arab votes at stake. They avoid calling the actions anti-Semitism, putting them under the guise of the Middle East conflict or simply crimes. The burning of a synagogue in France, or anywhere, has nothing to do with the Middle East. It is an act of anti-Semitism.

We can no longer tolerate such euphemisms because they are very dangerous. So what did we do? We must be truthful and credibly expose those who condone anti-Semitism. We challenge leadership to stand up and say this is anti-Semitism, and it is unacceptable. We must motivate good people, increase our efforts, and raise our voice. We must develop more creative response mechanisms because the crisis is here now and the danger is real.

We do not have the luxury to err on the side of caution because the signs are there to be read. What we do have is the will not permit history to repeat itself.