Local ad laudable, but its combating old anti-Semitism

If a Jewish Rip Van Winkle woke up in 2002, having gone to sleep in 1932, he might make this comment after scanning the newspapers: "We have a lot of new technological stuff, such as television, computers and heart transplants, but we have the same old anti-Semitism we had 70 years ago."

He would be wrong about that, but, based on what he read in the papers, he would have good reason to be just as worried in 2002 as he was in 1932. However, if he wanted to do something about this anti-Semitism, he would have to understand some important differences between the two eras. And with that understanding, he would find the ADL's recent ad against anti-Semitism in the San Francisco Chronicle and Jewish Bulletin laudable but incomplete.

In 1932, for example, the source of anti-Semitism lay in the cumulative culture of Christian Jew-hatred. Father Charles Coughlin was becoming this country's most effective anti-Semite in the name of Christianity. In Germany, a major political party carried the "Christian" label.

The Muslims were not in this picture. Historian Bernard Lewis writes that "the earliest specifically anti-Semitic statements in the Middle East occurred among the Christian minorities…They had limited impact [on the Muslims] and at the time, for example, of the Dreyfuss trial in France…Muslim comments usually favored the persecuted Jew against his Christian persecutors."

In contrast, almost all of the recent anti-Semitic acts in Europe and America have been generated by groups of Arab Muslims. They have had their non-Muslim backers, but therein lie more differences.

For one thing, the potent groups of American anti-Semites in 1932 were politically right wing. Today, the main non-Muslim supporters of Arab-generated anti-Semitism in America tend to be politically left wing. The same tendency applies to Europe.

Rip Van Winkle might well ask whether these are differences without a distinction: Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, deadly in any form. But if we are looking for remedies, these differences are important. Anti-Semitism is not a specific sequence in the human genetic code. Today anti-Semitism in the Arab world, Europe and America is shaped by three different sets of circumstances.

Although the animosity between Palestinian Arabs and Jews continues to be based on territory, it has recently been overlaid by the rise of a virulently anti-Semitic, radical Islamism that uses the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a dramatic focus, but is primarily driven by an anti-Western, specifically anti-American bias. The surge of left-wing anti-Jewish sentiment among non-Muslims in Europe has its roots in the left's anti-Americanism. Israel is seen as a handmaiden of American imperialism, of which the Palestinians are the victims. And in that, according to some "liberal" European politicians, world Jewry is a sinister force.

Although Christianity in general is at a low ebb in Europe, the old-fashioned culture of anti-Semitism has obviously not died there. However, the basic connection between Arab anti-Semitism and its leftist European support centers on anti-Americanism and American support of Israel.

America is still another story. Rip Van Winkle would remember that in 1932, American Jews were suffering from severe economic, educational and political discrimination. Today such discrimination against Jews is almost absent, and surveys show the lowest level of anti-Jewish prejudice ever.

However, there is a shocking amount of implicit support for Arab-generated anti-Semitism from a highly vocal, leftist minority in our colleges and media. The recent attack on Jews at San Francisco State University was an example. It was generated by Arab and ideologically anti-American, non-Arab students around the issue of Israel, but while criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic, the attack was attended by such slogans as "Death to the Jews" and "Hitler should have finished the job."

The remedy for the worst anti-Semitism in the Muslim Arab world will be the defeat of radical Islamism. The remedy for the Israel-connected anti-Semitism in America is to remain vigilant in the war against radical Islamism and terrorism, and maintain support for Israel, stances the great majority of Americans uphold. Continental Europe is probably hopeless, as it has so often been, but if America succeeds in its purpose, Europe may well fall into place.

The recent ad by the Anti-Defamation League called for a condemnation of anti-Semitism and group hatred as "unacceptable," an enforcement of hate-crime laws, and an encouragement of intergroup "understanding." Those are fine objectives, and the ADL is to be congratulated for mounting such an ad. But it might have been published in 1932.

Today an ad that goes further is needed (quite in keeping with the ADL's larger agenda), calling for steadfastness in the American purpose in this war, including support for Israel's companion struggle. Some of the non-Jewish signatories might be more reluctant to sign such an ad, but it would be closer to addressing the roots of anti-Semitism in 2002.