Unmasking Anti-Semitism

One of the great ironies of the efforts to create a divestment movement against Israel on campuses such as Harvard is the refusal to give even a peremptory look at what has gone on in Israel over the last two years.

Unlike the first Palestinian uprising where there was great division in Israel, with the left suggesting at times that they could understand Palestinian frustrations because there seemed little hope of changing their situation, today Israel is not in turmoil.

The left was in charge at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and went above and beyond all previous efforts to end the conflict by offering the Palestinians a state on more that 90 percent of the territories, dismantling 80 percent of the settlements and sharing the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.

So when the Palestinians flatly turned it down, offered nothing in return and turned to violence and suicide bombs, the left this time recognized that the fault could not lie with Israel, that the failure of the peace process was the result of something they had not wanted to believe—that the Palestinians were still less interested in building an independent state of their own than in destroying the Jewish state.

And yet even when the Israeli people overwhelmingly elected Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister—62 to 37 percent—because they demanded security and deterrence, they also made clear that on all the key substantive issues they were more willing than ever before to make concessions if (a very big if) the Palestinians stop the violence and incitement, and negotiate in good faith. According to exit polls the day Sharon was elected, Israelis were twice as likely as two years earlier (when Ehud Barak defeated former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) to make concessions on Jerusalem, a Palestinian state and settlements.

The point is that the people of Israel are ready for concessions if only the terror stops and the Palestinians finally give up their old dreams about Israel disappearing. If people are truly interested in changing the lives of the Palestinians as well as those of Israelis, pressure should focus on Palestinian policies and attitudes that could once again generate that great Israeli longing for peace, security and accommodation.

Of course, even if none of this were true, efforts to single out Israel as uniquely evil in the world or to rationalize attacks on Jews as merely emotional reactions to the heated politics of the Middle East are absurd and dangerous.

Israel remains the lone democracy in the Middle East, with all institutions—a free press, a multitude of parties and an independent judiciary—that are at the heart of true liberal democracies. The region and the world have tens of states that do not come close to lining up to Israel’s standards, which in Israel’s case are particularly worthy of esteem because they are maintained despite the fact that the country has been under siege for large parts of its history.

There is a need to call this one-sided assault on Israel together with the many anti-Jewish incidents around the world for what they are: Anti-Semitism. University President Lawrence H. Summers and other college and university administrators have courageously spoken out about rising anti-Semitism, and they deserve commendation for their words.

If we are to avoid revisiting the kind of hatred we saw during World War II, we must begin by admitting that there is a problem: Anti-Semitism is alive and well, surely in the Middle East where many of people believe the big lie that Jews were behind the events of Sept. 11, in Europe where hundreds of serious anti-Semitic incidents have occurred over the last year and where governments have done little, and even in the U.S., where as Summers pointed out, a number of campuses have witnessed intimidation of Jewish students and vicious, unfettered and sometimes violent anti-Israel activity.

The toxic rhetoric of the recent campus divestment campaigns similarly have raised the specter of anti-Semitism. It is unconscionable to draw comparisons between Israel, a democratic, pluralistic state and strong U.S. ally, to apartheid South Africa, or to accuse the Israeli government of “racist” policies or “ethnic cleansing.” It is not surprising that university administrators have categorically rejected such offensive and outrageous comparisons.

Fortunately, today unlike the 1930s and 1940s, Jews are not helpless. There is Israel. There is America and there are good people like Summers, who are ready to stand up and say no to the evil of anti-Semitism.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.