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Sunday, June 22, 2003

"Anti-Semitism rears its head"

Denver Post - Guest Commentary
by Bruce H. DeBoskey, Evan Zuckerman and Joyce Rubin

Sunday, June 22, 2003

That ancient bigotry, anti-Semitism, has been creeping into public discourse here in Colorado and elsewhere. Anti-Semitism has often been compared to a virus. History has shown us that sometimes the contagion spreads, and sometimes it abates. After the Holocaust, the world was so horrified by the "final solution to the Jewish problem" that most nations worked hard to eliminate anti-Semitism, and the virus subsided.

But now, the virus is spreading again. Anti-Semitism has risen to epidemic proportions in some parts of the Arab world, where it is taught in schools, surfaces regularly in the media and is spread by fundamentalist clerics and government leaders. In Europe, it has resurfaced in acts of vandalism, arson and physical violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. Terrorist bombers have attacked Jewish targets in Morocco and Tunisia. Last month, concerned officials finally held two separate international conferences on the topic, one in New York and one in Paris.

Here in America, anti-Semitism has become visible in places where it would have been unthinkable a decade ago. On college campuses, in the media and in political discourse, there is an undercurrent of Jew-bashing. Allegations of "Jewish control" of government, media and finances - which used to come only from extremist hate groups - are now being spread by mainstream figures and in the media.

When the United States invaded Iraq, some pundits and even a congressman openly suggested that American Jews were conspiring to dictate Bush administration policies. Respected newspapers across America, including this one, published an editorial cartoon containing blatant and ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes concerning money and greed. The swastika, the ultimate symbol of anti-Semitism, was brandished outside of a Denver synagogue last month by Palestinian sympathizers demonstrating against an Israel advocacy program.

Today's strain of anti-Semitism usually targets Israel in some form. The most socially acceptable way to vent anti-Semitism today is to criticize Israel, the only state controlled by Jews, by holding Israel to standards not applied to any other country. Of course, it is not anti-Semitic to express sympathy with the Palestinian people or to disagree with Israeli government policies. But a hateful bias is revealed when critics subject Israel, and Israel alone, to invective and demonization, while human-rights abuses of other countries are overlooked or excused.

Thus, criticism of Israel has provided the cover for bigots to spread their hate. When French Jews are beaten and synagogues are burned, that's not political protest against Israel, it's anti-Semitism. When pro-Palestinian demonstrators at San Francisco State University chanted, "Hitler didn't finish the job," that's not taking sides in the Mideast conflict, it's anti-Semitism. When "Jews rot in Hell" was spray-painted on a CU-Boulder fraternity house displaying a pro-Israel sign, that's not political discourse, that's anti-Semitism, too.

Why should anyone who isn't Jewish care? The answer is clear: How a society treats those who are in the minority reflects that society's moral health. Wherever Jews and other minorities have been treated with respect and equality, societies have flourished and liberty has prevailed. Wherever Jews have been mistreated, human rights for other groups have also been trampled.

The response of all communities and individuals to anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry must be outrage, condemnation and continued vigilance. We must call it what it is when we see or hear it and raise our voices loudly to educate against it. It must never become acceptable to allow prejudice, hatred and bigotry to flourish. Only through our collective, dedicated efforts will the virus become dormant once again.

Bruce H. DeBoskey is regional director of the Mountain States Office of the Anti-Defamation League. Evan Zuckerman is associate director; Joyce Rubin is assistant director.
Kol hakavod, all!