JERUSALEM (Aug. 29)
From Caracas to Stockholm, Jewish communities around the world fear they increasingly are becoming targets of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility in the wake of Israel’s war this summer with Hezbollah. “Jewish communities are now feeling more insecure,” said Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress’ Policy Council. “The situation in the Middle East is not just Israel’s problem.”
The congress brought its leadership to Jerusalem this week to confer with top Israeli officials about protecting vulnerable Jewish communities abroad. The smaller and more isolated communities feel most vulnerable, including those in Latin America and parts of Europe.
Much of the world media portrayed Israel as the aggressor in the recent war, although Hezbollah launched the violence with a deadly and unprovoked crossborder raid. Anger over the destruction produced by Israeli airstrikes in some cases is being channeled into anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence, Jewish leaders said.
“It’s hardly a new problem that Jewish communities have found themselves being criticized, attacked or even under threat as a result of wars in the Middle East involving Israel,” but it’s much worse today than in the past, said Robert Wistrich, director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Hebrew University.
“Today there is a much more widespread antipathy and even revulsion in many mainstream public opinion circles, in Western countries as well, toward Israel that is more intense than it was 25 years ago,” said Wistrich, a professor of European history.
The WJC delegation met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; Defense Minister Amir Peretz; Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the head of Israel’s ground forces; and members of the Mossad and Israel’s intelligence community.
Together they tried to strategize on how best to protect Diaspora communities and how Israel might improve its image abroad.
The July 28 shooting attack at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a Muslim American gunman, in which one person was killed and five others wounded, is cited as the most violent attack abroad that may have been connected to the war.
“People feel they have a legitimate platform, that it’s okay to act out,” said Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who was also in Jerusalem this week.
He said some of the anti-war demonstrations around the world had “heavy elements of anti-Semitism,” where it was deemed “legitimate to carry placards that were crudely anti-Semitic.”
Foxman said ADL offices had received an upsurge of requests from Jewish communities seeking guidance on how to boost security.
Jack Terpins, president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, said he has been in close touch with the Arab community in his home country of Brazil to quiet tensions. Much of that community is of Lebanese descent.
In a small town outside Sao Paulo, a Molotov cocktail recently was thrown outside a synagogue and graffiti with the words “Jews Go Home” was scrawled on the wall, he said.
Turpin said there also have been various anti-war demonstrations in Brazil that excoriated not just Israel but Jews.
Compounding fears in Latin America were recent comments by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calling Israel’s attacks in Lebanon “genocide” and comparing Israeli actions to those of Hitler.
Chavez’s comments came after he assured Singer at a meeting last month that he would help protect Venezuela’s Jewish community.
Alexander Mashkevich, president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, blamed the media for fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment.
“Anti-Semitism is growing and we have felt it grow especially now, during the last war, and the main reason is the media. All the television channels gave information about Lebanon and the killing of civilians there,” he said, while very little attention was paid to Israelis suffering Hezbollah rocket attacks.
“Thank God in our region there have been no attacks and no concrete aggression,” he said. “It’s more a feeling and a general atmosphere” of hostility.
In Europe, there have been scattered anti-Semitic incidents since the war began, said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.
But Wistrich suggested that anti-Semitic incidents were on the rise in Europe, pointing to a study that showed a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain following the outbreak of the war July 12.
Wistrich was critical of European Jewish leaders, saying many weren’t vocal enough in their defense of Israel during the war. He also criticized European Jews who tried to distance themselves from Israel by taking out newspaper ads condemning the Jewish state.
Neither approach works in the long term to stem anti-Jewish sentiment, he said.