Comparing Anti-semitism with Islamophobia

A conference in Berlin triggered debate over whether it was appropriate to compare anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims.

Experts at the conference concluded that while the two cannot be equated, comparing the phenomena can be useful when seeking the best means to combat them.

The conference, “Jewish Enemy — Muslim Enemy: The relationship between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” triggered a debate that spilled into the international media over whether the juxtaposition dangerously downplayed both Islamist extremism and anti-Semitism. The event was sponsored by the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at Berlin’s Technical University.

In several presentations, historians and political scientists described parallels between 19th century European anti-Semitism and modern expressions of fear of Islam — sometimes in response to terrorist acts. Several cited the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist as a trigger for anti-Islamic propaganda throughout Europe.

Some critics, led by German political scientist Matthias Kuentzel, said it was unacceptable to bring up fear of Muslims without discussing crimes committed by Islamic extremists. But Wolfgang Benz, the director of the research center, told JTA that “one does not always have to talk about the extremists” among Muslims when dealing with the phenomenon of discrimination against them.

While there were some Jewish critics of Monday’s conference, the Central Council of Jews in Germany came to its defense.

“Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are not the same, but it must be allowed and it is necessary to discuss magnitudes and principles of both,” as well as “comparable mechanisms that lead to either one of those discriminations,” Stephan Kramer, the council’s secretary-general, wrote in an e-mail to JTA.

“It is disgusting how some activists — also Jewish — try to jeopardize any discussion about it.”

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