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How New is the New Anti-semitism? Two Conferences Seek out Answers

May 7, 2003
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Is the current global wave of anti-Semitism a virulent new strain of hatred, or an ancient prejudice mutated?

How deep does anti-Semitism run today and where has it spread the most? Why has Jew-hatred resurfaced, and how can Jews and others confront it?

These are some of the questions to be debated next week at two high-profile international conferences taking place simultaneously in New York and Paris.

“These are rattled Jewish times,” say the organizers of the May 11-14 conference in New York, titled “Old Demons, New Debates: Anti-Semitism in the West.”

“In the aftermath of the terrorism of Sept. 11 and the terrorism of the Palestinian intifada, a shocking amount of anti-Jewish acts have been committed and anti-Jewish sentiment expressed,” the New York organizers say.

The two gatherings come on the eve of a forthcoming book, “The New Anti-Semitism,” which says anti-Semitism has become politically correct.

Author Phyllis Chesler contends that the new Jew-hatred is promoted by an unlikely coalition of Islamo-fascists, right-wing extremists, left-wing ideologues, pious academics, misinformed students, militant feminists and opportunistic European politicians.

It was the Sept. 11 attacks, which Osama bin Laden called a new holy war against a “Christian-Jewish crusade,” that unleashed their “lethal activism,” Chesler says.

After the attacks, she said, “we are all Israelis.”

The New York and Paris meetings feature prominent participants from Europe, Israel and the United States. Both focus on the rise of anti-Semitism that started with the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 and was fueled by the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the recent war in Iraq.

The conferences tackle these issues differently, however.

The Paris conference, which runs May 12-14, is organized by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center in association with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

Titled “Educating for Tolerance: The Case of Resurgent Anti-Semitism,” the summit groups policy experts and high-ranking political, governmental and religious figures.

The list includes Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Surin Pitsuwan, a Muslim and former foreign minister of Thailand; French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy; the archbishop emeritus of Canterbury, Lord Carey; the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello; and the director of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia.

“We begin with a status check of the situation, then there will be sessions on how to counter anti-Semitism on different levels and also an interfaith session to pull together the good will of religious leaders,” a Wiesenthal Center staff member in Paris told JTA.

The New York conference, sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History, brings together pundits rather than politicians.

This gathering provides a forum for three dozen prominent writers, academics, journalists and public intellectuals to analyze the background and impact of what is happening.

“There is an urgent need to bring clarification to the phenomena that underlie this disturbing narrative,” the organizers say in a package of material for the conference.

The aim is “to provide scholars, students and the general public with the context and analysis necessary to interpreting the new anti-Semitism and for deciding on appropriate reactions.”

The conference will be Webcast live and later packaged on video and in book form.

Sessions include topics such as What’s Old, What’s New; Anti-Semitism in the Americas; Anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism and Anti-Democracy; Anti-Semitism, Anti-Immigration, and the Problem of Otherness; Anti-Semitism and European Intellectuals; Jewish Responses to Contemporary Anti-Semitism; Anti-Semitism after the Holocaust; and Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism and Israel.

Participants include journalistic figures such as Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of the Weekly Standard; Roger Cohen, foreign correspondent at The New York Times; Jane Kramer, correspondent for The New Yorker; Martin Peretz, publisher of The New Republic; Hillel Halkin, correspondent for the Forward; and Mort Zuckerman, publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report.

Other figures include Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; and Dutch historian Ian Buruma.

The twin conferences are the latest in a series of public meetings aimed at tackling a resurgent form of Jew-hatred that has been labeled the “new anti-Semitism.”

A report released last month in Israel tallied 311 serious incidents of anti-Semitism worldwide in 2002, including 56 involving a weapon. This compared to 228 serious incidents in 2001, of which 50 involved weapons.

An ADL report in March said there were 1,559 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the United States in 2002, up 8 percent from 1,432 in 2001.

Last October, an ADL survey of Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland found that a median 21 percent of respondents hold strongly anti-Semitic views.

“These figures make unhappy reading,” Dina Porat, head of Tel Aviv University’s Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism, said when presenting the Israeli report. “Last year was the most worrying since we started tracking anti-Semitic incidents 11 years ago.”

In April, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam hosted its own one-day conference on the current anti-Semitic revival.

A museum located at the house where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary from hiding during World War II, the Anne Frank House includes a research and education center on racism and anti-Semitism.

The conference was meant “to place the growing problem of present-day anti-Semitism, here as in many other countries, more at the top of the priority list,” said Jaap Tanja, one of the organizers.

The Anne Frank House “was not interested in a conference that only resounds with warnings,” he added. “We are interested in teaching and being taught.”

Before packed crowds, speakers outlined Europe’s long history of “anti-Semitism without Jews” and noted how leftist, right-wing and radical Muslim anti-Semitism often converge.

Speakers said contemporary anti-Semitism seems tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the anti-Semitism pervading Arab anti-Zionist rhetoric to the impact of new immigrant Muslim communities in Western Europe to the anti-Americanism among opponents of globalization.

In particular, the Internet, e-mail and satellite TV were identified as powerful new vehicles for disseminating anti-Semitic stereotypes and linking political extremists.

Since the 1990s, “there has been a dramatic increase in the number of home pages present on the Web from far-right groups and parties, which quite often also have ties to radical Islamic fundamentalists,” said Juliane Wetzel of the Center for Anti-Semitism Research in Berlin.

Wetzel presented results of a wide-ranging survey of anti-Semitic incidents in the European Union over the past two years, which showed that most violent incidents were carried out by radical Islamists or Muslim youths who often were marginalized from mainstream society.

“Their aggressions are aimed against the Jews of their country because they use a worldwide common prejudice synonymous to a supposed Jewish world conspiracy which sees all Jews in the world as one group,” she said.

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