ADL official describes anti-Semitic ‘explosion’

| August 20, 2009

An official of the Anti-Defamation League sees an “explosion” of anti-Semitism around the world, centered in Europe and the Arab world but also finding its way into the United States through sporadic violence and heightened anti-Jewish rhetoric.

Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the ADL, spoke Aug. 11 at Temple B’nai Abraham in a talk cosponsored by the synagogue, ADL, and the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey.

Jacobson ticked off incident after incident, from boycotts of Israel in Europe to violence against Jews in France to shootings in the United States.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “I would have given a speech with lots of statistics about the progress we’ve made. I’d end and say, ‘But don’t get complacent.’”

Today, however, he described an “an explosion” of anti-Semitism. He pointed to the three weeks of the Gaza War last winter, when he counted 113 violent incidents in France, including a Molotov cocktail’s being thrown into a synagogue, and 220 anti-Semitic incidents in Great Britain.

These cases also reflect the quick move, particularly in Europe, from expressions of disagreement with Israeli policy to violence against Jews.

But the violence, he added, isn’t confined to Europe.

“America is truly different, but there are inherent elements of anti-Semitism manifesting themselves here,” Jacobson said. He pointed to the recent shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, as well as incidents of violence in Pittsburgh and Boston and the bomb threats to two Riverdale synagogues in the Bronx.

Still, he cautioned against comparing the current climate to the period of the Nazis’ rise in Germany. “This is not that kind of state-sponsored anti-Semitism,” he said, characterizing the current wave of anti-Semitism as “spasmodic” rather than the “consistent, continuous growth” experienced in Nazi Germany.

‘Terribly troubled’
Moreover, he suggested that while the United States is not immune to anti-Semitism, “America is fundamentally different from Europe.” He pointed out that in moments of crisis, such as during the Jonathan Pollard spy affair and the recent financial collapse, when “we thought Americans would turn en masse against the Jews,” it hasn’t happened. After 9/11, “most people did not buy” the idea of an Israeli conspiracy that was disseminated by anti-Semites; and with the financial crisis, “there has been no widespread turning against the Jews.”

But that is not to say Jacobson is not concerned. On the contrary, he said, “I am terribly troubled by what’s going on. Constraints against anti-Semitism are being peeled off layer by layer each time a wave of violence happens. When the Holocaust happened, it was not very respectable to be anti-Semitic. Now, with historical distance…people are getting more comfortable expressing anti-Semitism.”

He pointed to website chatter that focuses on Jews and power in the midst of the recession. “It’s right out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” he said, “this combination of Jews and money and Jews having power and using it in an evil way.”

It isn’t just rhetoric he’s worried about — it’s rhetoric that leads to violence.

In part, Jacobson blames the Internet, where white supremacist websites can goad so-called “lone wolves” to act on their extremist beliefs. But he also suggested that anti-Semitism erupts in moments of national or global anxiety, when events can require sophisticated or nuanced understanding of politics and history. At such times, it is easy for “demagogues and others to turn people away from their anxieties…. This is a time when anti-Semitism flourishes.”

His response? “To fight anti-Semitism we have to take a comprehensive approach: short-term, long-term, national, regional. We have to be ready to speak out and we have to be ready to be heard,” he said.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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