Anti-Semitism rises sharply worldwide, report finds
By Yair Sheleg, Ha'aretz, 10/20/2000
The quantity and nature of anti-Semitic incidents in the past three weeks - since the start of the fighting in the territories - have put anti-Semitism at the top of the Jewish agenda, even in Western countries, for the first time in a long while. At a press conference held in Jerusalem yesterday, researchers at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which battles anti-Semitism throughout the world, presented a report listing anti-Semitic incidents from Rosh Hashanah until October 16. The researchers claim there were over 200 anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world during this two-week period, although their detailed list included only the "most serious incidents."
Europe, and France in particular - probably because of its large Muslim-Arab population - is clearly the focal point of the incidents. The events there include a large number of arson attacks, attempted arson and rocks thrown at synagogues, Jewish schools and kosher restaurants. Similar incidents were recorded in many other places.
Prominent incidents in Britain include the stabbing of yeshiva student David Myers on a London bus and the publication of a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) calling for a jihad against the Jews.
In Belgium, in addition to a series of arson attacks, an Orthodox Jew was attacked near a Brussels synagogue. In Germany, several arson and physical attacks against Jews were recorded, as well as rock-throwing during a joint demonstration by Muslims and leftist extremists at a synagogue in Essen that also serves as a Holocaust memorial.
Only four incidents were recorded in the former Soviet Union, including a fire at a synagogue in Bukhara.
Incidents in the United States included arson and attempted arson against synagogues, and shooting aimed at a group of Orthodox Jews in Chicago.
In Montreal, Muslims at a demonstration on Yom Kippur chanted "Death to the Jews," while in Capetown, a Muslim radio station called for solidarity against the Jews and calls of "Death to the Jews" were heard at an African National Congress conference.
The Jewish and Israeli response to these incidents was somewhat slow in coming. Once they were identified as an international trend and not just isolated, local incidents, Jewish organizations began to push their governments to denounce the wave of anti-Semitism.
In France, President Jacques Chirac condemned anti-Semitism, and inter-faith reconciliation and dialogue meetings were held in several cities. In Paris, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders published a joint denunciation of all expressions of racism and anti-Semitism. Diaspora Affairs Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior raised the issue of anti-Semitism during a public relations tour of several European countries this week (Ireland, Britain and Scandinavian states) and joined a rally held by the Jewish community on Wednesday at a large London synagogue in the wake of the stabbing.
The latest wave is characterized by an intensity that led Melchior to call it "the most serious wave of anti-Semitism since World War II." In contrast to the past, when most attacks were perpetrated by members of the extreme right wing (and in the distant past, extreme leftists as well), in the latest wave the actions of Muslim activists stand out. This is connected to the obvious linkage between the anti-Semitic incidents and the riots in the territories. As the honorary president of Keren Hayesod, Mendel Kaplan said at the press conference held by a Jewish solidarity delegation that arrived in Israel Wednesday, the visit is aimed not only at expressing solidarity with Israel, but also to point out that Jews everywhere feel endangered when Israel is attacked. Dr. Avi Becker, head of the World Jewish Congress in Israel, believes the latest attacks against Jews are related to the transition of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from a national to a religious one, mainly in the context of the Temple Mount.
The big question is thus whether the initial instinct of Jewish solidarity might soon be replaced by a demand that Israel consider the danger to Jewish communities abroad when determining policy. The first hint of this possibility was actually voiced in Israel, when Melchior said at a meeting of the cabinet's forum on anti-Semitism last week that "the effect of what is happening in Israel on Jewish communities in the world obligates us to take special responsibility."
Becker points out that Jewish leaders worldwide have echoed this sentiment, but not in terms of making policy demands on Israel. Still the WJC has already changed the official name of the delegation that is expected to reach Israel on Sunday to the "identification and coordination delegation."
Becker also said there are fears that the current level of anti-Semitism will affect people's willingness to openly identify as Jews and to enroll their children in Jewish schools. "People are already talking about fearing to walk around the U. S. and Western Europe wearing a kippa," Becker said. He said that many would-be participants canceled their plans to join the delegation on the grounds that they must guard the home front, in their own communities.