The Tel Aviv University/Stephen Roth Institute’s newly released study on anti-Semitism in 2009 is getting loads of media attention. Among the many outlets that have reported its findings are the AP, CNN, and Haaretz.
"Anti-Semitic incidents Doubled Last Year," blared the AP headline.
Sponsored by the European Jewish Congress and produced with help from researchers around the world, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Aryeh Tuchman, the report’s release was timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Roth Institute’s director, Dinah Porat, who also sits on the board at the Israeli Holocaust research center, Yad Vashem, declared at a recent press conference that anti-Semitism is directly linked to anti-Zionism. This is also the conclusion of her group’s report, which focuses on the alleged connection between anti-Semitic acts and Israel’s assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
The Roth Institute identifies the UK and France as centers of anti-Semitism, but also centers in on American targets, including the widely praised Palestinian author Ali Abunimah and the Muslim students at UC-Irvine who heckled Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.
Judge Richard Goldstone, a Jewish self-proclaimed Zionist, is also named among the Institute’s gallery of dangerous anti-Semites. "In November, extensive criticism of Israel in the media following the release of the Goldstone Report probably served as a trigger for another spike in hate crimes against Jews," the report states. Since there is no evidence to back their claim up, the authors slipped in the word, "probably."
Mainstream Muslim groups in the US like the Islamic Circle of North America could not escape being tagged as Jew haters either, though the report once again provides no concrete evidence to support its characterization. Thus readers must accept on faith — or the basis of their preconceptions about Muslims — that members of the ICNA like to "rail against Jews."
The report accuses unidentified "contemporary youth" of exhibiting "rampant ignorance" by engaging in Palestinian solidarity activism. "An abundance of Muslim propaganda, well-financed by oil money, exploits this atmosphere, which law enforcement agencies refrain from countering out of ‘political correctness’ and respect for the right of freedom of speech," the report’s authors write, suggesting that the First Amendment might pose a threat to Jewish life in America.
The only actively organized anti-Semitic faction that the report’s researchers identify inside the US is the fringe-of-the-lunatic fringe Phelps family, which has picketed everything from soldiers’ funerals to the Sidwell Friends School, holding signs that take bigotry to the point of the sublime. The family’s satire of "We Are The World," called "God Hates The World," was so unintentionally funny it became a YouTube hit. Indeed, few outside the Phelps family take its bizarre street theater seriously. Despite the Roth Institute’s dire warnings, that is unlikely to change.
Organized anti-Semitism seemed to have been so absent from American life in 2009 that the Roth Institute felt compelled to lard its report with accounts of murders of non-Jews by right-wing extremists. For instance, the report goes on at length about Richard Poplawski, a deranged young skinhead who killed three cops in Pittsburgh reportedly because he hated Obama and thought he sent the police to take his guns away. Unless Obama had secretly converted to Judaism (wasn’t he supposed to be a crypto-Muslim?), the designation of Poplawski’s killing spree as an anti-Semitic attack is a wild stretch.
Turning its focus to Latin America, the Roth Institute predictably rehashes the widely repeated canard that Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is a hotbed of anti-Semitism. And like the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Institute appears to have studiously avoided any contact with the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the country’s main Jewish umbrella organization. That may because the Confederation has already repudiated the notion of a Chavez-incited campaign of anti-Semitism and has condemned the Simon Wiesenthal Center for not consulting it about the reality of Jewish life in Venezuela.
Under pressure from Jewish groups in Venezuela, Jewish members of Congress torpedoed a 2009 House resolution to condemn Chavez for anti-Semitic incitement. The members of Congress who opposed the resolution included some of Israel’s most hardline allies in the House, from Rep. Gary Ackerman to Rep. Shelley Berkley. Apparently this news was not fit to print in the Roth Institute’s report.
The Institute’s characterization of Chavez’s government recalls a failed Cold War-era tactic, according to the North American Congress on Latin American. In 1983, as the Reagan administration sought to topple the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the ADL churned out a poorly-sourced report accusing the Sandinistas of inciting hatred against the country’s small Jewish community. The report was immediately discredited by American rabbis who had actually traveled to Nicaragua and by Reagan’s own ambassador to the country; he declared, “the evidence fails to demonstrate that the Sandinistas have followed a policy of anti-Semitism or have persecuted Jews solely because of their religion.” As for the accusations leveled against Chavez, the authors of the Roth Institute report seemed most incensed by his furious opposition to Israel’s assault on Gaza.
While the threat of anti-Semitic attacks should not be dismissed, however random and rare they might be in Western society, the Roth Institute and its collaborators appear more interested in insulating Israel from scrutiny for its killing of 773 civilians in Gaza in 22 days than in generating education and dialogue to combat bigotry. Indeed, the main thrust of the report is consistent with one of the key objectives of the Netanyahu administration and its international supporters: to undermine the Goldstone Report and assail any public figures who support its findings. At the same time, the report appears crafted to prevent articulate Palestinian critics of Israeli policy like Ali Abunimah from gaining mainstream traction, speciously and scandalously conflating them with neo-Nazi street thugs and Holocaust deniers.
Three years before Israel’s creation, Jean Paul-Sartre analyzed what he saw as a widespread resentment of Jews, describing it as a pathology rooted in class envy and self-loathing. In his book, "Anti-Semite and Jew," Sartre impelled Jews to assert themselves through militant means, stopping only once they had won their place in a pluralistic society like France. Among the means he proposed that Jews employ was the founding of "a Jewish league against anti-Semitism."
Ironically, the Roth Institute’s Porat has rejected "the definitions of learned people" like Sartre. For her, anti-Semitism can be defined by simply describing the behavior of Israel’s critics, not by assessing the mentality of those who openly urge discrimination against Jews.
Following Porat’s line, the Roth Institute report asserted that Israel’s assault on Gaza was practically the only factor driving the supposedly dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in 2009. "We have never seen such a sustained, organized campaign being waged against Israel’s legitimacy and its supporters around the world," lamented Arie Zuckerman, whose European Jewish Congress contributed to the report.
But if Israel’s policies towards Gaza have fanned the flames of anti-Semitism, as the report seems to claim, the discussion must turn to whether Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is threatening the safety of Jews across the world. Is there a linkage? The Roth Institute and its collaborators should consider contemplating the troubling issue they have inadvertently raised. Then again, it might be more convenient for them to dismiss it as another anti-Semitic canard contrived by "contemporary youth."