New Strains Of An Old Disease

man walks past a Holocaust memorial splashed with red paint following a vandalism attack in the northern port city of Thessaloniki on Tuesday, 16 April, 2002.
In his latest Against the Grain commentary,'s Dick Meyer looks at the outbreak of anti-Semitism that shadows the conflict in the Middle East.

There were more than 300 crimes committed against Jews or Jewish institutions in France between March 29 and April 15, according to the French Interior Ministry.

The number of anti-Semitic acts in just these two weeks was nearly double the number recorded by French police in all of 2001. In half a month, there were 179 cases of anti-Semitic graffiti, about a dozen cases of arson at synagogues or Jewish cemeteries, and roughly 60 physical attacks on French Jews.

Since Sept. 11, incidents of anti-Semitism in the West have increased somewhat, as Jews feared they would. But since the latest and bloodiest cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians began, anti-Semitic violence and talk have exploded, especially in Europe.

In Greece this week, a Holocaust memorial was drenched with red paint and gravestones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery. Earlier in April, two Orthodox young men from America were beaten up in Berlin. A synagogue in Belgium was firebombed.

A columnist for London's The Express newspaper this week observed, "Now, for the first time since before the Second World War, it is fashionable to say you don't like Jews."

"Fashionable." That's chilling.

This surge of anti-Semitism has been fairly well reported in the press and Jewish groups have, of course, sounded the alarms. Even before this most recent surge of hate, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said in a speech, "I am convinced we are facing a threat as great, if not greater, to the safety and security of the Jewish people than we faced in the thirties."

Most people will dismiss that as hyperbole and rhetoric. It may be. I hope so.

The fact is we are used to alarms about anti-Semitism ringing in North America and Europe. Public institutions - the press, politicians, police - are, for the most part, sensitive to the problem and to the threat.

Here's a problem: the same sirens don't blast anti-Semitism in the Arab world.

It may sound unsophisticated, but so what: there is a double standard. The anti-Semitism that rightly causes profound worry in the West is ignored when it happens in the Arab world. It is assumed. It is expected and taken for granted. It is essentially excused. "Oh well, the Arabs hate the Jews."

Governments, diplomats, international organizations and the punditocracy rarely bother to condemn or even notice Arab anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism is not the same as being anti-Israel. Criticism of Israel -- of its actions, of its leaders, of Ariel Sharon - is not anti-Semitic. Sympathizing with the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic.

But that does not mean there is no such thing as real hateful Arab anti-Semitism. There is and it's the perennial kind of Jew-hating that blames the world's problems on Jews, that wants to destroy Jews and destroy the small Jewish state.

It's the same anti-Semitism that was manifest a decade ago in the West Bank demonstrations during the Gulf War calling on Saddam to drop his chemical and germ bombs on Tel Aviv. Or that makes the sick conspiracy theory that Zionist Jews plotted 9/11 a commonplace in the Arab world today. Or that inspires TV telethons to raise money for suicide/homicide bombers in several Arab countries.

Hideously anti-Semitic newspaper and magazine articles in mainstream Arab publications are routine. (See for yourself: check the Arab press through World Press Review or ABYZ News Links .)

It took me five minutes to find an example this morning. It came from the pro-government, English language Arab News in Saudi Arabia. A university lecturer wrote a column declaring, "Don't you see the resemblance between Sharon, Hitler and Milosevic? Don't you see the parallel between Nazism and Zionism?" Comparing the Nazis and the Israelis (or the Jews, or the Zionists) is absolutely routine in the media in many Arab countries. So are the denials that the Holocaust ever happened.

Arab anti-Semitism is, of course, a more immediate danger than Western anti-Semitism. Israel, where a large percentage of the world's Jews live, is surrounded by it. It is an embedded part of the twisted world of terrorists who fly planes into skyscrapers.

Foxman argues that Arab anti-Semitism is becoming even more widespread and more dangerous.

One interesting reason for that is the technology of communication. Several reporters in Arab countries have written great stories about how new satellite and cable outfits are bringing live pictures (and propaganda) from the West Bank into living rooms in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and all the other Arab nations for the first time. The Vietnam factor.

"The enmity between the Arabs and the Israelis has been there, but before, an Israeli was imagined in Cairo like someone on the moon - inaccessible, unseeable," Egyptian intellectual, Muhammad Sid Ahmed, told Tim Golden of The New York Times, "Now, the hatred is closer."

Technology can make the world smaller and that is not always a good thing.

According to Foxman, "Today, a sermon in Cairo travels across the globe within minutes, through the networks, the Internet, e-mail, and Al Jazeera. This globalization facilitates the incitement and hate that makes the message of anti-Semitism more potent and very real... this technology has given anti-Semitism, hate and incitement a strength and a power of seduction that it has never had in history before."

Again, it may not be entirely credible to say that anti-Semitism has more "strength and power" than ever. But it is a dangerous strain of an old disease.

Foxman makes a more fundamental point. Radical Islamists and bin Laden followers are in a religious war against Christians and Jews, whether we want to admit it or not.

"What emanates from Radio Islam, Radio Cairo and Radio PA is in a religious context," he said. "It is a call for Jihad, and Jihad is a religious precept. It is a call of hate, an incitement to kill, urging suicide bombers to act in the name of God, and that adds a dimension of this anti-Semitism threat that did not exist before."

America now knows, and believes for the first time, that it too is a target of that call of hate.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of and is based in Washington.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer (c) MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved