The Canary and the Jewish Question

Recently, more and more Israelis have understood that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. At the same time, more and more hostile statements directed at Israel do indeed express a measure of anti-Semitism.

Recently, more and more Israelis have understood that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. At the same time, more and more hostile statements directed at Israel do indeed express a measure of anti-Semitism.

These opposite trends must be seen as important for two reasons: One, the vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents occuring today are a by-product of the Israeli-Arab conflict (and not only of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Second, a process of reciprocal nourishment has developed: The conflict in the Middle East has created a partnership between the left and anti-Semitism in the West. This partnership provides the Arab world with classical anti-Semitic images and myths.

The violence that engendered this partnership has stirred up what the "enlightened world" customarily defines as the memory of the Holocaust. One of the results of this renewed interest was the establishment of a conference on anti-Semitism held a week ago in Vienna at the initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Delegations from the United States, Canada and Russia also participated in the conference.

The conference expresses, perhaps, the recognition that anti-Semitism is like the canaries that coal miners used to take with them into the bowels of the earth to warn them of toxic gas accumulation in the area where they were working. Outbursts of anti-Semitism are an alarm that warns a society of ills that are spreading through it.

The most important achievement of the conference in Vienna was the very fact that it was held. For the first time in history, a non-Jewish forum convened to discuss anti-Semitism, and only anti-Semitism. The delegates in Vienna did not discuss "ethnic discrimination," or racism, or any of the other euphemisms and generalizations that are beloved of diplomats and politicians. They talked about the hatred of Jews explicitly. The proposal by the American delegates to turn the conference into an annual institution, and the invitation by a German representative to hold the next conference in his country are also notable achievements. Most of the participants agreed the gathering of data on anti-Semitic incidents worldwide should be institutionalized. Figures on such incidents are often published, mostly by Jewish organizations, but there is a necessity for gathering and compiling the statistics by a neutral international body that will give an official seal to the numbers.

Predictably, conference participants heard about the need for legislation against racism in all the countries where as yet there is no such legislation, and about the great ease with which the Internet has become one of the most effective means of distributing anti-Semitic propaganda. The argument also arose that a comparison of Israel's deeds in the occupied territories with the deeds of the Nazis is a kind of new form of Holocaust denial.

The conference's two days did not afford enough time to discuss the strange phenomenon (which is, in fact, neither new nor incomprehensible) of "anti-Semitism without Jews." Also there is a need for a thorough discussion of the connection between the anti-globalization movement, and other manifestations of the alliance between the extreme left on the one hand and the extreme right on the other, with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

The Arab states' near-total absence, with the exception of Jordan and Morocco, from the 55 countries represented at the conference was certainly no coincidence. Particularly glaring was the absence of representatives from Egypt, which like many other countries, could have sent observers instead: Egypt is today one of the important producers of anti-Semitic propaganda materials.

Internationally, the recognition is growing that it is impossible to separate violent anti-Semitism from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is this recognition that obligates Israelis and Jews to seek answers to many questions. For example, what is the border between a legitimate struggle for human rights in the territories and the anti-Semitism in accusing Israel of "Nazi methods?" Is it possible to call into question the determination that anti-Zionism is "collective anti-Semitism," because it denies the Jewish people the right to a state of its own? And if the Arabs are the main source of spreading anti-Semitism in the world today, is it possible to hope that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will bring an end to the current wave of violent anti-Semitism?

These questions can be directed to international bodies, but at least some of them need to be discussed in Israel. The Israelis must clarify the difference between the hostility that results from the conflict with their neighbors and the hatred of fundamentalist Islam for Judaism and Christianity. Here, it is necessary to examine whether a change in Israeli conduct would decrease the spread of fundamentalist Muslim anti-Semitism among moderate Muslims, even if it would not eliminate it entirely.

The argument that anti-Semitism is a disease with which those who hate us have been infected is perhaps a nice argument, but we are the ones who are suffering from the disease. Therefore, we cannot content ourselves with the role of the canary in the coal mine.