European-style, politically correct anti-Semitism

Posted: May 22, 2002 12:00 AM
I am writing this while traveling in Europe, and I am particularly disturbed by visible vestiges of anti-Semitism from the past and also by clear evidence of its ugly re-emergence. Synagogue burnings, cemetery desecrations, vandalism against Jewish businesses and street gangs beating up Jews, official government warnings that Jews should protect themselves from violence by not wearing any "identifying" marks or garb, anti-Semitic propagandizing and pamphleteering, vicious editorial attacks on the Jews, trade union threats to boycott and embargo Israeli imports -- all of these combine to create a hateful anti-Jewish climate in Europe not seen since the end of the Third Reich. No wonder columnist George Will wrote about his concern over resurgent European anti-Semitism. While I might have said it differently, I agree with Will's overall thesis that European anti-Semitism is troubling and must not be ignored. That's why I was very surprised and disappointed to read European Union Commissioner Chris Patten going "ballistic" in reaction to Will's column, characterizing it as "obscenely offensive rubbish." I have known and respected this former member of the British Parliament and former commissioner of Hong Kong for years and was therefore saddened to hear him attempt to delegitimize the critics of European anti-Semitism by suggesting that they have been "hijacked" by Israel's Likud Party. It's not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, but it is wrong to excuse and ignore genuine, documented anti-Semitism by relabeling it mere "criticism." It dismays me that while averting his eyes from growing anti-Semitism in Europe, Patten gratuitously dredged up old allegations that American Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, "look(ed) the other way" when faced with Nazi "perpetrators." Does the commissioner hope to shame us into silence, as if the alleged sins of our fathers should disqualify us contemporary Americans from criticizing contemporary European anti-Semitism? Not only is his logic faulty, he also ignores the history that really is pertinent to the current situation -- Vichy France's extensive collaboration with the Nazis against the Jews. France should be particularly sensitive to any hint that anti-Semitism lives on in the Fifth Republic, given its complicity in Nazi atrocities against the Jews, as should the peoples of other European nations that were complicit in the Holocaust. Yet the silence is deafening. It's disappointing that the commissioner used his good offices to vent against Will and Americans rather than take a firm moral stance against anti-Semitism in Europe. In his efforts to excuse and divert attention from European anti-Semitism, Patten applies the label of "terrorism" to Jewish armed resistance against the British military during the 1940s, an inversion of the facts known as "turnspeak." He equates Jewish armed resistance against the British and the accidental civilian deaths that occurred at that time with the Palestinians' intentional murder of Israeli civilians in a terrorist intifada over lands to which the Palestinians have no stronger claim -- and in some cases even weaker claim -- than the Jews. His facts are wrong and his argument is morally muddled. If Jewish resistance during the 1940s was terrorism, then so, too, was American resistance in 1776. And the Americans were not watching their families in Europe being exterminated. Far from fulfilling the United Nations mandate in Palestine from 1945 to 1948 under the threat of Israeli terrorism, as Patten claims, England continued to turn the mandate on its head. From the 1920s onward, not only did Britain abrogate its responsibility under the League of Nations mandate to "facilitate" Jewish immigration into the Jewish National Homeland, it systematically allowed millions of Jews to be dispossessed by drastically limiting Jewish immigration. In 1922, Britain egregiously violated international law by giving away Transjordan to the Arabs. It was not Britain's to give away, and contrary to popular misconception was not settled by Arabs exclusively or even widely. Over the next 25 years, Britain stood by while sporadic Arab pogroms and pillage ethnically cleansed Transjordan, Judea and Sumaria of Jews. On top of that, Britain allowed an explosive cauldron of hatred to brew as it turned a blind eye to massive illegal Arab immigration into formally settled Jewish lands. In 1948, when those same recent Arab immigrants fled the invasion of Israel by their Arab brothers, a false impression was created that it was Arabs, not the Jews, who were the displaced people. European anti-Semitism is real, but today it has become politically correct in some quarters because this time around it rests on more cleverly drawn myths about the state of Israel rather than crudely drawn myths about "the Jew" and making Europe "Juden-free." It is time European leaders, both in the church and in government as well as people on the street, take a stand against anti-Semitism. As Elie Wiesel, chronicler of the Holocaust, said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Or to paraphrase President George W. Bush, those who do not stand against anti-Semitism stand complicit to it.