Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2001/ 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Will the Jews be blamed for increasing violence?

By Gary Rosenblatt

WAITING for the backlash?

Many American Jews are convinced we are in for a serious wave of anti-Semitism in this country, particularly if: the U.S. suffers more terror attacks at the hand of Islamic militants blaming Israel for their actions; the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians intensifies; American soldiers suffer heavy casualties overseas; and/or the economy here at home continues to falter.

There is always reason to be vigilant about anti-Semitism. Indeed, one is reminded of the quintessential Jewish telegram: "Start worrying. Details to follow."

If we needed a recent reminder, there was the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, two months ago. Even seasoned Jewish professionals who thought they knew what to expect were amazed and alarmed at the breadth and depth of the hatred leveled at Israel and Jews around the world at the forum.

But this is America, and this country has a long and proud history of religious pluralism and tolerance. Officials of our major Jewish defense agencies agree that while it is important to monitor the situation closely, current polling data indicate growing support for Israel, and no indications of increasing anti-Semitism at home.

"I'm confident in the fairness of the American people," says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who says history has shown that in times of crisis, Americans have rejected attempts to hold the Jews responsible. This is true of World War II, when isolationists blamed Jews for American military involvement overseas; in the mid-1970s, when the Arabs blamed skyrocketing oil prices on Israel and the Jews; and a decade ago, when Pat Buchanan blamed the Gulf war on Washington's Mideast policy.

What is different, of course, is this time our home soil is the battlefront, and no one knows how long this war will last or how costly it will be, in dollars or human lives.

Shula Bahat, associate executive director of the American Jewish Committee, takes comfort in the American public's response toward Arab and Muslim Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack here. "There could have been a great backlash" against them, she noted, but despite some outbursts of prejudice, Americans for the most part have displayed "noble sentiments" in not blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals. She says that "innate understanding" is part of the American psyche.

Hatred, on the other hand, is illogical. After all, Osama bin Laden, on his infamous tape, praised the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack, saying they should be blessed and reside in paradise. Yet his most loyal supporters throughout the Arab world insist the Mossad, Israel's secret intelligence agency, carried out the strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Does that mean bin Laden was extolling the Israelis? And the same Arab American spokesmen who criticize Washington for supporting undemocratic regimes around the world reserve their harshest condemnation for the administration's defense of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

More worrisome now than the American public is the Bush administration, and especially the State Department, which is pressuring Israel for following precisely the policy against terrorists Washington has adopted, namely, to seek out and defeat those who threaten the security of your citizens. Don't negotiate with them, don't offer them concessions, destroy them. Why, then, is it "counter-productive" for Israel to target the terrorists who blow up their women and children while President Bush promises to go after bin Laden, "dead or alive"?

Congress appreciates the situation and has been strongly supportive of and sympathetic to Israel's actions, and the American people understand the premise, articulated by the president, that there can be no tolerance for terrorism. Indeed, a new survey from the Chicago Sun Times shows 62 percent of Americans believe pressure from the U.S. on Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians would only encourage more terrorism. Why, then, does the State Department refuse to see the parallels between Israel's response to Palestinian terrorism and America's response to bin Laden terrorism?

There is no logical answer, but the political reason is that Washington does not want to jeopardize President Bush's anti-terror coalition by upsetting the Arab world. So it appears that Israeli blood is less precious than others'.

U.S. officials agree that all terror must be eradicated, then mumble about the difference between the American war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing its "complex, delicate" nature. Which seems to mean, it's commendable for us to vigorously pursue bin Laden and his gang, who are killing our people at home, but Israel, our ally, should be making compromises with Arafat and his gang, who are killing their people at home.

In truth, American and Israeli interests may become increasingly divergent, and that is troubling. Yet it's not that Washington is turning against Israel as much as it is telling Jerusalem, in effect, your concerns have become far less urgent to us since Sept. 11, we have our own war to pursue, and the best thing you can do is put a lid on your conflict with the Palestinians for the sake of our coalition.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, says American Jewish reaction to that message "requires extraordinarily nimble navigation," showing full support for the U.S. war on terror while reflecting our deep concern for Israeli security at this critical time. It can be done, asserts Harris, but not easily, he acknowledges. And it would be helpful if Israel was sending a clear message about its military and diplomatic intentions, which it is not.

In the meantime, it's our job to maintain vigilance against anti-Semitism and not be afraid to speak out forcefully in defense of Israel, pointing out the many parallels between Jerusalem's and Washington's wars on terror, defending freedom against the forces of jihad. Fortunately, the American people are more fair-minded than the folks at the State Department, whose visions of world peace have been blindsided by the realities of bigotry and hatred.

JWR contributor Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week. Comment on this article by clicking here.


© 2001, Gary Rosenblatt