An­swer­ing resur­gent anti-Semitism

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY ABRA­HAM H. FOX­MAN The writer is na­tional di­rec­tor of the Anti-Defama­tion League.

At a time of the great­est resur­gence of anti-Semitism since World War II, it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for many in the Jewish com­mu­nity to main­tain a sense of bal­ance and rea­son­able­ness. Ex­actly be­cause the resur­gence is tak­ing place on the very con­ti­nent where the mur­der of 6 mil­lion tran­spired, and be­cause there are real cur­rent and fu­ture threats to Jews, a cer­tain hys­te­ria has sur­faced.

Let’s step back a bit. The great tragedy of the Jewish peo­ple in the 1930s and 1940s was not only that a mur­der­ous party com­mit­ted to the de­struc­tion of the Jewish peo­ple took over Ger­many and even­tu­ally most of Europe. It was also the fact that at that most per­ilous of times, Jews were pow­er­less. They had no army, they had no sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and they had no place to go.

In­deed, the history of anti-Semitism in Europe for 2,000 years, cul­mi­nat­ing in the great dis­as­ter of the Holo­caust, was all about phan­tas­magoric fan­tasies about Jews. Blood-li­bel charges; scape­goat­ing for the Black Plague; ac­cu­sa­tions of at­tempts to con­trol so­ci­ety and the world, as re­flected in the fraud­u­lent con­spir­acy man­i­festo of “The Pro­to­cols of the Learned El­ders of Zion” — none of these as­saults against the Jewish peo­ple bore any re­la­tion­ship to re­al­ity.

The old joke about the Jew who pre­ferred the Nazi news­pa­pers to the le­git­i­mate ones, be­cause all the Nazis talked about were how pow­er­ful Jews were, spoke vol­umes. Jews never ex­pe­ri­enced a day of real power.

There­after came the main les­son for Jews from the Holo­caust: We can’t af­ford to be pow­er­less ever again.

And so things have changed. First, there is a Jewish state. It has a strong mil­i­tary that proves ev­ery day the wis­dom of not be­ing pow­er­less. There would be no Is­rael to­day with­out the power of the Is­rael De­fense Forces. There also would be no pos­si­bil­ity of peace with the Arab world with­out the IDF. As was proved with Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat af­ter the 1973 Yom Kip­pur War, only the re­al­iza­tion that Is­rael can­not be de­stroyed opens the pos­si­bil­ity of peace.

There is also the le­git­i­mate ex­er­cise of power by Amer­i­can Jews, no­tice­ably lim­ited in the 1930s, to­gether with al­lies across the United States, which has helped safe­guard the well­be­ing of Is­rael and Jews around the world for decades.

The lessons have been learned. Even as the world be­comes more dan­ger­ous for Jews, forces are work­ing to mit­i­gate those threats.

Still, some­times Is­raelis and Jews act and speak as if we live in that old ter­ri­ble era when the fan­ta­sists pre­vailed, ac­cus­ing the Jews of hav­ing over­whelm­ing and poi­sonous power.

As noted, real anti-Semites are out there — those who seek the de­struc­tion of the Jewish state, those who blame Is­rael and Jews for ev­ery­thing that is wrong in the world, those who em­ploy ter­ror­ism against Jews and Is­rael.

As my 50-year ten­ure at the Anti-Defama­tion League draws to a close next week, it is trou­bling to see that Jews are vic­tims once again. We must stand strong and ex­pose the cur­rent form of anti-Semitism, which, in its own way, is po­ten­tially just as dan­ger­ous as the old form. But un­like in the past, we are not solely vic­tims. We are play­ers. And with that role comes a need for re­spon­si­bil­ity. With it comes a need to make real dis­tinc­tions. With it comes a need to look at one’s own role and the im­pact it has.

Leon Wieseltier, writ­ing re­cently in the At­lantic, put it well: “Even in a time of resur­gent anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism can­not ex­plain ev­ery­thing. . . . Is­rael’s fate is not en­tirely out of its hands.”

What share of what Is­rael does jus­ti­fies crit­i­cism, and what share does not, are sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion and con­sid­er­a­tion. But part of the dis­cus­sion must al­ways be: What can Is­rael do, what does it need to do bet­ter, how can its ac­tions have an im­pact, not on the haters who will al­ways be there but on the many non-anti-Semites who are trou­bled by some of its poli­cies?

The temp­ta­tion to re­ject such think­ing as blam­ing the vic­tim should be re­sisted. We are not liv­ing in an age of fan­ta­sists, though plenty of fan­ta­sists are still around. We are proud that Jews have a mod­icum of power, and we should act ac­cord­ingly.

The rejection of this ap­proach un­der­mines the abil­ity to deal with the real anti-Semitism that ex­ists.

And it pre­vents what is needed both in the com­mu­nity and in Is­rael: a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about not only how to com­bat our en­e­mies but also what we need to do to make things bet­ter and to weaken the fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment in which the en­e­mies of Is­rael plant their poi­sonous seeds.

What is needed is a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about not only how to com­bat our en­e­mies but also what we need to do to make things bet­ter.

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