"This," former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told reporters last week, "is a groundbreaking event." He was speaking by phone from Vienna, where he led the American delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's first trans-Atlantic conference on anti-Semitism. What was groundbreaking was not the outcome of the conference (not much happened) but that any such conference took place at all. "It was not
an easy thing to have this conference, and this is the first one that's been held," Giuliani said. Well, it was a start. Strange though this may sound in the age of the Holocaust Museum and "Schindler's List," even in America anti-Semitism remains underappreciated. Or, more precisely, it is not appreciated properly. It is seen as a secondary problem, a symptom of other, more serious maladies. But evidence mounts that anti-Semitism is more than that.
For a look at the fever chart, log onto www.memri.org and make your way to the Arab Anti-Semitism Documentation Project. The Middle East Media Research Institute specializes in translating materials from the Arabic press that, until recently, went unnoticed in the English-speaking world. Here you will find dozens of dispatches with titles such as "Saudi Minister of Interior. . . : 'Who Committed the Events of September 11?. . . I Think They [the Zionists] are Behind These Events.'" And: "Muslim Clerics State: The Jews are the Descendants of Apes, Pigs, and Other Animals." And: "Columnist for Saudi Daily Al-Jazirah: Jews Use Blood for Baked Goods." And: "Thanks to Hitler." And so on. And on.
This stuff is not just printed and broadcast; it is taught. The American Jewish Committee recently sponsored a study of 93 Saudi textbooks on various subjects for grades one through 10. One Arabic-language textbook declares, "The Jews are wickedness in its very essence." Others teach the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a century-old anti-Semitic forgery, debunked years ago) as fact. A geography text speaks of "a malicious Crusader-Jewish alliance [that is] striving to eliminate Islam from all the continents." The study finds that Jews generally are depicted as "a wicked nation, characterized by bribery, slyness, deception, betrayal, aggressiveness, and haughtiness."
In 2000, the media research institute looked at Syrian schoolbooks and found that "Syrian students are introduced to Islamic anti-Semitism by the sixth grade." Jews are described "as a homogeneous group typically prone to betrayal and treachery." As in (from Islamic Education for the Eleventh Grade): "The Jews spare no effort to deceive us, hate us, deny our Prophet, incite against us, and distort the holy scriptures." A 10th-grade text concludes that "the logic of justice" requires that the Jews "be exterminated."
Many people shruggingly regard such stuff as an offshoot of the current Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but the reverse is more nearly true: Anti-Semitism perpetuates the conflict by preaching that Israel's very existence is an intolerable threat and insult to Islam. Sayyid Qutb, the founding father of today's radical Islamism (a totalitarian political ideology rather than a religion as such), regarded the establishment of a Jewish state as a cultural disaster striking Islam at its very heart.
That was in the mid-1950s, a decade before Israel's occupation of the West Bank sparked today's conflict with the Palestinians. Hamas, Hezbollah, and other militant-Islamic groups have inherited Qutb's doctrine. Some militants, no doubt, want mainly self-determination for Palestinians, but others, just as certainly, want death for Jews. And some may have lost the distinction.
It is a signal and striking fact that with the important exception of North Korea, the Axis of Evil is identical to the Axis of Anti-Semitism. It is an even more signal and striking fact that the Axis of Evil has been essentially identical to the Axis of Anti-Semitism not just recently but since at least the 1930s. From that day to this, the best single way to predict whether a country or movement will threaten America or the world has been by noticing whether it threatens the Jews. There must be a reason Nazism, Communism, and now Baathism and Bin Ladenism all have had one thing in common.
At bottom, anti-Semitism is not about hatred of Jews, as such, at all. It is about the obsessive location of evil in a blameworthy Other, an alien devil who conspires to destroy the state and corrupt virtue. When European protesters can find no country in the world save Israel whose human-rights abuses are worth protesting, they are indulging in a mild version of what Arab radicals do when they blame Israel or Jews for, in effect, everything.
Increasingly and ominously, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are converging. The crafty Jews provide the brains, and the bullying Crusaders (Americans) provide the muscle. After 9/11, the mufti of Jerusalem preached, "Oh Allah, destroy America, for she is ruled by Zionist Jews!" A Syrian commentator wrote in 1999: "Jewish Shylock, whom the U.S. made popular and forced upon the nations, is not merely an ally to America, but also its powerful partner. . . Jewish Shylock, spread all over the world, operates in America's shadow." In 2000, Palestinian television broadcast a sermon inveighing: "Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them. . . They are all in one trench, against the Arabs and the Muslims."
Phyllis Kaminsky, an international consultant based in Potomac, Md., recently returned from representing the United States as a delegate to the United Nations' 59th Human Rights Commission. Israel-bashing, she found, was so common as to be "part of the environment." Moreover, "it's almost like a straw man for attacking the West. You attack Jews who are supported by the West, instead of attacking the West directly." We Americans are all Jews now.
Local hate is more than bad enough, but the effects of anti-Semitism are global. Anti-Semitism props up tyrants, from Hitler to Saddam, by giving them the enemies they need. It sabotages the core principle of civilization, namely that all humans are human. It teaches that no one need take responsibility or admit error as long as Jews are around. It foments instability and violence, not only within borders but across them. Think of anti-Semitism as a kind of social virus that, like AIDS, works not by killing its victims directly, but by undermining their resistance to other ailments: despotism, irresponsibility, cruelty, mania.
Anti-Semitism is, in short, not a derivative nuisance but a fundamental foreign-policy problem in its own right. Local hate crimes laws, which the OSCE conference touted, might help. What might help even more, however, would be for America and like-minded countries to meet the problem head-on -- say, by calling on the United Nations to launch a global offensive to eradicate anti-Semitism.
The United Nations? Am I kidding? For decades, the U.N., like a man with a gnawing brain disease, has been obsessed with Israel. In U.N. land, there are only two human-rights abusers, Israel and -- far behind, in feeble second place -- the whole rest of the planet. Israel comes in for denunciation after denunciation, resolution after resolution, while depredations in other countries are treated as unmentionable. Most of the world stands by as delegates speak of "Zionist Nazism" and accuse Israel of injecting Palestinian children with HIV. At the Human Rights Commission, America had to fight tooth and nail to include anti-Semitism in a declaration against religious intolerance. One resolution endorsed the legitimacy of resistance against "foreign occupation" (read: Israel in the West Bank and Gaza) "by all available means" (read: suicide bombing).
Precisely because of its record, the U.N. is exactly the place to make the point that anti-Semitism deserves, at long last, to be taken seriously. For example, this autumn the United States will rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization after an absence of 19 years. Part of UNESCO's mission is to improve education. America's new UNESCO ambassador (not yet named) would be well positioned to shine a spotlight on the teaching of anti-Semitism.
Certain Arab countries wouldn't like that, because they are unused to being held to account. Certain European countries wouldn't like it, either. Giuliani, asked last week whether he had spoken to the Europeans about confronting anti-Semitism in the U.N., said that the matter had come up in discussions-"not only their inability to deal with it, but sometimes their being on the other side of it." But he said that no commitments were made.
A little talk, no commitments, life goes on. Seven decades after Hitler came to power, we still take anti-Semitism less seriously than it takes us.