Is Anti-Semitism Becoming Normalized?


The statute of limitations on overt expressions of anti-Semitism seems to have expired. For decades after the horrors of World War II, blatant anti-Semitism was tantamount to political suicide among mainstream political leaders of all stripes. No more. The anti-Semitic rhetoric spewing forth from the Middle East, Western Europe and the nations of the former Soviet Union has evolved from a trickle to a virtual flood. The danger, of course, is that anti-Semitism is becoming “normalized” as a part of political discourse. Consider the following:

* The JTA reported that Ukrainian politician Oleg Tyagnybok called for “a purge of Jews” in his country. In a speech last month, Tyagnybok, formerly with Our Ukraine, Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko’s parliament faction, called for “merciless action” against Jews and Russians who have “seized power” in Ukraine. Tyagnybok was expelled from Our Ukraine in 2004, reportedly for using anti-Semitc and xenophobic slogans during a speech. Tyagnybok reportedly lashed out at Yuschenko by claiming that his surrogates are beginning to use the same words that got him expelled from the president’s parliament faction. Ukraine has a long and bloody history of anti-Semitism going back centuries and through the Holocaust. The fact that both opposition and mainstream politicians are using anti-Semitic slurs in political speeches without fear of repercussion is a more-than-disturbing sign of the times.

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* In Berlin, at the Third Transatlantic Conference (supported partly by German federal funding), Mohammed Javad Larijani, former foreign minister of Iran, repeatedly said that “denial of the Holocaust in the Muslim world has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” The assertion would be comical if it were not yet another example of the extent to which current and former officials feel comfortable in making absurd and hateful assertions in international forums. Larijani also asserted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has “never denied the Holocaust,” even though he hosted an international conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran.

* In Saudi Arabia, often mislabeled a “moderate, pro-Western” regime, government-controlled newspapers routinely publish articles claiming that Jews use the blood of Muslim and Christian children to prepare Hamentashen for Purim, a new spin on the ancient “blood libel.” Way back when, anti-Semitic fanatics claimed that Jews killed Christian children to bake their blood into matzah.

* In Egypt, state-controlled TV serialized the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims a worldwide Jewish conspiracy is responsible for all wars and economic crises in history, up to the present. Egypt, also a so-called “moderate” Arab state largely because of its peace treaty with Israel, routinely publishes vile anti-Semitic cartoons in its state-controlled media. Unlike the frenzied reaction to the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in a Danish newspaper two years ago, the Egyptian anti-Jewish cartoons have been largely ignored by mainstream media as a routine reality.

* In Russia, ultra-nationalist and xenophobic political groups attacked Dmitry Medvedev for his allegedly Jewish parentage when former Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated him to succeed Putin to the presidency. Medvedev’s mother is believed to have been Jewish. To Medvedev’s credit, he has strongly denounced anti-Semitic acts, cases of xenophobia and chauvinism and anti-Russian sentiment since taking office as president.

* In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has strongly condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of several attacks on Jews around his country. But just a few days ago, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France’s extreme right, publicly made a joke about World War II crematoriums. His “joke” follows comments he made last fall that the Nazi gas chambers were a “minor point” in history. While Le Pen’s comments are routinely condemned by French officials, he received 14 percent of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election in April.

Political leaders around the world should follow the positive example of Medvedev and Sarkozy and denounce — in the strongest possible terms — any and all manifestations of anti-Semitism. For nearly half a century, politicians anywhere outside of the Middle East would never have dared to tolerate, let alone encourage, public anti-Semitism. If that tide is turning, we must stop it now.

We must not allow anti-Semitism to become “normalized” as part of political discourse in this nation or anywhere in the world. We must vigorously support groups like the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League as they respond swiftly and forcefully to the return of anti-Semitism in the public square. We already know the consequences of silence in the face of raw hatred.