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entries tagged with: Israel


Fort Lee woman dedicates teacher center in Israel

Levin family members unveil the plaque dedicating the Teacher Empowerment Center in memory of Morton Levin. From left are his granddaughters Shachar and Sigal Shani, daughter Frayda Levy, widow Doris Levin, granddaughter Advah Shani, and great-grand daughter Maya Shani. Courtesy of ORT

Doris Levin of Fort Lee dedicated a Teacher Empowerment Center at the Rogozin Educational Campus in Kiryat Ata, Israel, last month in memory of her husband, Morton, who died in September at 86.

After her retirement two years ago, Levin began volunteering for ORT, the Organization for Rehabilitation and Training founded in Russia in 1880 and now the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organization. Its network of schools, colleges, and training centers in Israel, Russia, Argentina, and other countries benefits more than 200,000 people of all ethnicities.

“When my husband passed away, I asked that any donations in his memory be made to ORT,” said Levin. “Our family made a substantial donation, and the ORT regional director suggested using it to dedicate something in his name. My husband was a staunch supporter of Israel and I knew ORT has projects in Israel, so I decided that’s where it should be.”

Given several options, Levin settled on a project sponsored by World ORT’s Kadima Mad’a (Science Journey) program, which serves thousands of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, and Bedouin students at dozens of high schools throughout Israel. The sci-tech initiative includes World ORT Teacher Empowerment Centers (WOTECs), specially designed high-tech staff rooms that feature all the equipment teachers need to prepare their lessons efficiently. In addition to individual work stations, each WOTEC is equipped with scanners, photocopiers, printers, digital cameras, Internet and Intranet connections, photo- and video-processing software, design and development software, binding equipment, and PowerPoint equipment.

The Kiryat Ata campus in the Haifa district, which encompasses 743 students in two middle schools and 1,287 students in a high school and a junior college, did not yet have a WOTEC. Levin chose this site because one of her daughters, Jackie Levin Shani, had moved to an Israeli kibbutz not far from there in 1972. (She died in 1993 of brain cancer.)

“I had memories of passing through Kiryat Ata when my grandchildren were young,” said Levin, who used to visit several times a year with her husband.

She saw for herself how needed the WOTEC was. “The teachers had to plan their lessons at home before this,” said Levin. “So it serves a good purpose.”

Local institutions also have benefited from the support of the Levin family. Morton Levin attended services every week at the New Synagogue of Fort Lee, and belonged to CAMERA: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America; AIPAC; B’nai B’rith; and the Fort Lee chapter of the Jewish War Veterans. After many years as an employee of Allied Stores, Morton Levin and his wife went into the bookstore business. Later, he joined his wife and their daughter, Mountain Lakes resident Frayda Levy, who together ran the South Hackensack distributorship Regent Book Company.

Levy accompanied her mother to Israel for the unveiling of the memorial plaque on the teacher center. Also in attendance were Levin’s Israeli granddaughters Advah, Sigal, and Shachar Shani, her son-in-law Arieh Shani, and her 3-year-old great-granddaughter Maya. Levin also has daughters in Nantucket and Toronto, and granddaughters in New York and Englewood.

“This event brought our whole family together,” said Levin.

Now vice president for public relations for the Englewood & Cliffs Chapter of ORT, which has some 350 members, Levin enjoys serving as the official photographer for ORT fund-raising events.


Mother of longtime MIA remains hopeful

Rina Hever has no doubt that her son Guy — an Israeli soldier missing for 13 years —will come home.

Last seen on the Golan Heights in August 1997, Guy, then 20 years old, literally disappeared without a trace.

“The Israeli government said that his case is unique,” Guy’s mother told The Jewish Standard. “Usually the security forces can find some clue about what happened. But here, nothing has been found. Not a single item of his was found despite all the searches, not even his key chain or his dog tag.”

Ultimately, the government concluded that he was kidnapped by Syria.

As a result, his mother — in Fair Lawn this week staying with her brother, Avi Weissbard — has spent the past 13 years meeting with “all relevant people who have some connection with Syria.”

Guy Hever, 13 years ago, before his disappearance.

In November, she traveled to Geneva to speak with an official from the Red Cross. She has also been to Paris, Turkey, Germany, and, this past week, to Washington. In addition, she met with officials at the United Nations in New York.

“I had eight meetings in one day,” she said of her visit to Washington. “If I had more time here, I could do much more.” She added that after returning to Israel, she will plan another trip to the United States.

Supported by officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Hever met with “high-level members of Congress who are most likely to be involved in discussions with Syria.”

“I received great support,” she said, noting that two years ago former president Jimmy Carter gave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a picture of her son.

“It’s always the same answer from Syria,” she said. “They’re aware of the story; they have never denied the existence of Guy. But they say ‘Leave it alone. We don’t want to speak about it.’”

Hever said that she has met several times with Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to both Syria and Israel. “He told us that the Syrian president knows Guy’s case well, but is not prepared to give any information.”

Still, she added, “It’s a humanitarian case, not political. I am hoping that someone with good will” will step forward and help. “The solution of this case would be good for the relationship between Israel, the U.S., and Syria,” she said. “I believe from the bottom of my heart that the U.S. has the experience and ability” to do something. She is particularly hopeful that with a new administration in Washington, some progress might now be made.

Hever does not doubt that her son is still alive.

“I’m certain about it,” she said. “History teaches us that the Syrians can keep people for years. But under certain pressure they act. You never know what kind of pressure will be the right pressure.”

Together with close friends and members of her family, Hever has tried to keep her son’s cause in the public eye. She admits, however, that “we don’t know how to make a campaign.”

“The blood of my son is not less red” than that of the other MIAs, she said, noting that some other families are able to be more vocal and more visible. “It’s not in our nature, our character.”

Guy, she said, had an avid interest in computers, enjoyed music, and read science fiction. Her 24-year-old twins — Shir, now studying to be a nurse, and Or, who was interviewed for this newspaper in 2005, when he came to this area to raise awareness about his brother’s plight — haven’t seen him since they were 12.

But, she added, “They are hopeful that they’ll see their brother again.”

The family lives in Kochav Yair, near Kfar Saba. Together with close friends and family members, Hever has done what she can, speaking regularly with Israeli government officials, traveling around the world to meet with potential contacts, and maintaining a Website,

“We have to act and to move the Israeli public,” she said, noting that 10 years ago, in a meeting with her husband Eitan, then (and current) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “promised to look for Guy.”

Media attention, she said, has been fickle. In 2007, an organization called Resistance Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights claimed through a posting on the Internet that it had Guy and wanted to exchange him for Syrian prisoners in Israel — the first hint in 10 years that Guy was, in fact, in Syria. But after an initial flurry of press coverage, said Hever, the story once again faded from the public view.

“I wish we knew what could be done,” she said. “We’ll try any channel. Maybe someone connected in some way with Syria will read this story and be able to help.”


Mystery of the Ballpoint Pen

Warren BorosonBoroson's Anecdotage
Published: 01 April 2010
(tags): israel, nasa

When NASA first planned to send up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity.

To solve the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $1.2 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 Celsius.

Confronted with the same problem, the Israelis used a pencil.


Obama and the deafening silence of American Jewry


Sharing the love — bringing baseball to Israel

Kenneth Fried in Sderot at the dedication of a youth recreational center.

Dr. Kenneth Fried loves baseball. He also loves Israel.

Working with the Jewish National Fund, the Demarest resident — and chair of “Field of Dreams,” JNF’s “hardball mission to the Holy Land” — has found a way to combine those two interests.

Several years ago, Fried and his wife Sharon, both physicians, were approached by JNF to help establish a secure indoor recreational center for the youth population of Sderot. The couple seemed a likely choice, having provided outdoor recreation equipment to the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, where the bases are dedicated to their four daughters.

Coming from a family of athlete/physicians, Fried — a vascular surgeon whose parents, Drs. Seymour and Sylvia Fried, live in Tenafly — told the Standard at the time, “We feel physical education is part of growing up along with academics.”

“I was enamored of the experience,” Fried said of his involvement in the Sderot project. He was also impressed by the JNF projects he saw in Israel.

Now, his enthusiasm is directed toward another project. Approached once again by JNF — where he has been named to the group’s North Jersey board — he said “a light bulb went off” when he realized that the competitive men’s baseball games he’s been participating in here could also be played in Israel.

Part of a baseball league dubbed “A League of Our Own,” which includes 18 teams, Fried says “probably a third of the members are Jewish, because of the demographics.”

Members play both in North Jersey and in Florida. One of his team members is Fair Lawn resident Ritchard Rosen, who will be participating in the Israel trip.

Fried thought, “Why not do this in Israel as well?” he said.

The plan came together when he was on a bus, speaking with Russell Robinson, the chief executive officer of JNF. The two were talking about the Israel Baseball League, launched several years with great fanfare but little success.

“He said JNF felt there still was a strong interest” in developing baseball in Israel, said Fried. “It was an agenda they wanted to pursue.”

Fried believes strongly in the power of baseball.

“It becomes part of one’s own fabric and personality,” he said. “Your experiences are better when you connect to it.”

The plan, he said, is to bring a group of baseball lovers to Israel and “to start with the youth, running clinics in addition to participating in games against Israeli teams.” The Israel Association of Baseball, he said, has four teams in four cities.

Mission participants will have an opportunity “to see Israel through JNF eyes” and use field facilities to connect with Israelis through baseball, said Fried. In addition, “We’d like to try to sow the seeds for a more established youth program, maybe starting a pilot project like a baseball academy.”

Because Israel has many expatriate Americans and Canadians who already love baseball,
the sport “could become part of the fabric of Israel sports,” he said, suggesting that the IBL didn’t work because “Israelis don’t understand the slow pace of baseball. They have to learn the game.”

He called it shortsighted to assume that “if you build it, they will come,” unless the groundwork has been properly laid and baseball is partnered with a youth program.

While JNF’s “e-mail blast” has generated tremendous interest, he said, the trip, originally slated for May 8-15, will need to be rescheduled, since many respondents have said they need more time to prepare. In addition, to keep costs affordable for the different constituencies who might attend, JNF has agreed to make side trips optional to participants who are coming mainly to play baseball.

“We’re hoping this will become an annual thing,” said Fried. “People are coming out of the woodwork. Three people want to send their sons or nephews who are playing college baseball, youth who need a different kind of Jewish connection. Another e-mail was from a kid looking for a mitzvah project and wanting to send baseball equipment to Israeli kids.”

He also received a note from a man on Kibbutz Lotan in southern Israel who would like to introduce baseball to the kibbutz and needs equipment — and another from a graduate student at the Jewish Theological Seminary who wants to play baseball and explore how Israeli society accepts the sport.

For more information about the upcoming mission, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


The frightening rebirth of anti-Semitism

An interview with a foremost authority on an ancient scourge that won’t go away

The disease known as anti-Semitism has been dormant in Western culture for thousands of years; sometimes it becomes an epidemic. This seems to be such a time. Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing throughout the world.

Meanwhile, at universities throughout the world scholars are intensively investigating the causes of anti-Semitism and seeking possible antidotes.

In this series of articles, we report on the latest thinking about anti-Semitism — and what good people can do to at least reduce it to being just endemic again and not epidemic.

People, including the Jewish people, are really in massive denial,” warns Robert S. Wistrich, a foremost authority on anti-Semitism.

First in a series

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Wistrich points out, has repeatedly vowed to annihilate Israel. It follows that “it would be an act of suicide to permit Iran to have the bomb.”

Wistrich is the author of a magisterial new book, “A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad” (Random House, 2010, $40). His book, which has 941 pages of text (and which he wrote in longhand), has won unstinting praise from reviewers. Jonathan Israel of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton has called it a “masterpiece.” It certainly is.

In person Wistrich is self-possessed and courteous, a marvelous conversationalist with a remarkable knowledge of history and a keen mind.

Since 1982 he has been Neuberger professor of modern European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he lives.

Below are excerpts from a recent interview, held in New York City.

Combatting anti-Semitism

Robert Wistrich, author of “A Lethal Obsession,” argues that Holocaust education is not a magical antidote for anti-Semitism. Douglas Guthrie

Jewish Standard: What can be done to reduce anti-Semitism? After World War II, when I was growing up in New Jersey, there were school programs to foster tolerance — including student essay contests. A notable book of the time was “Protestant-Catholic-Jew,” by Will Herberg, about our country as a healthy “triple melting pot.” Are educational programs one answer?

Wistrich: Before answering that, I think I have to issue a warning, a “health” warning. People always ask this and it’s natural: “OK, there’s a problem. How are we going to fix it?”

Americans in particular love this — it’s part of the national psyche. But this is not the kind of problem that lends itself to that approach — as has been proven in over 2,000 years of history. It hasn’t been fixed up to now, so surely it’s an act of almost hubristic naïveté to think that suddenly somebody is going to shout “Eureka! This is how we’ll fix it.” That’s not gonna happen. Plenty of people have had their minds focused on this, even if they haven’t had much success in seeking to find short- or medium-term solutions.

I’ve attended many conferences, spoken to government officials, been involved in the practical side of this, but I’ve never come out with a feeling that any of the measures taken are more than very short-term palliatives.

For instance, I’ve attended meetings of organizations in Europe, been a guest of and adviser to the State Department and the British Parliament, Canadian Parliament, French government officials, Polish government officials, and so on and so forth. They express good will, and have in some cases — such as Britain and Canada — instituted parliamentary inquiries of their own. They do seek to monitor the extent of the phenomenon more seriously than most other countries, which don’t monitor anti-Semitism properly or at all, and are not even prepared to put any resources into this.

These governments show good will, but what do we see, just looking at the statistics? The curve of anti-Semitism during the same period when they began to focus more on intensive countermeasures has risen. It’s not their fault, but it’s been unaffected.

Another example: Many people throw out a rather superficial and, as it turns out, quite unsound remedy. They say the answer is more Holocaust education.

In my chapter on France, I bring this out. For the last 20 years there’s been a tremendous advance in the scale and extent of Holocaust education in French schools. They came to it late, but once they began it became an integral part of the curriculum — and during this very period anti-Semitism intensified. And I can tell you that it is becoming extremely difficult to even teach the Holocaust there — mainly due to large Muslim influx. Those children do not want to hear about it, and they can become extremely abusive — and even take the Holocaust as an example of what they would like to implement.

A report to the French ministry of education recorded a North African Muslim teenager shouting to the teacher of one of these lessons, in French, “Hitler would have been a good Muslim!” Why? “He sought to wipe out all the Jews.”

So, let’s not be naïve. In some countries, handled sensitively, intelligently, Holocaust education may be useful. But it’s not an antidote. It can actually serve to inflame, as this example showed. So it’s not black and white.

Lethal & non–lethal anti-Semitism

J.S.: Isn’t it depressing — the history of anti-Semitism? One realizes that, 50 or 100 years from now, a much lengthier history of anti-Semitism probably can be written.

Wistrich: One message of my book is that in just 15 years the size of the book might have to be doubled. Anti-Semitism is certainly not going to go away.

The question is, how do you ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t become truly lethal? Through different phases of history, sometimes anti-Semitism has been dormant and sometimes it explodes. The scale of the catastrophe varies enormously.

And to some extent what will happen is in our hands. I don’t see this as decreed by some inscrutable fate. It may indeed have a purpose and a design beyond our comprehension. If you are a religious person, you may well believe that it is the hand of divine providence. I don’t exclude anything.

But I think that a deeper understanding can enable us to take measures to prevent anti-Semitism, even though it is part of the human condition, from becoming lethal.

And that would be achievement enough. Believe me, if we can neutralize it to the point where we can live with it, that is more than enough. Any other notion is pie in the sky — the historical record proves this beyond any doubt.

The terrible decade

J.S.: How does your new book differ from other books on anti-Semitism, including your own previous study?

Wistrich: There are a number of striking differences. The other books usually stop in 1945, while most of my book deals with post-Shoah. Books that do deal with post-1945 have tended to be, to a great extent, quickly written books responding to a particular trigger event — often written by journalists — without any sense of the history of the phenomenon — and they are as transient as the event that triggered it. I wrote a book in 1990 on the subject, and I think it was an important work, “The Longest Hatred,” a term I coined. But this new book describes the last 20 years, which witnessed explosions of anti-Semitism across the world. It outweighs the years between 1945 and 1989 in terms of intensity and global scope.

Countries without anti-Semitism

J.S.: Pre-Nazi Germany was a discontented country. Are countries whose people are relatively contented less likely to harbor anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: An interesting hypothesis, worth exploring.

I’m well aware that at least two major civilizations, Indian and Chinese, have not within their own culture produced any of the varieties of anti-Semitism I analyze in my book. To some degree you may find pockets of it, but it’s purely a result of tensions that existed during the Cold War between India and Israel, or China and Israel. During the Maoist period, there was unconditional Chinese support for the popular liberation struggle of Palestinians. But even that was without any notable anti-Semitic lining — unlike Soviet communism, which was quite different. The Russian culture produced anti-Semitism, but the Chinese culture did not.

So yes, India and China are exceptions, and those two exceptions account for 40 percent of humanity — so that’s an encouraging thought. But not a great consolation, because the other side of that coin is they don’t really understand anti-Semitism. They’re not wired to this problem at all.

Why the Chinese admire the Jews

Wistrich: Three years ago, I was invited to the University of Nanking to speak before an international conference. They wanted to compare the Holocaust with the Nanking massacre of 1937, when the Japanese army conquered large chunks of China and entered into Nanking, which was then the capital. And they massacred 300,000 Chinese civilians — very deliberately —the most horrific kind of slaughter.

One of the reasons I was invited to this conference was that the Chinese loathe the Japanese — who, by the way, never really apologized for that atrocity in any meaningful way.

At the lunchtime break I was sitting with a Chinese professor, and someone asked me to compare the Holocaust with that massacre. I said there’s no comparison, and secondly I wasn’t an expert on what happened in China. We had an interesting conversation, and they are really free, as far as I can see, of any suggestion of anti-Semitism and have difficulty understanding it.

But they admire the Jewish people, they think Jews are very smart and that they have a great deal to learn from them. They admire Israel, too — even though politically they are careful about what they say.

And I asked the Chinese professor, what do you think really lies behind this conference? Why have you chosen this theme? He said that “some Chinese experts are tremendously impressed by the fact that you Israelis and Jews only amount to100 million people, and we are 1.5 billion, and yet the whole world knows about the Holocaust and nobody knows about the Nanking massacre! We want to learn from you how to do it.”

I had to correct him. “We’re not 100 million people, we are more like 13.5 million.” And he was totally flabbergasted.

It’s interesting as an exercise in perception because, in Europe, even though publicly the Holocaust is memorialized and political leaders will say it was a most awful event, do their mea culpas, and say a few words of mourning for the dead Jews of Europe, then they will launch their very own one-sided criticism of the State of Israel, sometimes amounting to outright vilification.

Jews in Israel, who actually defend themselves against attack, are another matter entirely, and Europe has not come to terms with that. Unlike the United States, though under the Obama administration this is becoming a little blurred.

The disappearing anti-Semite

J.S.: It has dawned on me that nobody admits being anti-Semitic anymore. But by an amazing coincidence, the number of anti-Semites who have disappeared is just about equal to the number of people existing today who are thoroughly and implacably anti-Israel.

Wistrich: I think that’s probably fairly accurate, even though we don’t have to take it literally, in statistical form. The way we formulate it is this: People always ask, what is the relationship between antagonism to Israel and anti-Semitism? Can’t there just be criticism of Israel?

In the last 40 years, people have discovered a socially acceptable, polite way of expressing sentiments that are no longer politically correct. Anti-Zionism in practice has become a legitimate substitute for anti-Semitism.

Anybody who has any resentment, any grudge, any issue with the Jews will tend to express it in an anti-Israel form. That is almost an iron rule today.

J.S.: But aren’t some people innocent dupes? Taken in by the propaganda?

Wistrich: There always are dupes in every time and place. Lenin, who had an astute nose for this, even though he was at the end of the day a mass murderer though not an anti-Semite — Lenin said he believed that the capitalist world would ultimately go down to defeat for two reasons:

1. The Soviet Union would give the capitalists enough rope to hang themselves. America in particular extended aid to the Soviet Union during its early years, to save the Soviets from starvation! That did not prevent the Cold War later on.

2. Lenin counted on all the fellow travelers of communism around the world — the “useful idiots,” he called them — and there are millions of useful idiots around the world, especially today.

These idiots, on the issue of radical Islam, do not understand the nature of the threat, even when it is coming closer and closer to their doorstep. And that is not just a Jewish matter, even though Jews happen to be on the front line of that struggle. But Jews — or even Israel — are by no means the primary target or victim of Islamists.

Prejudice vs. anti-Semitism

J.S.: I overheard a couple of women talking recently, and one said of someone else, “She doesn’t like Jews.” Isn’t one key cause of anti-Semitism the fact that people are too prone to generalize? This woman has met one or two Jews she didn’t like, and decided that Jews are all the same.

Wistrich: It’s absolutely fundamental to draw a line, but not an absolute dividing line, between prejudice — ethnic, national, social, racial, religious, whatever — and anti-Semitism.

Prejudice is usually a component of anti-Semitism, but at the lowest rung of the ladder. Prejudice is universal. I have never yet met a person, and I include myself, without prejudice. If you think about the world, you will pre-judge. Sometimes you have no choice. We have to pre-judge to presume things that may or may not be true — because we don’t have the time or the resources to investigate everything in all its aspects. So we jump to conclusions, we make snap judgments, we generalize — and we discriminate when we do it. That is unfortunate at times but inevitable.

But discrimination has several meanings, and not all of them are negative. In the negative sense, to discriminate is to unjustly or arbitrarily exercise a judgment that is unfavorable to certain groups. But discrimination also has a positive sense. “He’s very discriminating” means he can distinguish between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, good taste and bad taste. There’s nothing wrong with that. People make judgments and that is a necessary part of the mental process.

Prejudice will never be eradicated but it can be contained. We can palliate it through education, greater knowledge — all these things are valuable and important. We don’t want to encourage prejudice in the negative sense. But anti-Semitism — and that’s really at the heart of my book — is several stages beyond that. Anti-Semitism is already a crystallization of all kinds of antipathies, fears, hostilities, resentments — which may indeed be based on prejudicial positions, but could even have some kind of rational kernel to them. They crystallize into a view of the world, into an ideology, into political or social action — which may have very unpleasant consequences. They permeate institutions, may be reflected in laws, or boycotts, all kinds of actions that are damaging to Jews. That is anti-Semitism. Mere prejudice, Jews have lived with throughout history and will continue to live with, and we shouldn’t be too scared of that. In actuality, some other groups suffer even more. In American society, we all know black people suffered greater levels of prejudice — and outright racism. It’s been partially corrected, but it took a long time and it is not yet a thing of the past.

Responding to anti-Semitism

J.S.: I’ve been the victim of overt anti-Semitism several times in my life, and never knew how to respond. A drunk once sat next to me on a bus when I was a kid, and nonstop disparaged Jews — while I remained embarrassed and silent. Today I would respond. Why aren’t Jews in general more assertive in responding to instances of anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: The social reality that existed through centuries of Jewish exile was that Jews were a particularly vulnerable minority and suffered from discriminatory laws. They were ghettoized. They didn’t have much choice but to be extremely careful in the way that they would respond to avoid provocation and hope that the storm would pass.

Once Jews became citizens of democratic countries, where they were granted equal rights, this behavior pattern slowly began to change. It’s only in the 20th century, I think, that Jews became more assertive, as indeed they had every right to be — to defend their interests, their rights as citizens, just like any other citizens — and not to tolerate insult, damage, and threats. I think that this is one of the more striking characteristics of American Jewry taken as a whole when you compare it to most other Jewish communities in the diaspora. I know of other Jewish communities that are also assertive, and often they’re English-speaking democracies like Canada, Australia, and so on. And in France, too, the behavior pattern has changed. And I think that this is a healthy sign — and that one of the reasons why post-1945 in the United States anti-Semitism gradually diminished, without ever disappearing. American Jewish organizations began to be more active in the steps that they took to counteract manifestations of hostility or discrimination in the wider society, both toward them and others. So that the organizations like the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Wiesenthal Center, and so on — made an important contribution. They’ve acted politically — make no mistake about it, politics is important — and in America we see that the results have been beneficial because Jews have created for themselves some modicum of countervailing power — a sort of shield — just as Israel acts as a shield for the Jewish people since the creation of the State of Israel. This undoubtedly contributed to a greater feeling of self-confidence of Jews being able to stand up for themselves — to give back as good as they get — to defend themselves when attacked or when threatened. It’s come with serious problems, which I explain in my book.

Israel itself has become the major target of anti-Semitism around the world, and its legitimacy is contested. A vast enterprise of delegitimization is taking place on so many fronts. But it’s extremely important to the Jewish world and for all people who wish Israel well and understand its vital importance in the international community and what it stands for — it’s vitally important that a strong right hand is preserved to fight off these efforts. Because if, God forbid, these efforts were to succeed, the consequences for Jews in the diaspora as well as for what would happen in Israel itself would be felt very quickly.

It’s one thing we should disabuse ourselves of. We live in a predatory world — every day in our newspapers we see further confirmation of that. So you have to have deterrence — one of the hardest lessons that the Jewish people learned in the 20th century. Believe in God, trust in the Almighty, but keep your powder dry — this is what Oliver Cromwell so rightly said in the 17th century when he led the Puritan revolution to overthrow the English monarchy. Both are equally necessary — belief in providence, and arms for self-defense.

On Jews against Israel

J.S.: Reading your chapter on anti-Israel Jews, I reached one incontestable conclusion: A lot of people are crazy. Absolute nutcases.

Wistrich: Well, many anti-Zionist Jews are intellectuals and academics.

You know, when I think of the more pathological examples of anti-Israel Jews, one could write an entire book just on that theme — and I have enough material to do it. But this may be a golden opportunity for psychoanalysis to finally produce something useful!

I’m reminded of something that was said by an English journalist in the 1930s, George Orwell. He was reacting to that section of the English intelligentsia that was unconditionally pro-Soviet — and although he was a socialist, Orwell could not abide the hypocrisy and the doubletalk of these intellectuals. He then made a remark that I would apply to some of the anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals. He said that there are some things in this world that only intellectuals would be stupid enough to believe!

And this is how I feel about some of the vilifications and lies about Israel and the Palestinians or the “Jewish question” in general. How can one be stupid enough to believe this propaganda?

Thinking the unthinkable

J.S.: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the situation in the Mideast? Do you think Iran might attack Israel with nuclear weapons?

Wistrich: Think about Haman the Wicked, grand vizier of the Persian empire. I know it’s a legend, but it’s remarkably prescient. It is there for a purpose even if we cannot fully decode it. This Purim story is about what? A man rises to power in Persia and embarks upon a project to exterminate all the Jewish people in one day — all the Jewish men, women, and children of the Persian empire. And he plots and conspires and convinces the emperor to do that, to strip the Jews of everything they have and then wipe them out.

That is also Ahmadinejad’s goal. Of course the bomb is the key to that; that is the only way Iran could carry out such a project, and Iran is feverishly working in that direction.

Come what may, irrespective of what the international community may say, what the United States might claim, Obama stretched out his hand and it was symbolically chopped off by the Iranian leader. I don’t know whether Obama even noticed. But he is still holding it out while manufacturing crises with Israel over minor settlement issues that are like tiny pebbles in the mighty ocean.

I believe that Ahmadinejad’s fate will be like that of Haman. In other words, the tree that he has prepared, metaphorically, to hang the Jews of Persia, to wipe out the State of Israel in our time, is the one on which he himself will be hanged. How that will come about I don’t know. I am not a prophet, and neither the Israeli government nor the intelligence service has told me what their plans are. Realistically, Iran is a great danger, as is radical Islam in general. How do you frustrate such an evil design? It’s not a simple matter. We all know that there are dispersed nuclear sites, but we don’t know where all of them are. I certainly hope that Israel knows where they are, because it will be left largely alone to fight this battle.

Anybody who says that Israelis can live with an Iranian bomb under the regime of the ayatollahs doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s the nature of this regime — its fanatical, messianic, apocalyptic ideology, its vicious anti-Semitism, its declared intention, brazenly repeated, to wipe out the Jewish state — that is at issue. In these conditions, it would be an act of suicide to permit Iran to have the bomb. The rest is just commentary.

J.S.: You were born in Russia in 1945 and grew up in England, attending schools there. As a child, did you experience any anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: I was subjected to less abuse than others. If you were athletic, as I was, you became half a gentile. Another reason was, I was the best pupil in the class, and teachers do like to have a few pupils who can actually answer their questions. Anti-Semitism was part of my social experience. It seemed normal; we lived with it, we dealt with it. It was certainly long before such things as the race relations act.

The p.c. of today makes that impossible — which is almost the only good thing about political correctness. It has put an end to that kind of open, blatant racism.

But on the other hand, modern anti-Semitism may be character-building — making you want to prove yourself. I felt the way many of my school friends felt. You know, this is the way they look at us; OK, we’re going to prove them wrong just by being better than anybody else.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons why Jews have been overachievers.

J.S.: That’s a good thought to end this interview. Thank you.


From Herzl to Herzliya

62 years of Israel’s independence

Stuart Levy
Published: 16 April 2010

We have much to celebrate this Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

To use one of today’s more popular terms, Israel began as a start-up dream. Groups of Jewish upstarts connected to the nationalist fervor of the late 19th century and began to dream of a Jewish state in Palestine. Theodor Herzl expanded on these nationalist ideals in his writings “The Jewish State” (1896) and “Old New Land” (1902). These early utopian works expounded the Zionist dream for a Jewish and democratic homeland and today, a little more than 100 years later, we celebrate the vibrant and exciting State of Israel.

Theodor Herzl and his children, from left, Hans, Trude, and Pauline. None of his children lived to see the creation of the State of Israel.

We also celebrate a new breed of Israeli. This is the third generation of Israelis after the establishment of the State of Israel. The first generation was made up of Holocaust survivors, dreamers, and builders; the second included the warriors and planners, and the third generation is made up of entrepreneurs, innovators, and achievers. We are proud witnesses of Israel’s accomplishments in a variety of fields. We see Israelis as leaders in nearly every field of technology, including pharmaceuticals, many fields of research, communications, and alternative energy.

Israel received excellent press during the first weeks after the Haiti earthquake. Israel’s emergency response to this recent disaster was exemplary, and described by Dr. Jennifer Ashton of CBS news as “the Rolls Royce of emergency medical care.”

While we’re busy celebrating Israel’s 62nd birthday, it is important to spend a moment remembering the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl. It seems particularly fitting to remember Herzl at this time because two weeks after Israel’s Independence Day will be the 150th anniversary of his birth on May 2, 1860.

Herzl, a Paris journalist for an Austrian newspaper, was deeply disturbed by the notorious Dreyfus trial and its aftermath — large anti-Semitic demonstrations. These events caused a fundamental change in Herzl, who was educated in the spirit of German Jewish Enlightenment as a secular Jew. He began to believe that Jews should leave Europe and create their own independent state. Herzl’s writings were the foundation stones of the dream of a Jewish sovereign state. He was also honored with the name “Hoze Ha’Medinah” — visionary of the State.

It is with sadness that I learned that Herzl has no living relatives, only one family member ever visited Palestine, and no one related to him saw his Zionist dream fulfilled.

Herzl was married to Julie Naschauer in 1889; it was said to be an unhappy marriage. They had three children, all of whom died tragically. His eldest daughter, Pauline, suffered from mental illness and died of a morphine overdose. His son Hans committed suicide the day after Pauline’s funeral.

The younger daughter, Trude, married and had a son, Stephan Theodore Neumann, Herzl’s only grandson. She died in Theresienstadt at the hands of the Nazis. Stephan was sent to England before the outbreak of the war and to escape Austrian anti-Semitism. He anglicized his name to Stephen Norman and enlisted in the British army. Norman was an ardent Zionist and read his grandfather’s writings and diaries. He visited Palestine, under the British Mandate in 1946, “to see what my grandfather started” almost 50 years after Herzl’s only visit there.

Norman was most impressed by the “look of freedom” in children’s eyes compared to the pale and ashen faces he’d seen in the concentration camps. He wrote, “My visit to Palestine is over…. It is said that to go away is to die a little. And I know that when I went away from Erez Israel, I died a little. But sure, then, to return is somehow to be reborn. And I will return.”

Stephen Norman, Herzl’s only grandson, did not return to Palestine or witness the fledgling Jewish homeland grow into the modern state of Israel. After the visit to Palestine he was employed by the British government in Washington, D.C. There he learned the fate of his mother and, suffering immensely, he jumped from the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge to his death. Norman was buried in Washington by the Jewish Agency in November 1946. He was reburied with his family on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, on Dec. 5, 2007.

Just as Moses never reached the Promised Land, so Herzl only dreamed of a “land flowing with milk and honey.” As a popular Israeli folk song based on Herzl’s famous quote reminds us, “If you will it, it is no dream!”


Multiple battlegrounds in fights over eastern Jerusalem

Israelis and Palestinians protest the eviction of Palestinian families from a pair of Jewish-owned buildings in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah on March 26. David Vaaknin/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – The day that Zacharia Zigelman, 26, moved into a home in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in eastern Jerusalem, he got beaten up, he says.

“You get used to it,” Zigelman said of the incident, which occurred about six months ago.

Zigelman, his wife, and 5-month-old son are one of seven Jewish families living in two buildings from which members of an extended Palestinian family were evicted last summer after Israel’s Supreme Court determined that the property was owned by a Jewish group called Nachalat Shimon. Several members of the al-Kurd family continue to live in a wing of one of the homes, which has only added to the tension.

The home is one of several in the neighborhood that Jews and Arabs are fighting over.

So far, three Palestinian families have been evicted from their homes there, and Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that four other Arab families must vacate their homes. Six other cases are under deliberation, and two additional claims were filed last week by Nachalat Shimon, which purchased title to the 4.5-acre property from its original Jewish owners several years ago.

Protesters have staged frequent demonstrations in front of the homes now occupied by the Jews. At times, violent riots have erupted, leading to the arrests of Palestinian and left-wing demonstrators. The new Jewish residents and counter-demonstrators have also been accused of incitement; in one case, Jewish teenagers tore down a courtyard fence erected by the al-Kurds.

The dispute in Sheik Jarrah is one of many pitting Arab against Jew in the battle over eastern Jerusalem. Increasingly, this battle is the subject of international scrutiny and — when it comes to Jews moving into eastern Jerusalem — widespread condemnation.

In Israel, it is the projects to settle Jews in predominantly Arab neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah that have proven most contentious. Overseas, any effort to house Jews across the Green Line — the line that divided Israel from Jordan between 1948 and 1967 — has proven controversial lately.

Tensions between the Obama administration and Israel reached an all-time high last month following an announcement during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden that Israel planned to build 1,600 new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Home to approximately 18,000 residents, Ramat Shlomo is one of many Jerusalem neighborhoods that today are fully Jewish but were built on vacant land Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in 1980. Most Israelis believe in Israel’s right to build on this land without restriction, considering it distinct from Jewish settlements in the west bank, which Israel never annexed. But U.S. officials and others around the world do not recognize that distinction, calling Jewish neighborhoods built in the 27 square miles of eastern Jerusalem — including Gilo, East Talpiyot, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Ramot, where Ramat Shlomo is — settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not include the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem in the 10-month settlement construction freeze he began last November.

Perhaps the most controversial method by which Jews have moved into eastern Jerusalem has been through the use of the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which allowed Israel to seize the property of Arabs who fled Palestine to enemy countries during Israel’s War of Independence and did not return by Sept. 1, 1948. After Israel captured eastern Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, this law was also applied to Palestinian property there — meaning that properties in the area owned by Arab families living elsewhere could be subject to seizure without compensation.

Meanwhile, the Absentee Property Law bars Palestinians from making claims on their former dwellings inside Israel. Arab rights groups say the law is discriminatory.

Application of the law in eastern Jerusalem “opens a Pandora’s box of the Palestinian and Israeli property issue,” says Tali Nir, an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). “This is a huge violation of their basic rights for shelter and dignity, and of their property rights.”

Since annexing eastern Jerusalem, the Israeli government has expropriated more than 6,000 acres of property privately owned by Arabs — more than a third of eastern Jerusalem, according to ACRI.

According to Ir Amim, an Israeli group that advocates for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the Absentee Law also has been used to expropriate sizable parts of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which were then given over for construction of the City of David, a Jewish archeological site and visitors’ center. Located downhill from the Old City, some 2,600 Palestinian families and about 70 Jewish families live in the 30-acre area.

The dispute over the homes in Sheik Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted for non-payment of rent to the properties’ Jewish owners, has proven no less contentious.

The homes under dispute sit on a 4.5-acre parcel owned by Jews during the Ottoman era that came under Jordanian rule when eastern Jerusalem fell to Transjordan during the 1948 war. Between 1948 and 1967, 28 Palestinian refugee families that fled Israel during the 1948 war were settled on the property in exchange for paying a symbolic rental fee and ceding their refugee status.

In the early 1980s, years after the area was captured by Israel in the 1967 war, two Jewish organizations came forward with Ottoman-era documents showing the property belonged to them. Israeli courts upheld the authenticity of the documents, which Arab groups maintain are forgeries. In 1982, an attorney for the Palestinian families living on the property inked a deal with the Jewish owners under which the Palestinian families would remain protected tenants as long as they continued to pay rent.

But most of the families refused to pay the rent, in part because it would recognize the Jewish groups as the rightful owners of the property and because the families believed the United Nations had promised the land would be registered in their names after a certain number of years, according to Orly Noy, spokeswoman for Ir Amim.

Then, more recently, a group of investors formed Nachalat Shimon to develop the property for Jewish housing. The group purchased the property from the two original Jewish groups that owned it and, eventually, began eviction proceedings against the Palestinian tenants who failed to pay their rent. No action has been taken against those who continue to pay their rent.

Chaim Silberstein, who helped bring together the Nachalat Shimon investors, said the case is one of Palestinian families “living illegally on property that does not belong to them.” Before eviction proceedings began, he said, Nachalat Shimon offered all of the Palestinian families currently facing eviction compensation to leave voluntarily.

Nachalat Shimon reportedly plans to raze the existing buildings and create a 200-apartment enclave for Jewish families in the Arab neighborhood.

It’s not the only property in Sheik Jarrah owned by Jews. American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz purchased the Shepherd’s Hotel area with the intention of turning it into about 20 apartments for Jewish families. That plan has been approved by Jerusalem municipality housing and planning committees.

Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, told JTA that City Hall does not get involved in issues of ownership. These disputes, he said, “are addressed in the courts of law, not by politicians.”



Poll: Obama struggling with Jews, but not on Israel

WASHINGTON – A new survey shows President Obama struggling with American Jews — but not on Israel-related matters.

The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2 to 23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.

This question, in the American Jewish Committee’s new survey, asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?” AJC

Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.

Despite the drop — and weeks of tensions with the Netanyahu government — Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC poll.

It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.

Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health-care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.

The last AJC poll on the views of American Jews, released in September, did not address domestic issues, so there’s no measure to assess any change in support on the specific issues of health and the economy. Indeed, this is the first poll in at least 10 years in which the AJC has attempted to assess views on the economy and health care. However, Jewish voters in solid majorities describe themselves as Democrats and as liberal to moderate in their views, and traditionally list the economy and health care as their two top concerns in the voting booth.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.

“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.

Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with Obama from a more liberal perspective — for instance, over his dropping from the reform bill of the so-called public option, which would have allowed for government-run health care.

Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed health-care reform, Forman said. Since then, Democrats have said they see a turnaround in the president’s political fortunes. “The narrative was the president was in the tank,” Forman said. “This was when it was thought his initiative was dead.”

Obama fares strongly with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving — a sign that Republican attempts to cast Obama as weak on protecting the nation have had little impact in the Jewish community.

He also scores 55 percent approval on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when his handling of the relationship scored 54 percent approval. At that juncture, the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were kept at a low bubble and were confined to U.S. insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement and the Netanyahu administration’s reluctance to concede.

The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.

A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September — 49 percent — and now, at 47 percent. However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent give a thumbs down.

The marks compared favorably, however, with Bush administration figures. Bush scored 33 percent approval ratings on Iran in 2006, the most recent year that AJC asked the question.

Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one and 42 percent were opposed, as opposed to 56 percent and 36 percent in September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, as opposed to 66 and 28 percent in September.

The only other question in the most recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This contrasts with the consistently negative Jewish assessments of Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, except in the period immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.

A handful of prominent Jewish backers of candidate Obama also appear to have had second thoughts. Most pointedly, in a New York Daily News column Monday, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor and a supporter of Obama during the 2008 general election, said he was “weeping” because the president had “abandoned” Israel.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most influential member of the Senate’s Jewish caucus, on Sunday pointedly avoided answering a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether he agreed with a Netanyahu confidante who said Obama was a “strategic disaster” for Israel. Brooks, the Republican, predicted a tide of defections. “You’ll have a number of candidates” in areas with a strong Jewish presence “asking him not to campaign for them,” he said.

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, cautioned that low approval ratings did not necessarily translate into electoral losses.

Brooks said that he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.

Jewish Democrats are already preparing a response strategy of arguing that the relationship remains close on defense cooperation and other matters, despite heightened rhetoric on settlement differences.

Harris suggested that the polling showed that the American Jewish public would prefer to imagine a closeness rather than deal with tensions. Obama and Netanyahu scored similar solid majorities — 55 percent and 57 percent, respectively — on how they handled the relationship.

American Jews “don’t want to be forced to choose,” Harris said. “They would rather say a blessing on both your houses than a plague on both your houses.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of Jews think Israel should, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, be willing to remove at least some of the settlements in the west bank. But 61 percent rejected the idea that Israel should be willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted by the firm Synovate, formerly Market Facts.

Anti-semitism: the disease that won’t go away

An enduring mystery: Why is America somewhat immune?

One of the mysteries about anti-Semitism is: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune? Despite occasional anti-Semitic episodes here (think of Henry Ford and Mel Gibson), Jews have thrived in America as in no other country — excepting Israel itself.

An authority on anti-Semitism, Alvin H. Rosenfeld answers that intriguing question, as well as others — such as whether there is a fundamental anti-Semitic personality. He is professor of English and holds the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he has taught since 1968. He is also the director of the university’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

Alvin H. Rosenfeld is the director of Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

The founder of the university’s Borns Jewish Studies Program, he served as its director for 30 years and is the author of numerous articles on American poetry, Jewish writers, and the literature of the Holocaust. His most recent study, “The End of the Holocaust,” is to be published in 2011.

Below are excerpts from a recent telephone interview.

Jewish Standard: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune to the disease of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: America seems to be an exceptional country, in many respects. What makes it so?

One, we are genuinely diverse. Unlike many European countries, which have had a hard time absorbing mixed populations, America by and large has succeeded. We’re not free of problems, but by and large our record is good in that respect. The Jews have been integrated in America in ways that were not possible over the longest stretch of history in Europe.

Another reason is that Jews are well-known in this country. Lots of people have Jewish friends, colleagues, and business partners. Some have Jewish family members by now. So we’re not as strange as we used to be.

Also, Jews are in many respects an accomplished people, and while some may envy and resent us, a lot of other people admire and respect Jews.

Then there is the question of Christianity. This can cut both ways, but in contrast to most European countries, and, certainly most west European countries today (which have entered a kind of post-Christian phase), Christianity in America is a part of social reality. Many Christians in America have an appreciation of Judaism. They find the roots of their own faith in Jewish scripture, and they respect Jews, especially Jews who are faithful to their own religion.

Add one more thing: America doesn’t have a medieval past — we’re too new a country for that — so we don’t have the legacy of medieval Christian anti-Semitism that Europe has had.

J.S.: Like the “blood libel” — the medieval myth that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh?

Rosenfeld: That’s part of it, yes. American Jews have not had to contend with such myths in any chronic way here.

In addition, America has no history of respectable political anti-Semitism. Sometimes political figures arise, usually on the margin, who are openly anti-Semitic — David Duke [of the Ku Klux Klan], for instance, is such a figure. But some European countries have a history of politics that has included parties with explicitly anti-Semitic planks in their platforms. We’ve never had that in this country. On the evidence to date, we could expect people to speak out immediately and harshly against political anti-Semitism — and that is something that we as Americans can be proud of.

At the same time, it makes sense for Jews to continue to be watchful. At is most extreme, anti-Semitism is a tenacious and obsessive passion. It is less an idea than an ideology fed by an array of strongly negative feelings, such as envy, resentment, hostility, hatred, and fear, which people in this country, as in every other country, are vulnerable to.

America has done a much better job of keeping the lid on outbreaks of anti-Semitic hostility than other countries. But if we think back, say, to the time of Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, we can easily recall that there have been prominent figures in America who have been outspoken anti-Semites.

J.S.: Are there puzzles, mysteries, that scholarly research into anti-Semitism could solve? For example, whether there’s a typical anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: The biggest puzzle has to do with the persistence of anti-Semitism. Racial hatreds and social prejudices appear in many cultures, but they wax and wane. Anti-Semitism does, too, but its presence is more constant, and it dates back millennia. Why? What accounts for its persistence? There are no certain answers.

Scholars also struggle to clarify the forms that anti-Semitism takes — it doesn’t always look the same.

Over the longest run, in the Western world, for instance, the origins of anti-Semitism are located within the church. Hostility to Jews and Judaism has been deeply rooted in church teachings that have conveyed a whole set of prejudiced messages directed against Jews and Judaism. This inherited complex of anti-Jewish biases, sometimes held in check, at other times activated, persisted within Christendom for a long time. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, some major church reforms have helped to ameliorate the destructive power of Christian biases against Judaism and the Jews, but it is too soon to say that church-based anti-Semitism is altogether a thing of the past. It is not.

At the same time, scholars of anti-Semitism recognize that in the latter decades of the 19th century, Christian anti-Semitism, while not gone, was eclipsed or augmented by a relatively new kind of anti-Semitism, rooted in notions that Jews were both a racially inferior and racially threatening presence. Thus, while some might still accuse the Jews of being Christ-killers and condemn them for rejecting the religious claims in the Christian gospel, others embraced newer forms of anti-Jewish prejudice that were race-based. To these Europeans, it was not the religion of the Jews that was faulty and menacing but Jewish blood. Racial stereotyping took hold. But by and large, race-based anti-Semitism was not as prevalent a factor over the centuries as was religious, specifically Christian, anti-Semitism.

When, as happened in Europe in the 19th century, religious anti-Semitism was joined by racial anti-Semitism, what the Jews faced was profoundly lethal. It culminated in Nazi Germany’s determination to institute a “final solution to the Jewish problem”: genocide.

While there’s still some residual Christian prejudice against Jews and Judaism today, it’s not nearly as potent as it was before. And in post-Holocaust Europe, race-based anti-Semitism is considered to be not just out of fashion but beyond the pale. Most anti-Semites in today’s Europe are not going to accuse the Jews of being a racially inferior people — for Europeans know where such views lead: to Auschwitz. Nevertheless, Europe’s long and shameful history of Jew-hatred is hardly over. Rather, it has changed shape. We are seeing today the emergence of powerful strains of ideological and political anti-Semitism, which target not so much the individual Jew as the Jewish state. That’s a story unto itself, and very troubling.

J.S.: Is anti-Semitism increasing today? And if so, why?

Rosenfeld: Compared with 10 years ago, yes indeed, it is. Explanations vary, but some recent books by first-rate scholars are helpful. I strongly recommend “The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism” by a British scholar, Bernard Harrison.

As for the reasons, some intense and important debates are now under way. And it’s high time that they are, for anti-Semitism has been picking up force over the past 10 or 11 years and requires serious attention if it is to be understood and combated. Before 2000 it was not so robust. What happened? A number of milestone events. They probably began with the breakdown of peace talks at Camp David, and on the heels of that diplomatic failure, the unleashing of the so-called second intifada, which unleashed angry, murderous passions against the Israelis and Jews elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards, 9/11 brought the ferocious attacks on this country by al Qaeda terrorists. Weirdly, and in no time at all, throughout the Muslim world and also in parts of the West, that aggression was blamed on the Mossad. Some also blamed elements within America itself. Both charges are ridiculous; nonetheless, these notions caught on, and large numbers of people evidently believe them to be true.

Because anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism often go hand in hand, the attack on America almost immediately had anti-Semitic ramifications. People who think in these distorted terms believe either that Jews control America, and therefore hitting America is hitting the Jews, or — vice versa — that America uses Israel to suppress freedoms elsewhere. Both notions are preposterous, but they evidently have appeal and persist.

Shortly after these events, America went to war in Iraq. We are also fighting in Afghanistan. The result of all these things — the intifada, coming on the breakdown of the Camp David talks, the 9/11 attacks and terrorist attacks in Spain, London, and elsewhere, America’s entry by force into two major Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan — all of this helped to increase angry and aggressive passions already present within the Muslim world, much of which focused hostility against America, the Jews, and Israel.

J.S.: Have recent economic troubles — the stock market’s bloodbath, persistent joblessness — contributed to anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: It used to be thought — with good reason — that whenever the economy turns down, anti-Semitism turns up. And at the time of the Madoff affair, there was a good deal of concern in the Jewish community, given the prominence of Madoff’s crimes, that there might be a backlash against Jews, numbers of whom work in the financial industry. But in fact no such reaction emerged to any appreciable degree in this country.

J.S.: Is there any correlation between the rise and fall of anti-Semitism and war, economic crises, or widespread unemployment?

Rosenfeld: Whenever society becomes destabilized, in all the ways you’ve mentioned — socially, economically, as a result of wars — people look around to blame somebody. Who’s responsible for all these troubles? Jews traditionally have been a favorite scapegoat. Are such accusations observable today? Yes. There are weird conspiracy theories rising again, so we are seeing some scapegoating. It becomes troubling, for instance, to witness prominent voices in Washington, D.C., implying that the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may be at risk because of the impasse in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, an impasse largely attributed to Israeli intransigence or bad faith. That’s a serious charge, and also a mistaken one. If it persists, it has the potential to bring forth trouble. But most Americans are fair-minded people, admire and support Israel, and are unlikely to follow the lead of erroneous charges, I believe. Depending on developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these more benign reactions could change, but to date it has been our good fortune not to be broadly scapegoated.

J.S.: What can we do to lessen anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: A few things. One is legal. Countries need good laws against the public display of hatred, especially hatred that leads to violence, including anti-Semitic violence.

Effective education also is a must. Lots of people just don’t know very much about Jew-hatred. They’re not familiar with the history of anti-Semitism. It’s incumbent upon us to help them learn.

In the public sphere, whenever anti-Semitic voices speak in an ugly and threatening fashion against Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish state, they need to be called to task and, if warranted, to be decisively rebuked. One should never be quiet in the face of openly expressed anti-Semitism. Once Jew-hatred is allowed to become an acceptable part of normative speech, no end of troubles are likely to follow.

J.S.: Anti-Semites seem to have disappeared from the earth. But the number of anti-Semites who have vanished seems roughly equal to the number of people in the world who are ferociously, close-mindedly, and unalterably opposed to the State of Israel.

Rosenfeld: I don’t think they’ve vanished so much as that they’ve taken on a certain camouflage — that’s probably what you meant. What passes today as anti-Zionism often has nothing to do with Zionism as such and is just openly expressed hatred of Israel, and you can usually detect that by listening not just to the words of the arguments against Israel but to the tone of the arguments. People get worked up — they get angry, belligerent, intemperate, sometimes enraged. At that point, what you’re encountering is not a reasonable argument that might be critical (and maybe even properly critical) of a particular Israeli policy or action but outright defamation or vilification of Israel as such. The resort to hyperbole is often the tip-off. When people begin making arguments about Israel that liken it to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, when they accuse Israel of crimes of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, then you know what you’re dealing with are not people who may have good reason to object to a particular Israeli policy or a particular Israeli action. They just don’t like Israel, period; some of them would like to see it gone. Their quarrel is with the existence of the Jewish state as a Jewish state. They believe it has no legitimacy and should cease to be. The passions that fuel such death-wish fantasies are unambiguously anti-Semitic.

J.S.: Why are certain Jews anti-Israel?

Rosenfeld: I wish I could give you an answer to that question. Do you know such people yourself?

J.S.: Yes. My theory is they’re desperate for attention.

Rosenfeld: Some of it is exactly what you said — the need for attention reflects a kind of narcissism. I, I, I — the personal pronoun gets endlessly repeated, indicating a penchant for self-aggrandizement. Politics, in other words, becomes a form of self-indulgence, even self-love. Might we, in some instances, also be looking at Jewish self-hatred? You have to consider each case person-by-person. In some strongly pathological cases, Jewish self-hatred could be on exhibit. In other cases, the extreme behavior may be a function of a particular political stance. The further left or right you go, the more likely you are to find attitudes towards Israel that may begin as legitimate criticism but quickly escalate to angry and unreasonable accusations — and before you know it, end up in these analogies to Nazi Germany and South Africa. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s often the case that Jews are involved, and sometimes even in the forefront, of extreme anti-Israel movements. What drives these people? Probably a number of things. You pointed to one, the narcissistic need for attention. Self-hatred can also sometimes be involved. Political allegiances of an extreme leftist nature are often tied in. How so? Just as someone on the hard left is supposed to be anti-capitalist and anti-American and anti-globalization, he or she is also supposed to be anti-Zionist or anti-Israel. So it’s part of the whole political/cultural package, a perverse form of identity affirmation: one becomes a “good” Jew by stridently opposing the Jewish state.

Some of what I have been describing calls out for analysis by mental health specialists. I am not one. I can recommend an interesting book on this subject by a psychiatrist who is also a historian, Kenneth Levin. It’s called “The Oslo Syndrome.”

These are complicated matters and are being hotly, even bitterly, debated. What we know for sure is this: Israel’s enemies, including hardcore anti-Semites who are not Jewish, often showcase the words of Jews like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and any of a number of Israeli Israel-defamers and say, “See, it’s not just I who think Israel is an abomination, but I can quote lots of Jews who are saying exactly the same thing.” Sadly, they can.

J.S.: Is there a fundamental anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: We know a good deal about anti-Semitism and those who are drawn to it. But it’s hard to go from what we know to definitive analysis of anything like anti-Semitic personalities, let alone the implementation of programs that will lead to prevention. You can figure out time and again what angers and unnerves some people about the Jews, but it’s difficult to know what you can do to prevent them from being troubled in these ways and becoming anti-Semitic. And once the animus spreads beyond individuals and infects the culture as such, it becomes still harder to deal with. Even if one cannot fully understand what animates Jew-hatred, it’s critical to keep it in check, so it doesn’t become ultimately damaging on a large scale. We know it has the potential to do just that.

J.S.: Most anti-Semites, it seems to me, are closed-minded and simple-minded. They don’t engage in complex thinking; the word “nuance” is not in their vocabulary. And if Jews and if Israel are responsible for all or much of the evil in the world, life is easier for them to understand.

Rosenfeld: What you have just described is accurate and points to stereotyping and scapegoating. People who revert to such thinking have actually stopped thinking; they concoct and then remain within the closed bubble of their simple-minded explanations. Bogus though these arguments may be, such people will usually hold onto them passionately. “Jews are guilty as such and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in” — so says the anti-Semite.

J.S.: Have you ever even a victim of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: Not in any serious way. Every once in a while I receive hate mail, but at least to date I have not run up against serious anti-Semitic hostility directed at me personally. I’ve been occasionally insulted and defamed by some cranky people, but episodically, not chronically. God willing, I’ll continue to be spared.

J.S.: Maybe your being spared is a result of your growing up in America?

Rosenfeld: No doubt, and I regard it as a blessing. My parents were both from Podolia, in the Ukraine, and knew anti-Semitism from their earliest years until they immigrated to this country. It was my mazel that my parents got out in time. I grew up in south Philadelphia — at a time when that part of the city was a bit like the lower east side of New York. There were lots of immigrant Jews, Italians, Irish, and others. It was a relatively poor, working-class end of town, but by no means a bad place, and, at least in my experience, it was not polluted by anti-Semitism.

Things have changed. We’re living now in an overheated time, a sour, divisive time. The economic turndown is far from over, American forces are engaged in two wars, terror threatens, and the hostility to Israel continues to intensify. The year 2009 saw a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents on a global scale. In these circumstances, it is prudent to be vigilant.

Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the institute at Yale can be helpful in alerting people to what’s afoot. Of course I acknowledge the important work being done elsewhere, especially at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, and, in this country, by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In a time of resurgent anti-Semitism, even more attention is needed. If, as a result of our academic work, we can help educate people about anti-Semitism, open their eyes to its character, longevity, gravity, and threats, we will be doing something both needful and positive.

It’s also important that we let people know that while anti-Semitism initially targets the Jews, the hostility it unleashes doesn’t stop with the Jews. If this hatred goes unchecked, a large number of other people will end up being hurt, if not directly by anti-Semitism, then because of the damage to society that anti-Semitism inevitably brings with it. It’s always a toxic force and has the potential to spread widely and be hugely harmful. We probably cannot eradicate it, but we need to do what we can to lessen its destructive force.

J.S.: Thank you for an enlightening interview.

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