Thursday, March 05, 2009

The new anti-Semitism

From The National Post (Canada), February 17, 2009, by Irwin Cotler* [my emphasis added - SL]:

Reflecting on the contemporary surge in anti-Semitism, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has stated, "I have not felt the way I feel now since 1945. I feel there are reasons for us to be concerned, even afraid ... Now is the time to mobilize the efforts of all of humanity." This sentiment is what brings together parliamentarians from around the world, for the first conference of the International Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism [ICCA].

[Follow this link to read the keynote address by the Honourable Irwin Cotler at the founding conference of the ICCA ]

What we are witnessing today is a new sophisticated, virulent and even lethal anti-Semitism, reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 1930s, and without parallel since the end of the Second World War. This new anti-Jewishness found early juridical expression in the United Nations' "Zionism is Racism" resolution, but has gone beyond that. Traditional anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever host society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves discrimination against the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations -- the denial of, and assault upon, the Jewish people's right even to live -- with Israel as the "collective Jew among the nations."

Observing the complex intersections between the old and new anti-Semitism, Per Ahlmark, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, pithily remarked that the new anti-Semitism is marked by attacks on the "collective Jews -- the State of Israel," which then "start a chain reaction of assaults on individual Jews and Jewish institutions." In and around my home city of Montreal, I have witnessed chilling examples of these phenomena -- from the firebombing of my own high school, to the physical assault of Jews in the Laurentians, to the vociferous chants against Israel during recent Gaza hostilities.

Let me be clear: I have never argued that Israel should be immune from criticism. But the protesters at purported anti-Israel rallies who cry "Jews are our dogs" are of common ilk with traditional anti-Semites. The whole underscores Ahlmark's conclusion: "In the past, the most dangerous anti-Semites were those who wanted to make the world Judenrein, 'free of Jews.' Today, the most dangerous anti-Semites might be those who want to make the world Judenstaatrein, 'free of a Jewish state.'"

The indices of this new anti-Semitism are different from those of the old. Today it may be uncommon for a Jew to be refused service in a restaurant. But now Israel remains the standing object of genocidal threat from Iran and its terrorist proxies Hezbollah and Hamas; the Jewish state is singled out in the international arena while the major human rights violators of our time enjoy exculpatory immunity; the legitimacy of Israel is discriminatorily scrutinized to the extent that, for the purpose of country groupings at the United Nations, it is considered not even to "exist" in Asia; and less sophisticated voices spread rumors of Israelis injecting Palestinians with the AIDS virus. Jews may no longer be denied equal housing, but they are now being denied an equal homeland.

As New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman put it: "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanctions, out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest."

It is this escalation of anti-Semitism that necessitates the establishment of an International Parliamentary Coalition to confront this oldest and most enduring of hatreds. Silence is not an option. The time has come to act. For as history has taught us only too well: While it may begin with Jews, it does not end with Jews. Anti-Semitism is the canary in the mine shaft of evil, and it threatens us all.

*Irwin Cotler is the MP for Mount Royal and former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a professor of law (on leave) from McGill University who has written extensively on matters of hate, racism and human rights. He is a co-founder of the International Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism with U. K. MP John Mann.
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