24 August 2006
Dousing the Flames of Anti-Semitism
If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of actor Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rant along the Pacific Coast Highway after a police officer pulled him over for drunk driving on July 28, it's that the incident has triggered a long overdue dialogue about the state of anti-Semitism in the world today.
On the day of Gibson's now-famous outburst, 30-year-old Naveed Afzal Haq, a United States citizen of Pakistani descent, entered the Jewish Federation Centre of Greater Seattle and opened fire, killing 58-year-old Pamela Waechter and wounding five other women.
Friends and loved ones of Waechter remembered her as a witty, upbeat, can-do person. Originally from a Lutheran family in Minnesota, she moved to Seattle with her husband in 1979 and they raised two children.
She converted to Judaism, earned a degree in nutrition from the University of Washington, and became a respected Jewish activist in the community. For two years, she served as the president of her temple in Bellevue.
When Naveed Afzal Haq stormed into the Jewish Federation Centre in late July, he ended the life of one of the most vibrant souls in the Seattle community. He explained to the police that he was upset over the horrific carnage occurring as a result of the tragic war unfolding between Hezbollah and Israel.
"I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel," he proclaimed during his rampage.
Following the attack, newspaper and television accounts insisted the bloodshed from the Hezbollah-Israel War had reached North American soil.
But the larger threat of anti-Semitism was downplayed in the media. For watchdog groups that monitor anti-Semitism around the world, however, the current picture is not encouraging.
North America has been relatively cut off from the more virulent strains of anti-Semitism that are metastasizing overseas. In Europe and the Middle East, the situation is worsening daily.
"Not since 1945 has there been such a level of concern, anxiety or depression among Europe's Jews as one witnesses today," noted Robert S. Wistrich, the Neuberger professor of Modern Europe and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"The newly emerging Europe is turning out to be the worst of all possible worlds for its Jews."
In late 2005 and early 2006, protests erupted around the world over the publication of offensive cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad in the pages of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
But there were no comparable expressions of outrage over even more hateful anti-Semitic cartoons that have routinely appeared in Middle Eastern newspapers over the years. Many of these cartoons depict Jews as shifty-eyed devils with big noses, fangs and swastikas next to their Stars of David.
During the cartoon upheavals, few people noticed when police recovered the mutilated body of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, a French Jew who was kidnapped and savagely tortured to death by his captors. The incident terrified the French Jewish community.
In Middle East politics, anti-Semitism is often interwoven in complex ways with criticisms of Israel and its policies. Holocaust denial and bitter anti-Jewish hatred are rampant in certain parts of the region. In the charter of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, one can find virtually every tired old Hitlerian lie about Jews.
It reads: "With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein.
"They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about . . . With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests."
Such hatreds are profoundly unsettling.
In recent weeks, the brutal war between Hezbollah and Israel appears to be fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
After the Seattle shooting, anti-Semites in Australia smashed synagogue windows, while in Florida, two synagogues and a Jewish-owned business were vandalized.
However one feels about the nightmarish war in the Middle East, this harassment and intimidation of Jews must cease immediately.
In these troubled times, I would strongly recommend that you watch Marc Levin's extraordinary documentary Protocols of Zion, which is available to rent on DVD at many local video stores.
It's a brilliant film that explores the spread of anti-Semitism in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
In Protocols of Zion, Levin is a much-needed voice of reason who talks to people from all walks of life about the intensification of hostility toward Jews.
Ironically, without giving away too much about the film, Levin concludes on a cautiously optimistic note, suggesting toward the end of the documentary that there is perhaps reason to hope that one day this ancient evil might be eradicated.
Accomplishing this worthwhile goal requires more members of our global village -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- to raise their voices against anti-Semitism in all of its ugly forms.
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