Jewish Agency says world anti-Semitism surges: truth or propaganda?

From the World Jewish Congress, Jan. 25:

Anti-Semitism has reached its highest level since the end of World War II, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has concluded in its latest report released in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Jews in Europe were particularly affected by the dramatic rise of incidents in 2009. The JAFI report says that the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the first three months of 2009 in western Europe surpassed that of the entire year 2008. The data showed a spike in anti-Semitic violence during and after Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip last winter. In France, for example, there were 631 anti-Jewish incidents in the first half of 2009, of which 113 were violent, according to the study. In Britain, some 600 anti-Semitic incidents occurred. In the Netherlands, around 100 anti-Semitic incidents were noted following the Gaza war.

The study also noted that election campaigns in Ukraine and Hungary had given rise to public displays of anti-Semitism, which was deployed as a tool by the some political parties. In Ukraine, a story surfaced during that country’s election campaign that Israel had brought 25,000 Ukrainian children to the Jewish state for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs.

World-wide, eight people were killed in attacks targeting Jews in 2009. Two murders linked with anti-Semitism in the United States in 2009 – one of a female university student in Connecticut and the other of a non-Jewish guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. This rise in anti-Semitism was noticeable on both the political Left and Right, according to JAFI.

At the press conference at which the report was presented, officials referred to a film that was making the rounds which alleges that Israel is stealing organs from patients treated at the IDF hospital in Haiti, the newspaper Haaretz reports.

JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky pledged to dispatch representatives from his organization to combat growing anti-Semitism at European universities. “Classical anti-Semitism is changing, and it has been replaced with a new anti-Semitism that takes its shape in the form of unbridled attacks against the idea of a Jewish state,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.

Now that last quote really sums up exactly what is wrong with the whole report. Last year, Israeli director Yoav Shamir‘s film Defamation documented how Anti-Defamation League (ADL) surveys inflated incidents of anti-Semitism by throwing in criticisms of Israeli policy. It is a repulsive practice that calls into question alarming ADL findings of recent years—and, if their unscrupulous methods are being copied, those of JAFI.

But there is a growing reaction to this dishonest propaganda which is equally part of the problem. The debate is rapidly narrowing into a contest between pro-Israel propagandists with an interest in exaggerating the threat of anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionist propagandists who think that they have an interest in denying it.

Yoav Shamir, alas, may provide a case in point. The favorable review from Variety prominently displayed on the film’s website asks: “Is anyone who expresses anti-Zionist opinions necessarily also anti-Semitic? Is anti-Semitism itself still an endemic and dangerous global problem?”

These are very distinct questions. The answer to the first one is obviously no. But the answer to the second one is obviously yes. Even if the new JAFI study is inflated with mere anti-Zionist “incidents” in ADL style, the incidents actually highlighted in the press release—most notoriously the Holocaust museum attack—are indicting enough.

Shamir also turns in his film to the highly problematic John Mearsheimer as a voice to counter the ADL—as well as Norman Finkelstein, who has been amazingly cavalier about the whole question of Jew-hatred.

Unfortunately, truth and propaganda are not mutually exclusive categories. On the contrary, all effective propaganda must exploit an element of truth. The problem with the ADL’s sinister tactic (and maybe JAFI’s) is not only that it provides effective propaganda for Israel, but that it creates a boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome that erodes concern with real anti-Semitism among “progressives.” Which only, of course, plays into Israel’s propaganda.

See our last posts on Israel and the politics of anti-Semitism

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  1. Greek synagogue torched —twice
    Perhaps this was legitimate criticism of Israel? From The Guardian, Jan. 22:

    Two British nightclub waiters have been arrested after arson attacks on a historic Jewish synagogue on the Greek island of Crete which have drawn condemnation from around the world.

    The men, aged 23 and 33, are in custody alongside a 24-year-old Greek man after the restored medieval Etz Hayyim Synagogue in the port city of Hania, one of the most noted Jewish temples in Greece, was twice set alight this month.

    The fires, which destroyed 2,500 rare books and manuscripts, sparked alarm among the 8,000 Jews in Greece. The US state department said the attacks were “clearly intended to intimidate and terrorise Greece’s Jewish community”.

    The arsons were the latest of several incidents of antisemitic vandalism across Greece, including attacks on synagogues and cemeteries in Larissa, Volos, Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Athens.

    During the first fire, on 5 January, a bottle with flammable liquid was found, according to witnesses. That fire was extinguished. But another, on 16 January, destroyed books and computers as well as causing considerable damage to art work and to the interior of the building, which is Crete’s only synagogue.

    We certainly hope this has nothing to do with the Hellenic Republic’s rambunctious anarchists.

  2. Flawed logic.
    You say that it’s obvious that global anti-semitism is a serious problem.
    I don’t agree.

    As you point out, a handful of persons were killed in anti-semitic attacks.
    I’d say that must pale by comparison with attacks on non-White immigrants in N. America and Europe, to say nothing of other kinds of racial attacks in both continents.
    As with everything else, anti-semitism must be placed in context.
    In the context of the other kinds of ethnic attacks, anti-semitic attacks are insignificant.
    There are probably more attacks and hate mongering against rich people around the world than there are against Jews.

    Armenians experienced genocide at the hands of the Turks during the First World War, but they have little to fear as far as ethnic attacks are concerned today.
    Should anti-Armenianism be considered a serious matter now?

    I know by experience that this sort of reasoning enrages you.
    I’m not baiting you.
    Being objective doesn’t come easily to many of us.
    It requires that we adhere to rules and procedures meant to defeat our inevitable biases.
    Making comparisons such as those in the preceding paragraph are one, somewhat unpalatble method.

    You attempt to discount Shamir’s film by associating him with Norman Finklestein is an example of your bias.
    You seem to have trouble accepting that informants don’t have to share your ethics and sentiments in order to be correct about things.
    Apparently, you believe that Mearsheimer and Finklestein are playing into the hands of nefarious anti-semites by their scholarship.
    Maybe that’s so, but that doesn’t make the facts they’ve unearthed an less true.

    You simply MUST distinguish between the messenger and the message.
    Covering political matters as a journalist and engaging in political activism are 2 different things.
    Belaboring Chomsky, Mearsheimer, Finklestein, and other leftist who are insufficiently concerned with ethnic persecution just doesn’t enhance my understanding of history or current events.
    It reduces journalism to a list of ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys, forgetting that decent, scholarly people may entertain bad ideas, and that villains may promote good ideas.

    1. Willful blindness
      Here we go. I was wondering what was taking you all so long.

      The “handful” of killings were the tip of the iceberg, though such dismissive language is itself troubling. Synagogues were attacked all over the world last year, from Dresden to Crete to Caracas to Calgary. No cause for concern?

      Your invocation of attacks on non-white immigrants is a perfect red herring. Are anti-Semitism and racist xenophobia mutually exclusive, or, on the contrary, do they inevitably go hand-in-hand? They are the product of the same ideology. Fascism always needs both scapegoats at the bottom of the social pyramid (the swarthy immigrants who are stealing your job) and at the top (the wiley Jews who run the banks).

      We have never made light of the Turkish state’s continuing denial of the Armenian genocide, which does indeed remain a serious matter.

      I didn’t “associate” Shamir with Mearsheimer and Finklestein—he associated himself with them! If you would click on the links I provided for these two unsavory individuals, you will find that I have minutely deconstructed Mearsheimer’s flawed conclusions. With Finklestein, it is more a question of tone than analysis, but this is important too.

      There is plenty of “objective” journalism on this website—much more than you will find on most lefty websites. But there is also a time to take off the gloves and get down and dirty with polemic.

      You read Counterpunch, don’t you? There is nothing but polemic on Counterpunch, so I find this critique ironic. I suggest you spend less time at Counterpunch and more at World War 4 Report.