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Jonathan Tobin: What Part of No Preconditions Do American Jews Not Get?
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Jewish World Review
Nov. 24, 2003
/ 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
It's not 1938, but anti-Semitic violence should cause us to focus on the war against terror
It doesn't take much to panic Jews. After 2,000 years of dispersion, persecutions,
Crusades, Inquisitions and a Holocaust, we tend to be a skittish sort, even in placid
For American Jews, the past few decades have been a time of unprecedented
prosperity and achievement. Though hatred for Jews still exists here, its presence is
mostly beneath the radar. Most young Jews growing up in today's suburbs can easily
go through childhood and adolescence without ever encountering an instance of
But in the absence of real threats, some of us often inflate minor issues into major wars. For some of us, any
slight is a precursor of another Kristallnacht.
Some hysterical Jewish liberals are always ready to see the electoral triumphs of
conservative Republicans as a replay of the end of the Weimar Republic. Others will point to the existence of a handful of extremist fruitcakes wandering the forests of Idaho as a mortal peril, both to democracy and our
Too many of us prefer to focus on such nonsense rather than on the
real problems of American Jewry, which have more to do with our own
ignorance of our heritage, added to our communal inability or
unwillingness to allocate sufficient resources to fund Jewish
educational programs. Chasing the ghosts of past nightmares is
easier than confronting our own shortcomings.
But as much as most of us are thoroughly insulated from our history of
past suffering, it is getting harder and harder to ignore the sound of
anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence that is being heard elsewhere
in the world.
DON'T TURN AWAY!
Most of us will see the footage on television of the bombings of
synagogues in Turkey, the latest anti-Semitic outrages in France, or
even read about the snubs of Israeli scholars in Britain and cluck
We will see pictures of terror attacks in Israel and read the stories of the victims' suffering with appropriate
Some of will even hear about the hate for Jews and Israel that is being promulgated in the Arab and Muslim
world, and shake our heads in dismay. We will wonder how so many could allow themselves to be diverted
from the serious problems created by their own undemocratic governments by the drumbeat of hate against
But then we turn away, and sink complacently back into our own lives without wondering what any of this
means for us. The alarm bells about worldwide anti-Semitism should be sounding loud and clear.
It's time to put these events in some coherent perspective. Far from isolated examples of extremism, the rise
of anti-Semitism in Europe is part of the same problem as the nonstop incitement against Jews in the Arab
world. Just as Nazi propaganda led to the violence of the Holocaust, the current wave of anti-Jewish violence
is direct result of incitement that has spread from Arab countries to European capitals. The delegitimization
of Israel has spread from the back allies of Cairo to the boulevards of Paris and Brussels. And the result is a
rise in attacks on anything that bears the label "Jew."
There are those who prefer to believe that the calumnies against Jews and the State of Israel are merely the
byproduct of incorrect policies. These rationalizers of anti-Semitism, such as New York Times columnist
Paul Krugman and billionaire financier George Soros, prefer to think that it is all the fault of the current
government of Israel and the Bush administration.
But this point of view gets it backward.
The same sources of hate for Jews are creating the abuse of America that causes too many in the Muslim
world to cheer events such as the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Even more importantly, we need to realize that this
war on Jews is not separate from the terrorist war against America that is symbolized by those attacks. The
anger at Bush and Sharon stems not from their supposed "aggression" against Muslims, but from the fact
that both have come to symbolize resistance against the terror that world produced.
As much as some in this country would like to pretend that we can fight Al Qaeda without also confronting
those who would destroy Israel, the truth is, that is impossible. So, too, is it impossible for us to separate the
rise of anti-Semitism from the hate bubbling up against America.
But as serious as the situation is, those who ask if we are being transported through time back to the 1930s
are making a mistake.
This is not 1938. Then, the Jews were powerless as they watched a feckless West stand by with indifference
while hatred consumed European Jewry. That's no longer the case. For all of its imperfections and failures,
the existence of a sovereign State of Israel alters the equation in our favor.
Just as important as that is the fact that in the United States, we currently have a government that is, in
contrast to our "allies" in Europe, not interested in appeasing an ideology of hate. Perhaps that is because
this time, the enemy didn't wait to attack America until after the process of trying to eliminate the Jews had
begun. This time, Pearl Harbor preceded Kristallnacht.
The result is an America led by a a president who seems to be willing to take on not only the terrorists and
those who aid them, but also the ideology that props up their war against Israel and the United States.
That's why Bush's speech earlier this month directly challenging the Arab world to embrace democracy was
so important. The administration appears to understand, as should we, that the path to winning the war
against terror lies not in altering America's policies, but in the Muslim and Arab world transforming itself and
adopting the values of democracy.
We have no way of knowing how successful this effort will be, or whether or not Washington will ultimately
falter in its resolve. But let us not misunderstand either the danger or the necessity to support such
What we in the United States call the "war on terror" is inseparable from the war on Jews and Israel that is
simultaneously being waged around the world.
You don't have to agree with everything U.S. President George W. Bush or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
stand for to understand that the war on terror that they are both waging is essential to our survival. The forces
responsible for the terror of 9/11, the attacks in Turkey, in Paris and, yes, on the streets of Jerusalem, are, for
all intents and purposes, one and the same. And if a lack of resolution on the part of America ever leads to
new triumphs for the forces of terrorism, then all our lives will truly be in jeopardy.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.
Let him know what you think by clicking here. In June, Mr. Tobin won first places honors in the American
Jewish Press Association's Louis Rapaport Award for Excellence in Commentary as
well as the Philadelphia Press Association's Media Award for top weekly
columnist. Both competitions were for articles written in the year 2002.
Jonathan Tobin Archives
© 2003, Jonathan Tobin