November 03, 2009

Global anti-Semitism demands a united response

The recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in south Ottawa should be a wake-up call. The beast of anti-Semitism is back.

In Europe, politicians who deny the Holocaust or trivialize the massacre of Jews are elected to the European Parliament. The Swedish left-wing paper, Aftonbladet, recently published an article claiming that Israeli soldiers kidnap and kill Palestinians to extract and sell their organs. This is the blood libel first put into circulation in the middle ages in England by anti-Jewish priests.

Another of the old anti-Semitic stereotypes is that of the secret cabal or lobby manipulating events behind the scenes to the profit and interest of Jews. A U.S.-based website called "Uncle Semite" has just published a 19-volume "catalogue of Jewish names" with 220,000 listed so that they can be sent anti-Semitic e-mails.

In Britain, the leader of the anti-Jewish [British] National Party has been elected to the European Parliament. There, alongside openly anti-Semitic MEPs from Hungary, France, Belgium and Italy, he enjoys parliamentary immunities and lavish allowances and expenses to spend peddling his poison.

Or take the Hungarian MP, Oszkar Molnar, who speaks for the main opposition party, Fidez. He said Hungary was under threat from "global capital -- Jewish capital if you like -- which wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary." His party is set to win power next year and his anti-Jewish remarks have been defended by the party leadership.

Then there are the difficulties of Britain's Conservative Party. Its leader, David Cameron supports Israel and is a sincere friend of Britain's Jewish community. But his hardline anti-EU associates have made an alliance in Europe with oddball Latvian politicians who celebrate the Waffen SS conscripts from Latvia despite the widespread massacres of Jews in the country during the war. British members of the European Parliament are led by a Polish politician, Michal Kaminski, who was formerly a member of a neo-Nazi party as a young man and has said Jews should apologize for killing Poles in the Second World War.

It is as if Europe's nerve-endings on anti-Semitism have atrophied and a new tolerance of what a few years ago was politics beyond the pale is now the norm. At the same time global anti-Semitism has the endorsement of state leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is propagated throughout Europe by a network of Wahabi mosques and preachers financed by Saudi Arabia. Egypt recently tried to install its Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, as head of Unesco despite his call to burn Israeli books at Cairo University. He was defeated but only by a handful of votes and nation after nation at Unesco were ready to vote for a man with his record as the UN's education and culture supreme.

Dislike of Israel has permitted dislike of Jews to become tolerated politics again. Of course to criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic. But Jews in Canada, Britain or elsewhere in the world should not be made to feel that their beliefs and affinities can face a new anti-Semitism when other forms of racism are combatted.

That is why the initiative of the Canadian Parliament to set up its own commission of inquiry into anti-Semitism, which will begin hearings today, is to be welcomed.

I have the honour of representing the British House of Commons after I chaired a similar commission of inquiry which reported in 2006. There was no doubt after our evidence sessions and visits outside of London that British Jews faced levels of anti-Semitic pressure that was not acceptable in a modern democracy. Girls frightened to wear a Star of David chain, boys jostled on their way home from school if they sported a kippa were minor incidents, if frightening enough for students. Worse were the attacks on rabbis or Hasidic students and the organized network of anti-Semitic Islamist ideologues making university life a misery for Jewish students if they did not bow to the anti-Israel hate of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Now is time for a fightback. Government departments, editors, university leaders, diplomats and all decent politicians have to wake up to the return of organized anti-Semitism in too many of the world's democracies. Canada is showing a lead in North America but the struggle against 21st-century anti-Semitism has to be global or it will fail.

Denis MacShane, a British MP, was No. 2 at the Foreign Office under Tony Blair. He chaired the British House of Commons Commission of Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. He will be talking about his new book "Globalising Hatred: the new Antisemitism" in Ottawa and Toronto.

Denis MacShane
Ottawa Citizen

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