Wave of Bias Attacks Sweeps Diaspora

By Vita Bekker

Published September 01, 2006, issue of September 01, 2006.
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JERUSALEM — Jewish leaders of five different continents around the world headed to Israel this week to discuss what they described as the deteriorating security situation in their regions following the war in Lebanon.

The New York-based World Jewish Congress, which organized the trip, issued a statement last week saying that the visiting Diaspora leaders were hoping to coordinate a response with the Israeli government. Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the WJC Policy Council, was quoted as saying that “the situation in the Middle East is not just Israel’s problem, but it reflects on small Jewish communities all around the world.”

Following marathon meetings with top Israeli officials — including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and intelligence and military leaders — the WJC, a confederation of national Jewish organizations from around the world, issued a statement Monday that focused more on terrorism threats in the Middle East.

“The WJC is redoubling its efforts to work in corridors of power to garner international support for diminishing the terrorist threat to Israel and the world,” Singer said in the statement. “The WJC is also leading the charge to hold state sponsors of terrorism like Iran and Syria accountable for their murderous actions and violence-inducing rhetoric. At the same time, the WJC is connecting scattered and isolated Jewish communities, helping to provide increased security and a sense of solidarity and comfort.”

The WJC officials’ increased focus on threats from Iran and Syria — and less on the security of small communities — reflected their raised awareness of such dangers following the meetings, a source close to the Israeli government said. The source declined to be identified because the briefings were confidential. They realized that “what’s happening to Jews around the world is a much wider problem than antisemitism on a local level,” the source said. Moreover, the source added, the delegation concluded that the evident discord within the Israeli government following the war seemed to preoccupy politicians and leave them little time to deal with other problems.

The recent visit follows what Jewish communal leaders describe as a rash of antisemitic incidents that took place across the world during Israel’s recent war with Hezbollah. In an interview during his visit to Jerusalem, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that in recent weeks there have been more than 100 incidents of antisemitism worldwide, from cartoons, hate e-mails and phone threats to murder. The incidents, Foxman said, “relate to the Lebanon war in that you see a lot more comments and graffiti concerning the Middle East.”

The most dramatic attack was the deadly shooting in late July at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, where one woman was killed and five people were wounded. A Muslim man who said that he was motivated by anger toward Jews and Israel perpetrated the shooting.

Many of the incidents since the war broke out July 12 have occurred in other parts of the world, from South America to Eastern and Western Europe.

Britain reportedly has experienced a spike in antisemitic attacks and in Serbia two Israelis were recently beaten.

In Norway’s capital of Oslo, unidentified Middle Eastern men assaulted a Jewish boy wearing a skullcap. After the attack, Oslo’s Jewish community advised its members not to wear skullcaps and not to speak Hebrew in public; anti-Israel demonstrators in the Greek city of Thessaloniki tried to cover a local Holocaust memorial with posters of wounded Lebanese civilians; and spray-painted anti-Jewish graffiti was found in the area around the Israeli Embassy in the Colombian capital of Bogota.

Anti-Israeli statements recently made by government officials in several countries also have made some Jewish communities nervous. In Venezuela, the people of the 22,000-strong Jewish community have been concerned about escalating antisemitism amid tensions between their home country and Israel. Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez compared Israel’s aerial attacks on Lebanon to Nazi war crimes, and then recalled his ambassador from Tel Aviv. The next day, Israel called home its envoy in Caracas.

In recent years, a debate has emerged over whether such incidents and potentially greater threats to Diaspora communities should play a role in forging Israeli policy. Two years ago, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem think tank affiliated with the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, issued a report recommending that the Israeli government consult with Diaspora representatives on decisions, including policies on security, that could affect their communities.

In addition to the report, the JPPPI launched the Crisis Management project, an effort to help leaders in Israeli and Diaspora communities deal with crises involving Jews. As part of the project, according to the JPPPI’s Web site, a network of control centers and situation rooms was established globally. Additionally, a forum was created, composed of influential Jewish figures from around the world, to coordinate assistance and enlist solidarity for crises victims and their communities.

Many American Jewish leaders didn’t welcome the JPPPI’s recommendation for Israel to consult with Diaspora communities on its policies. Foxman, who opposed such consultations, said that Israeli citizens alone should have a say in Israeli policies, and that the security problems of Diaspora Jewish communities should be dealt with by the authorities in their respective countries and not by Israel.

But some observers said that Israel should discuss different issues relating to the Jewish world — ranging from security and education to the status of Jerusalem — with Diaspora groups rather than just rely on them for money and immigration.

Uzi Dayan — who is the former head of Israel’s National Security Council and sits on the JPPPI’s board of directors — proposed that Israel establish a forum that would discuss such issues, though the forum would not make decisions about Israeli policies.

As national security adviser, “I came to the conclusion that the relations between Israel and the Jewish communities are the most important strategic asset for Israel,” Dayan said. “In order to exist in the Middle East, one has to be strong. Being a Jewish democratic state is the essence of our existence here. It’s crucial that we define this state with the Jewish people.”

Though such a forum may not be created in the foreseeable future, the WJC’s Singer said that the delegation’s visit might result in better relations between Israel and small Diaspora communities, and possibly in future visits to those communities by Israeli officials.

“I believe we had discussions, not that would lead to a forum but that would hopefully lead to mechanisms which would create greater security and a greater comfort level for the communities,” Singer said.

Those mechanisms would include “consultations between communities, the WJC, Israeli government officials and the countries in which these people live,” he added. “Many of these countries are democracies, and they have the obligation to secure the rights and security of their citizens. We will not liberate them of those obligations.”

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