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May 30, 2003

Blaming Antisemitism’s Victims Is Irresponsible

Opinion writer Ralph Seliger begins his impressions of the recent conference on contemporary antisemitism at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research by complaining that despite the many distinguished speakers, “little light [was] ultimately shed, and no real heat generated” (“Reconsidering Antisemitism,” May 23).

As one of the participants in that conference, which seemed to me to have shed an enormous amount of light on the problem of rising global antisemitism and its very deep roots in both Europe and the Middle East, I was stunned by this very negative evaluation. As I continued to read Seliger’s piece, however, his reaction became all-too-sadly understandable.

Seliger, a partisan of Israel’s leftist Meretz party, is convinced that the worldwide cries of “kill the Jews;” the fire-bombings of synagogues from Marseilles to Morocco; the attacks on Jews in Paris and Berlin; the wide popularity of the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” throughout the Islamic world; the Saudi propagation of the medieval blood-libel — in short, all of it — can be blamed on the failure of the Oslo peace accords.

Seliger invokes the usual laundry list of the Israeli right’s “crimes” — not even pausing for breath when linking the Hebron massacre by Baruch Goldstein to the security tactics of Likud leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon — to explain the current plague of antisemitism. His conclusion is stunning if only for its simplicity: “If Oslo had succeeded, the odious convulsions seizing Europe and the Islamic world would not be happening.”

Aside from the inherent danger in this position of blaming antisemitism’s victims, it ignores the very long and deep history of modern Arab antisemitism that far predates Oslo. Seliger ought to look back at the antisemitic stereotyping that has saturated the Arab media since before Israel’s creation.

If that is too much history homework, I recommend the most cursory survey of the political cartoons that inundated the Arab world in the terrifying months before the 1967 Six Day War, in which Israelis were portrayed in classic Der Sturmer fashion as hook-nosed, long-bearded and beady-eyed bloodsuckers out to pollute and destroy Islamic civilization. These Nazi-like caricatures were especially popular in “moderate” Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia long before there was even a reason for Oslo: After all, the Jews had not yet “stolen” all that Arab land that Oslo promised to have returned.

While I am no admirer of Sharon or Netanyahu, even indirectly to suggest that they should be held accountable when, for example, the Saudi press alleges that Jews used the blood of Muslim babies whom they have ritually killed to bake hamentashen, is nothing short of obscene.

Allan Nadler

Senior Adviser for Academic Affairs

YIVO Institute

New York, N.Y.

In a review of the conference on antisemitism held recently at YIVO, the Forward reports that “criticism of Israeli settlement policy… often met a chorus of hisses” (“Parley Takes a Fresh Look at World’s Oldest ‘Demon,’” May 16). Indeed, it was a meeting of the semi-learned elderly of Zionism, desperately wanting to hear that Israel bears no responsibility for unending Arab and Jewish deaths.

Panelists at the “Anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism, and Anti-Democracy” discussion denounced those who equated Prime Minister Sharon and Israel with Nazism. I commented from the floor that, if the Sharon-Hitler equation displeased them, they couldn’t object to people seeing Israel as similar to apartheid South Africa, given that then-defense minister Sharon went there in 1981 and proclaimed that the racist regime needed more weapons.

Grumbling from the reserved seats began, reaching gale proportions when I pointed out that the equation of Zionism and Nazism was certainly true for former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. In 1940 and 1941, his “Stern Gang” offered to go to war on Hitler’s side, telling the Nazis that their movement was “closely related to the totalitarian movements of Europe in its ideology and structure.”

Documentation for these infamies and more are on library shelves of the Center for Jewish History — where the conference was held — in bookstores and on the Internet.

Lenni Brenner

New York, N.Y.

The Bronx’s ‘Road Map’

A May 23 editorial compares the security fence going up between Israel and the West Bank to the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and calls it a “public works project” that presents an “inconvenience [to] some innocents” but must be “weighed against” the “larger good” (“The Bank and the Fence”).

At first I thought this was a spoof. The security fence is a public works project in the same sense as was the Berlin Wall, the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China. Although the absurd comparison to the Cross-Bronx Expressway was not meant to be a spoof, it is perhaps more apt than the editorialist intended.

The Cross-Bronx Expressway was a supreme example of Robert Moses’s highhandedness and an expression par excellence of his contempt for the residents he uprooted. When asked by historian Robert Caro about how he dealt with the resistance to the expressway, Moses replied: “They stirred up the animals there, so I just held fast, and that was all we had to do.”

Built on a straight line “because he could,” the shape of the expressway did not accommodate the thirteen distinct neighborhoods it destroyed. In its series “Learning Adventures in Citizenship,” PBS has said: “The Cross-Bronx Expressway was the most destructive expressway-building project in the city.”

Kathleen Peratis

New York, N.Y.

Times Op-ed Misread

Opinion writer Rabbi Shmuley Boteach misrepresents the op-ed column I wrote in The New York Times about black-Jewish relations (“The Enduring Relevance of Black-Jewish Relations,” May 23).

I did not, as Boteach suggests, “revel” in their demise. I called that demise both “sad” and “poignant.” Nor did I call the origin of the alliance “cynical.” I called the black and Jewish partners in civil rights activity “moral comrades.”

What is cynical is the current state of the relations, and that is what I decried and suggested we should be glad to put to an end.

Samuel Freedman

New York, N.Y.

Raise Caution ‘Flags’

It will be a long time before I can read an article like the May 23 description of a Holocaust-revisionist library display without thinking about Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s assertion in the May 2 issue that “we are not morally obligated to agree [the Confederate battle] flag stands for racism” (“At a Local Library, A Pro-Nazi Exhibit”; “Jews’ Role Murky As Rebel Banner Drops in Georgia”)

Regardless of whether the Rebel Cross flag was, in Feldman’s talmudic manipulation of language, “developed specifically” to express the South’s support of slavery, its use today is to express the racism of the people who display it.

Feldman’s disingenuous evasion of reality accomplishes two things: It perfectly mirrors the sophistry of Holocaust revisionists: “We’re not antisemitic, this is about historical accuracy.” It is also a perfect enunciation of the mantra of indifferent gentiles: “It’s not our problem.”

In two or three sentences, Feldman, by suggesting that Jews bear no moral obligation to protest racism in this country, shows that Jews are undeserving of the sympathy of non-Jews, especially blacks.

Michael Lefkowitz

Wayne, Pa.

Socialist Party’s Split

I enjoyed reading the May 23 article on the conference recently conducted by the Social Democrats, USA, and think that Joshua Micah Marshall’s summary of that organization’s history is insightful (“Debs’s Heirs Reassemble to Seek Renewed Role as Hawks of Left”).

However, I also believe that there are two significant omissions from the article: Readers ought to have been explicitly told that certain prominent members of the Forward Association have long played leading roles within Social Democrats, USA. Moreover, Marshall’s claim that the old Socialist Party “split in two in 1972” is not quite correct.

When, at the end of 1972, the Socialist Party changed its name to Social Democrats, USA, a group of members who were to the left of the party’s leadership broke from the party, and ultimately created a new entity known as the Socialist Party USA. Shortly thereafter, Michael Harrington and his supporters, who were also to the left of the Social Democrats, USA, leadership but who did not join the new Socialist Party, established the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee — which is one of the predecessors of Democratic Socialists of America.

Thus, I would argue that there are not “two lineal descendants of the old Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas,” but three: Social Democrats, USA, and Democratic Socialists of America, both of which are described by Marshall, and the Socialist Party USA, which, for reasons unknown, the Forward has seen fit to ignore. The Socialist Party USA has every bit as much of a right to drape itself in the mantle of Debs and Thomas as do the other organizations, and did not go through the post-1972 political evolution that the Forward describes. It currently advocates a socialist, democratic, feminist, anti-racist and anti-militarist perspective, which I, for one, often find refreshing and admirable.

Jack Jacobs

Vice President

Forward Association

New York, N.Y.

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