This article was published in the Miami Herald on Wed, Jun. 19, 2002
From ancient times through the Middle Ages, to the 20th Century and now the 21st, anti-Semitism -- that great malignancy of mankind -- has been a recurring plague. Woven through the tapestry of history are scenes of Jew-hatred, of terror, bloodshed, discrimination and expulsion. In the ''modern'' world came the Nazis' industrialization of death, which aimed simultaneously at world domination and the extermination of world Jewry.
In one society after another, from the despotic to democracies, an arsenal of weapons has been used to target Jewish communities. The deicide charge, blood libel, and the Big Lie about Jewish control of the banks, government and the media are among favorite themes. It is a bleak history, in which religious doctrine, political platforms and social practices, in turn or in combination, have been used against Jews.
Like a warning from the past, history's images are reflected in today's headlines. In European countries -- including England, France, Greece, Germany and the Ukraine -- violent anti-Semitic attacks currently target Jewish people and property, often using the tactics of the Nazi era. Legislators, intellectuals and elements in the media have contributed their share of bigotry. It is what The Economist in London described as ''the post-Holocaust'' -- pent up anti-Semitism, with Israel as the trigger -- ``of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history.''
In the Middle East, Arab governments often express their hostility to Israel in ways that are transparently anti-Jewish. The government-controlled Egyptian press, for example, regularly publishes editorial cartoons that are explicitly anti-Semitic.
Have history's lessons about the double-edged danger from the sword of anti-Semitism been learned? Will good people recognize evil, no matter its camouflage? Will they see self-interest in opposing bigotry? Will they expose and confront, or excuse and dissemble?
Tough questions, made the harder by recent new evidence of the depth and breadth of anti-Semitism in America. For nearly 40 years the Anti-Defamation League has been taking the anti-Semitic pulse of America, beginning with a benchmark survey in 1964 by the University of California. It showed that 29 percent of Americans held hard-core anti-Semitic views (i.e. Jews have too much power and are not loyal citizens). A second survey in 1992 brought the good news that hard-core anti-Semites had dropped to 20 percent. In a 1998 survey, the figure declined again to 12 percent.
However, a survey completed in April of 1,000 American adults brought unwelcome news. It found a rise to 17 percent -- about 35 million people -- who harbor views that are ``unquestionably anti-Semitic.''
The survey has both troubling and hopeful elements. Troubling is the reversal from a declining to an increasing percentage of Americans holding anti-Semitic beliefs. Troubling, too, is the number of African Americans (35 percent) and the above-national-average of foreign-born Hispanics (44 percent) who hold such views. The latters' views clearly result from what they are taught in schools, churches and communities in Hispanic nations.
But the survey also contains hopeful notes. Exposure to America's values and diverse culture reduces anti-Semitism among Hispanics. Positive relations between the Hispanic and Jewish communities in South Florida are testimony to that conclusion.
The survey points to another disturbing fact. The human-rights groups here and abroad have largely failed in their responsibility to affirmatively confront and combat anti-Semitism. With a few episodic exceptions, civil-rights agencies of every type that are outside the Jewish community have dropped the ball in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Jews often have stood largely alone in the face of anti-Semitism. True, in many times and places there were the righteous and courageous who stood up against tyranny, who stood with and sometimes died with their Jewish neighbors. Even as they are rightfully honored, history notes how few they were.
That said, it is encouraging that in America there is a large constituency of goodwill, which stands firmly in opposition to bigotry.
It is well for all of us to remember that silence in the face of bigotry affirms the ideas and advances the plans of the bigots.
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