Successive Israeli governments have failed miserably to meet the challenge of global anti-Semitism, not providing the leadership demanded of a Jewish state in these turbulent times and leaving Diaspora Jews to their own devices.
The global anti-Semitic tsunami, an unprecedented surge of feral hostility compounded by the Internet, emanates from a combination of factors: rabid Muslim anti-Semitism and violence, demonical anti-Israelism of the Left, and traditional cultural and radical Jew-hatred of the Right. It has impacted on Jewish communities everywhere but ironically is most acute in Europe, the continent drenched with Jewish blood during the Holocaust. It gathered enormous momentum during the recent military confrontation with Hamas, climaxing in France.
The responses by European Jewish leaders differ in various countries. Overall, the French have responded courageously. In contrast, others have behaved like “trembling Israelites,” some remaining in denial and continuing to understate the problem. By and large, Jews in Europe are under great stress and many are despondent about their future.
The situation in South America and South Africa has increasingly deteriorated. Even Canada and Australia, whose governments are strongly supportive of Israel, have witnessed an upsurge in anti-Semitism
In the United States, the Goldene Medina, despite the strong public and congressional support for Israel, many Jews are stunned by the anti-Israeli hysteria generated by the Left and some liberal media and shocked by the toxic levels of anti-Semitism displayed on many college campuses.
It is estimated that well over $100 million is invested in various overlapping agencies purporting to combat anti-Semitism. Some play a constructive role but others are useless and sometimes even counterproductive.
Yet, despite this, American Jewry’s graying establishment leadership is on the defensive and has become less strident.
The caustic and frequently hostile anti-Israeli remarks expressed by President Barack Obama were met with deafening silence — uncharacteristic of the traditionally feisty leaders. The reluctance, despite grass-roots outrage, of leading Jewish organizations — including the Anti-Defamation League — to publicly protest the New York Metropolitan Opera’s performance of the anti-Semitic opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” also exemplifies this trend.
Overall, Diaspora Jews are under enormous stress, confused and frequently divided as how to respond to the upsurge of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic onslaughts.
The global Jewish bodies purporting to combat these vicious trends all have limitations and have proven unable to provide the necessary direction on a global basis. The rejuvenated World Jewish Congress, headed by Ronald Lauder, has been a positive force, especially over the past year, among Jewish communities in Europe and especially in Latin America. Its inherent weakness is the absence of endorsement by the major American Jewish organizations, without which it cannot purport to represent world Jewry.
The Jewish Agency is headed by the charismatic Natan Sharansky, who possesses a full intellectual grasp of the problem. Unfortunately, he appears to have been diverted, channeling most of his energies toward fundraising, the bureaucratic management of an old and ailing organization, and concentrating primarily on non-contentious issues such as promoting Jewish identity. His absence of leadership was especially notable following the recent tragic events in France when he actually distanced the Jewish Agency from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call on French Jews to consider aliyah. Alas, today the Jewish Agency is no longer regarded as a major force in leading and coordinating with Diaspora Jews.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO), once a major body with active constituents throughout the world, is today utterly moribund, and has negligible impact as evidenced by its hibernation during the recent anti-Semitic upheavals in France.
A few weeks ago, the WZO suddenly emerged from its slumber with a childish questionnaire to constituents inquiring whether they felt that anti-Semitism was growing. Incredibly, it was accompanied by a primitive video seeking to depict Belgian anti-Semitism. It highlighted a Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Association of European Jews (not to be confused with the European Jewish Congress) who the previous week had castigated Netanyahu for his “Pavlovian calls for aliyah after every terror attack.” Former WZO leaders must be turning in their graves at the degeneration of this formerly respected body. Chairman Avraham Duvdevani should consider officially dissolving the organization which disgraces its remaining constituents in the U.K., Australia and South Africa who continue to be engaged in important Zionist activity.
Over a decade ago, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, in conjunction with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, created the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. It was enthusiastically supported and endorsed by major Jewish communal organizations and activists throughout the world. Sadly, due to lack of funding and personnel, it was unable to create a meaningful secretariat to maintain operations between the intermittent international conferences and therefore failed to provide the vital ongoing leadership and framework for consultation for which it was created.
Ironically, despite the explosion of anti-Semitism, aside from a parliamentary offshoot, this organization is dormant. Its last conference was in 2013, with a follow-up meeting of 20 representatives held in February last year that was a nonevent.
However, only recently, in a letter signed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the Global Forum invited Diaspora Jewish leaders and activists to participate in the fifth conference, scheduled for May 2015. That ministers, whose sole contribution to the organization comprised an opening statement to conferences, could launch a meeting scheduled for a date when they may no longer be in office, highlights how politicians with a penchant for exploiting platforms to aggrandize their political status have hijacked this area.
It is now crucial to create an umbrella organization to serve as an ongoing forum to exchange views, provide direction, and determine and coordinate global strategies against anti-Semitism.
Only a prime minister has the status to launch a global body to encompass organizations, recruit the best activists and convince the often egotistical leaders of communities and competing Jewish organizations and agencies to set aside their parochial interests and merge their efforts to face the increasing threat.
The head of such a bureau should be a civil servant with a thorough understanding of the field and the ability to work and coordinate with Jewish agencies and the varied Diaspora leaders and activists engaged in this area. Staff members must not be connected to domestic politics. Aside from academics, there are a number of talented former ambassadors currently engaged in bureaucratic desk jobs who have the expertise to play a major role in such a body. There are of course also many talented and passionate Jews here and in the Diaspora who would be willing to engage on a voluntary basis in such a venture.
To function effectively, it will require substantial funding. But this project should not merely be perceived as a support for Diaspora Jewry. Israel itself has a major vested interest in creating such a global consultative body. We are currently being overwhelmed in the war of ideas and it is incumbent upon us to identify the anti-Semitic elements in the campaigns that seek to demonize us.
As severe as it is, anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism in Europe and most countries is more rampant at the grass-roots level than is currently reflected in government policies. Should we fail to reverse the tide, governments pressured by their Muslim communities and other constituents increasingly radicalized against Israel will inevitably lead to a further downgrading of relations with Israel.
At the very least, the existence of such a global body will enable us to hold our heads high and expose those opposing us as bigots and racists. It will also ensure that young Jews in the Diaspora, enveloped in a viciously hostile environment that is constantly saturated with media distortions, are not brainwashed into condoning the hatred directed against them.
Irrespective of whether Netanyahu or Herzog is elected, the new prime minister must consider the establishment of such a bureau as of the highest priority, in terms of both our national interest and the obligatory role of the Jewish state on behalf of the Jewish people.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom