There will be little cause for celebration at the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism which opens Tuesday evening in Jerusalem. Partly that’s because in fighting Jew-hatred we have been misdirecting some of our energies.
Having been involved in ground-breaking international conferences held this year in Brussels, Berlin and New York, I appreciate how tempting it is to conclude that the tide has finally turned, that the battle is being won.
And, yes, there has been a sea change in the readiness of some governments to confront the advance of anti-Semitism in their societies. Until recently they were denying the problem existed at all. Now even European leaders have begun expressing alarm over – or at least paying lip service to dealing with – the menace that burgeoning anti-Semitism poses, not only to Jews, but also to their own democracies.
And while most have yet to confront head-on the varieties of Islamic anti-Semitism, there is now an awareness that much of the extreme anti-Israeli rhetoric is a surrogate for classic anti-Semitism.
While it is unlikely a UN majority will endorse a stand-alone resolution condemning anti-Semitism, the line-up of governments willing to publicly condemn the scourge of Jew-hatred is reassuring.
Still, having said that, we must recognize that, ultimately, the level of anti-Semitism will mirror grassroots attitudes more than what governments do or say. And if that’s the case, there are certainly grounds for deepening concern.
When one monitors the increasing flow of reports relating to daubings of anti-Jewish graffiti, desecrations, violence, and acts of terror directed against Jews, it is undeniable that this noxious weed continues aggressively to spread its roots.
Jews in many parts of the world are becoming ever more pessimistic. The growing impact of anti-Semitism on the quality of their lives, and the increasing prejudice of their neighbors, are causing them to rethink their future.
Many European Jews now seriously doubt whether their children can prosper in societies where they are vilified and ostracized. They also fear the demographic impact of expanding Muslim communities and ask themselves whether “Eurabia” is not in the process of becoming a reality.
But that is about the future. The situation facing Jewish youngsters today is dramatically deteriorating, and what is happening on the campus is particularly frightening.
The intensified demonization of Israel and the resulting hostility toward Jews is creating a campus environment which could have devastating long-term repercussions on young minds. For it is in these formative educational arenas that future leaders are being ideologically nurtured. This is as true of North America as it is of Europe.
Leading American campuses have become arenas of virulent anti-Israel sentiment, some of which assumes anti-Semitic tones. And many of the faculties – a large proportion staffed by Jews – are overwhelmingly hostile, or at best indifferent to Jewish interests.
Indeed, one cannot ignore the fact that many leading activists in Palestinian campus campaigns to demonize Israel are of Jewish origin, exploiting their Jewishness as a vehicle to maximize their impact.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the vast majority of Jewish students are distancing themselves from the debate. Despite the impact of Hillel in reviving Jewish activism in the US, only a tiny minority of Jewish students are directly engaged in confronting their adversaries. The overwhelming majority simply lie low.
There is an even greater downside. In the process of distancing themselves from Israel, some not only join the anti-Zionist chic, they also forsake what little Jewish identity they still retain.
This is our ultimate nightmare: Because if we lose our youngsters, we lose our future.
What is to be done? It is imperative that we now prioritize our efforts in the struggle against anti-Semitism by directing them toward the grassroots area, especially on campus.
We must continue our efforts to influence governments. But we must realize that, ultimately, it will be the attitude of common folk rather than supportive resolutions that will determine the approach of political leaders.
Our primary objective today must therefore be to marshal our forces and reach out to the younger generation.
Israel’s role in this struggle will continue to be critical. I therefore propose that President Moshe Katzav and Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky commission a task force of Diaspora and Israeli activists to formulate a blueprint for strategic action.
The focus must be on winning the hearts and minds of the younger generation. This will only succeed if we allocate a much larger proportion of our resources to this end, and aggressively confront those who seek once again to transform the Jewish people into pariahs.