The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On the anti-Semitism report

Although its intention is worthwhile, I disagree with Tom Lantos' bill requiring the State Department to prepare an annual report on global anti-Semitism that has been signed by President Bush.

Lantos, the sole Holocaust survivor in Congress, pushed the idea amid reports of increased anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and continued propaganda against Jews and Israel in the Arab media.

The State Department had opposed his proposal, saying it would send the wrong signal around the world to single out anti-Semitism for special treatment over other human rights problems and stressing the department was already reporting on the issue.

Bush signed the bill Saturday without comment. But his signature was expected, especially in an election year in which the Jewish vote in swing states could prove important to Bush's re-election contest against Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.

As the State Department argues, anti-Semitism is already covered in its reports, notably its human rights report. Singling out anti-Semitism as a special form of racism is a bad idea, if only because it dissociates it from racism and makes it something "special" -- something that will fuel the arguments of the anti-Semites. Highlighting anti-Semitism like this also exaggerates the phenomenon. In the case of the Arab world, where anti-Semitism is admittedly rife and occasionally gets violent, as it did in Morocco in 2003 or in Tunisia in 2002, it will compound a common misperception that anti-Semitism is the biggest form of discrimination taking place.

Taking Egypt as an example, there has been much real state persecution against Shias or Ba'hais, but no case of anti-Jewish persecution. Furthermore, if we're going by religious groups then the most persecuted people are those accused (often falsely) of being Sunni fundamentalists. There are 12-15,000 alleged fundamentalists being held in Egyptian jails, often without trial. The vast majority of them are non-violent. Yet we're more likely to hear about anti-Semitic articles in the Egyptian state press or TV. Focusing on anti-Semitism over other groups' rights simply distorts the picture, which is in nobody's interests. They should get serious about promoting human rights for everybody -- Jewish or not.