The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Anti-Semitism report out

The State Department's new Global anti-Semitism report is now out. There is little for me to add to what I've said before about it being a bad idea to single out a particular group as a victim over others when there's plenty of racism going around for everyone.

The main thing that the report points out as far as the Middle East is concerned is that:

Anti-Semitic violence was almost entirely associated with anti-Israeli terrorism and was not geographically widespread. Numerous attacks occurred in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, and incitements to violence originated from the Occupied Territories. As well, terrorist bombings in Morocco in May 2003 and at the Taba Hilton in Egypt in October were accompanied by communiqués containing anti-Semitic as well as anti-Israeli statements. Terrorist organizations' propaganda in the region frequently was anti-Semitic, as well as anti-Israeli.

Compared with their coverage of Europe, there is thus a lot less anti-Semitic violence but much more anti-Semitic sentiment, which often comes from official sources. No surprise there.

The most controversial point of the report, in my opinion, is how to make the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. The report states that:

For the purposes of this report, anti-Semitism is considered to be hatred toward Jews—individually and as a group—that can be attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity. An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel, and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character. The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue.

I don't think I can agree with that last point -- the Nazi symbol represents, on an abstract level, brutal repression, and that is certainly what is happening in Palestine even if is far from being on the scale of Auschwitz. The fact is that swastika has become a convenient universal symbol to denote unjust oppression, something that suggests awareness of the Holocaust may be growing even outside of the West. It may be stupid to call leaders one doesn't like "Nazis" but it doesn't have to be anti-Semitic, even when it is used against the leaders of Israel. Besides, to a certain extent the use of Nazi imagery in anti-Israeli cartoons is designed precisely to elicit an emotional response.