Israel Fights 'New' Islamic Anti-Semitism

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Spurred on by the international outpouring of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments at the United Nations conference against racism in Durban this summer, the Israeli government has decided to establish an international forum to fight anti-Semitism around the world.

Under the direction of Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel will lead the struggle against what it sees as a new form of anti-Semitism - Islamic anti-Semitism - which it says is not just directed against Jews but against all people who live in democracies.

Arye Mekel, special advisor to Melchior, said this is the first time that the Israeli government has initiated such a forum or task force.

It will include well-known participants who are "very concerned that anti-Semitism is a menace not just to Jews, but a menace to all people who live in democracies," Mekel said.

The forum's goal will be to fight what the government has defined as a new brand of Islamic anti-Semitism and the growing cooperation between this new stream and "classical" anti-Semitism.

In the past, "classical" anti-Semitism was something measured by incidents such as painting swastikas on synagogues and tombstones or attacking Jewish people or institutions. But those events could be counted and they were for the most part sporadic, Mekel said. Now, anti-Semitism has changed colors, he added.

"There is a new trend that gained a lot of impetus from the Durban events," Mekel said in a telephone interview. "Now anti-Semitism is [being used] as a tool to reach political goals and attack the democratic infrastructure."

"Durban was a wake-up call," Mekel said. "Nobody was prepared for the outbreak of anti-Semitism there."

In the run up to the U.N. Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa, anti-Semitism burgeoned when Arab and Muslim states insisted that a final resolution include a number of contentious references to Israel and Zionism, the national movement on which the state of Israel was based.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, disappointed and angered many American civil rights groups by staying away from the conference because of the anti-Israel stance of so many of the participants.

Despite a tremendous amount of preparation for the conference, even on Israel's part, the conference was largely ignored in the Israeli press, Mekel said. Then all of a sudden, there were thousands of NGO's protesting against Israel in the streets of Durban.

Political-Religious Linkage

According to Mekel, the "new" anti-Semitism, which exploded in Durban, is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Holocaust revisionists and even to Osama bin Laden.

There has been an attempt in the Arab world, particularly during the last year, to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious conflict. Advocates of such a viewpoint have "succeeded to a certain extent," in turning a political grudge or hatred against Israel into a battle between Islam and the Jewish people, Mekel said.

Another linkage between the "classical" and "new" anti-Semitism has also been expressed on the websites of Holocaust revisionists, which have incorporated Islamic rhetoric on their sites.

One of the largest groups of these revisionists, who either deny that the World War II Nazi massacre of Jews ever happened or claim that it was much smaller in scope than most historians report, attempted to hold their first conference ever this year in an Arab nation. It was cancelled, but a smaller version did take place in Amman, Jordan.

According to Mekel, there is even a linkage between the Islamic anti-Semitism and Osama bin Laden who is attacking democracy itself. If one looks behind the attacks on the U.S., one can see anti-Semitism in the "bizarre stories" such as blaming Israel and/or the Jews for the September 11 attacks on the U.S.

Oddly enough, the international forum to combat this plague will be composed of primarily non-Jewish participants. Already on the committee are Professor Per Almark, a writer and former deputy prime minister of Sweden and Prof. Irwin Kotler, a law professor and Canadian parliament member.

The Anti-Defamation League, world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism hailed the establishment of the Israeli forum as a "positive development."

Laura Kam Issacharoff, spokesperson for the ADL in Israel, said that Melchior said had seen that there were many leaders and opinion makers throughout the world who were "appalled by what was happening in Durban."

"There was a tremendous reserve of goodwill in the international community to fight anti-Semitism," Issacharoff said. "[Melchior] decided to harness the reservoir of goodwill."

The first conference hosted by the government could take place as soon as next month.