Israel Reconvenes Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli government committee established to monitor anti-Semitism was reconvened for the first time in more than a year, expressing concern over recent anti-Semitic attacks in Russia, the Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.

Committee Chairman and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Michael Melchior, spoke to and explained that the committee acts to coordinate the struggle in Israel and abroad against anti-Semitism.

The newly named "Forum for Coordinating the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism," which met last week, was upgraded and for the first time has a government minister as it chairman.

Melchior, who has worked to combat anti-Semitism for years, said that Israel has much to contribute to the fight.

"Democracy is in danger in a country where there is anti-Semitism and racism," he said in a statement. "Just as anti-Semitism knows no territorial or language barriers, the State of Israel also has to fight this worrying phenomenon, both out of a general responsibility and because of what has happened to the Jewish people."

As a nation, Israel has the ability to coordinate between groups of Jews and non-Jews all over the world, who work to influence their countries both in lobbying and in dissemination of information against anti-Semitism. He pointed out that the fight against anti-Semitism is a fight "not only of Jews but non-Jews" too. One has to be "much more sophisticated than the anti-Semite in order to fight it," Melchior said.

Governmental responsibility is important in the fight against anti-Semitism. "It may hit Jews first," he said, "but it never stops with the Jews."

According to Melchior, "It's an irrational phenomenon." People often speak about a "tolerable level" of anti-Semitism, referring to that which has no physical expression. However, he said, he finds that an "intolerable statement." But he said no one really knows what causes someone to cross over the line from verbal anti-Semitism to suddenly becoming violent.

Interestingly enough, Melchior said, "It's difficult to take action (against anti-Semitism) in the US." In the US anti-Semites are able to hide behind the first amendment guarantee of free speech. In France, however, there is a law forbidding Holocaust denial.

However, Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said according to some indicators anti-Semitism is actually declining in the US. Measuring "anti-Semitism is not an exact science," Foxman told One "cannot quantify it as you would with physics," he said. "It exists. It has not been eradicated."

What can be measured are events, the frequency of them, attitudes and political agendas.
Despite the recent rash of anti-Semitic incidents in the US, such as the murder of Orthodox Jews on their way home from synagogue in a Chicago suburb in July and the wounding of school children, a teen and an adult at a Jewish community center in California, Foxman said according to other indicators, anti-Semitism is actually on the decline not on the rise.

A 1964 poll showed that 32-33 percent of the population in the US was anti-Semitic, while in 1992 the figure had dropped to 20 percent and by 1998 it had fallen to 12 percent. Six years ago, Foxman said, there were 2,100 anti-Semitic attacks but only 1,600 last year.

However, in contrast to the attitude survey actual physical attacks are on the rise. In five years there were 37 arson attacks on Jewish places while in the last two months alone there have been six attacks on synagogues.

"Something is happening. I hope it is not the beginning of a trend," Foxman said speaking from New York. "In Russia it is increasing; in the Arab world its not abating and in the US there has been an explosion."

In general, the higher the level of education, the lower the level of anti-Semitism according to Foxman, but education is not a cure. Foxman told that one generalization he has found is that the older a person is the more anti-Semitic he tends to be. More people are living longer, therefore, there are more anti-Semites he concludes.

According to Foxman, there are two things that make anti-Semitism more virulent in our society today: the accessibility of bullets and bombs and the advent of the Internet.

Twenty or fifty years ago, the average anti-Semite had only a knife, his fist or a rope at his disposal. Foxman said nowadays anti-Semites can easily obtain semi-automatic weapons, bombs, Uzi's.

The Internet, which Foxman told delivers a lot of good, can also instantly be used to reinforce hatred and evil, unlike twenty years ago when an anti-Semite had to take the time to respond to a post office box.

The ADL is in the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and is one of the organizations with which Melchior's committee will work to fight, what Foxman called, "the oldest form of hatred" in the world.