President Obama has made it clear that he plans to pursue his domestic agenda in 2016 via the White House bully pulpit and executive orders. One issue he should include on his bucket list: tackling the world’s oldest hate in world’s greatest democracy: Anti-Semitism.
2015 saw mainstream anti-Semitism, increasingly intertwined with terrorist threats, surge across Europe, in the Arab and Muslim world, and infecting large swaths of social media and Internet sites. Hatred of Jews and extreme anti-Israelism has also found traction on many of America’s finest universities.
Too many leaders of America’s universities who enforce a zero tolerance policy toward traditional bigoted words and behavior, as well as new threats to “protected spaces” of minorities and women posed by so-called “micro-aggressions,” have largely failed to provide intimidation-free zones for Jews and other lovers of Zion.
Campus aggressions against Jews are increasingly “macro”—not “micro.” These include the extreme anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns -- that have never helped a single Palestinian, but only seek to isolate and demonize the Jewish state -- as well as attempts to intimidate and silence students and teachers who dare defend the lone Middle East democracy, home to the world’s largest Jewish community.
The failure to call out anti-Semitism was also evident in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist massacre, where the media questioned: “How did Sayed Rizan Farook, an American citizen, become radicalized?”
It was left to the Italian Newspaper La Stampa to provide compelling evidence that the hate began right at home and that hate began with the Jews. The terrorist’s father admitted, “I told him he had to stay calm and be patient because in two years Israel will not exist anymore. Geopolitics is changing: Russia, China and America don’t want Jews there anymore. They are going to bring the Jews back to Ukraine ...”
No one pursued the matter.
Herein lies a key source of today’s anti-Semitism—Islamist fundamentalism. Our failure to call it out, to label it for what it is, poses a clear and present danger, not only to Jews but to democracies everywhere.
A 2013 Pew poll conducted in 80 countries, 21 languages among 38,000 Muslims found that “in most countries where the question was asked, roughly three-quarters or more Muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians.”
But what about the other 25 percent, which could number over 300 million people who don’t reject terrorism? A November 2015 Pew poll found a staggering63 million Muslims support the Islamic State in the eleven Muslim countries polled. ISIS’ continuing genocidal threats against Jews earned it the #2 spot on the Wiesenthal Center’s Top Ten. Levels of hostility to Jews, not just Israel, are sky high in most Muslim countries.
We support President Obama for continuing the post- 9/11 efforts of President George W. Bush to marshal both public opinion and legal authority against the menace of “Islamophobia.” The Justice Department is correct to focus preventive resources against this threat, though Attorney General Loretta Lynch had to partly walk back a recent statement blurring the line between incitement to violence and free speech which still, however hateful, is constitutionally protected.
Yet, the latest available FBI statistics reporting hate crimes, show that anti-Jewish incidents (609) still outnumber anti-Muslim incidents (154) by approximately four to one!
Beyond the statistics, Jewish institutions across America—taking the advice of law enforcement-- have been forced to spend millions of dollars to ramp up security to protect our kids in school and worshippers in Synagogues from neo-Nazis and terrorist threats. Yet, there has been no general outcry against anti-Semitism--still far-and-away the most prevalent form of bigotry on religious-ethnic lines in the U.S.
To bring about change, our top leaders --starting with the President and the Attorney General-- must take the lead. Convening a summit specifically on anti-Semitism—along the lines that have been convened against racism, against Islamophobia, against threats to the Gay Community -- is a good place to start. A national conversation—led by the media-- is long overdue on anti-Semitism. Topic one is to openly speak about the greatest source of Jew-hatred in the world today -- Islamist fundamentalism.
Obama cannot eliminate any hatred with the stroke of an executive order pen, but in his final year in office, he is uniquely positioned to denounce anti-Semitism in our society and to provide a platform to American Muslims prepared to take on the bigots in their midst. Helping to forge new alliances to fight history’s oldest hate would bolster his legacy and reassure our community.
Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.