Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where Anti-Semitism is mainstream?

Thus does WaPo columnist Richard Cohen describe "vast parts of the Muslim world" today. He uses James von Brunn's killing of a guard at the Holocaust Museum as his jumping-off point - and then tries to emphasize his point by throwing in a reference to a horrific blood-libel persecution of Holocaust-survivor Jews in 1946. It's certainly an event that needs to be noted and remembered, but perhaps it's unfair to do so here, where he's trying to tar the entire Muslim world with the anti-Semitism brush.)

I don't dispute for a second that too many Muslims (and Christians - and people in general) hold some weird, destructive beliefs about Jews. Those ideas are detestable, and people ought to know what's going on.

But why write about this now? When the President is trying to reach out to the Arab-Iranian-Muslim world, in large part to protect Israel, mostly from its own idiotic settlement policies in the West Bank? Why not note instead - or at least in addition - the story of the Arab doctor from Gaza whose daughters were killed by Israeli bombing, but who is now reaching out to build bridges between Arabs and Jews?

And for that matter, why not take note of the source from which Cohen gets many of the examples he cites? He bases his report on articles culled by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute). MEMRI has become notorious for its singling out of media reports that document alleged Arab perfidy and bigotry. Of course, Cohen may not know that MEMRI was founded by former Mossad operatives. No agenda there.

And finally, why not take at least some note of the extent to which the increase of this anti-Semitism in the Arab world is relatively recent, and in many ways builds upon post-1948 anger in the wake of the serial dispossessions of hundreds of thousands of Arabs (Muslim and Christian) in the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan? It was not too long ago that many thousands of Americans - including leading citizens like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh - held terribly anti-Semitic views, and announced them rather openly. One of the actor Gregory Peck's great movies, "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), deals with the anti-Semitism that was rampant in the US even after WWII. And as late as 1960, the director Otto Preminger in his famous movie "Exodus" made a point of exposing the latent anti-Semitism in American audiences by casting blue-eyed box-office idol Paul Newman (who was, in fact, half-Jewish) in the lead role as a Zionist "freedom fighter" and another young, platinum-blonde actress, Jill Haworth, as one of the young Jewish immigrants to Palestine. His point here being, "Gee, Jews look just like us, or even better." In 1960s America, it's a point that unfortunately still needed to be made.

And my point being, finally, how much less anti-Semitism might there be in the Arab (and Muslim) world if the Jewish state in Palestine had been established under different conditions, or if its later leaders had refrained from further sabotaging the perception of Israel through their policies of colonization of lands "conquered" from Arabs?

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