Show a Jew a silver lining, the old saying goes, and he looks for the cloud.
But one does not have to look far for clouds in a week when Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail for bribery, a new low point in political corruption in the Jewish State; former 92nd Street Y executive director Sol Adler apparently took his life after being dismissed last year for his involvement in a corruption scandal, a personal and communal tragedy; and the Anti-Defamation League, in its most comprehensive survey on anti-Semitic attitudes around the globe, found that 26 percent of the more than 50,000 people polled “are deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes,” which translates to an estimated 1 billion people in all.
Leading stereotypes include beliefs that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home countries and that Jews have too much power in the business world and in finance.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the Middle East and North African countries held anti-Semitic attitudes, followed by 34 percent in Eastern Europe and 24 percent in Western Europe. A variety of indicators show that the situation in Europe is growing increasingly worrisome. Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations, was in New York this week, and in comments made at the French Consulate, he noted, diplomatically, that “it’s not so pleasant living [in France] as Jews in this period.”
Forty percent of violent hate crimes in France target Jews, he said, as reported in JTA. Cukierman cited as factors a growing and radical Muslim immigrant population that scapegoats Jews, the increasingly popular National Front party of Marine Le Pen on the far right, and a rising tide of anti-Israel expressions from the far left.
He pointed out that the government has been supportive of its Jewish community, the largest in Europe, but the number of French Jews making aliyah is expected to reach 5,000 this year, the most since 1948.
Ultranationalist parties are on the rise across Europe, and especially in Hungary.
The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, expressed “profound disappointment about the resilience of anti-Semitism” in many countries, though he noted positively that Protestant-majority countries like Denmark, the U.K., the Netherlands and Sweden had “incredibly low levels of anti-Semitic beliefs.”
The ADL Global Index is impressive in its depth and reach, and in its graphs, statistics and data tracking of the extent of anti-Semitism in 102 countries. But how are we to respond to a problem that in 2014 echoes the sentiments of Pharaoh’s advisers in the Book of Exodus, falsely accusing the Jews of being different and dangerous, and disloyal to their native Egypt? The ADL, a multimillion-dollar institution, leads the way in educating young people about the importance of tolerance and the dangers of prejudice. Yet after a century of its efforts, the problem remains. Seventy percent of those harboring anti-Semitic feelings have never met a Jew and only 54 percent of those polled had heard of the Holocaust.
Outreach, vigilance and providing accurate information are vital, but are they enough to counter an ancient hatred fueled by modern-day technology?
Perhaps most disturbing is how we have come to accept such prejudice against Jews. As Daniel Goldhagen noted in “The Devil That Never Dies,” his landmark book on anti-Semitism, “imagine if, in Arab countries or at home, the things anti-Semites say with vitriol were said about any other group, such as blacks.” Would the world do business with countries whose national leaders, mainstream media and religious clerics constantly called for genocide against a particular group held responsible for all of the world’s wars and problems? Yet that is the reality today, with Jews the target. And world leaders — and we ourselves — tend to ignore or dismiss such hatred.
Let this global survey be our wake-up call.