The latest report issued by the division of the State Department that monitors anti-Semitism on an international basis contained an upsetting amount of news, which is not unexpected — any update, besides a total eradication of the phenomenon that is often called the “world’s oldest hatred,” is certain to be of concern.
This year’s report, while not focusing on Western European countries like France where a growing population of people with Arab-Muslim roots pose a constant danger for members of the Jewish community, had a tone that implies gloom for any opponent of prejudice. The countries singled out — Ukraine, where ultranationalist leaders target Jewish sites; Egypt, where last year’s Arab Spring has opened the doors to expression of anti-Jewish feelings; Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a long history of questioning the authenticity of the Holocaust and blustering against Israel — are familiar.
But the existence of the report itself is a good omen.
The State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism was created in 2004 during the administration of George W. Bush to “advocate U.S. policy on anti-Semitism both in the United States and internationally … and to develop and implement policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.”
While critics in Jewish circles and in wider political circles can — and often do — take issue with the office’s conclusions, the office is a too-rare initiative, on a national level, to recognize the ubiquity and perniciousness of anti-Semitism. For the last three years the office has been headed by Hannah Rosenthal, former head of Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who has pressed for the inclusion of anti-Semitism monitoring into the State Department’s overall human rights reports.
This week’s mass murder at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin served as a reminder that prejudice among identified members of religious and other minority groups is a constant threat, often with fatal results, domestically as well as internationally. Particularly disturbing to the Jewish community — which in Wisconsin is reaching out to the Sikhs — is the neo-Nazi background of the alleged Wisconsin killer, Wade Page.
The executive summary of the State Department report for 2011, released late last month, described a “global increase” in anti-Semitism and a “rising tide of anti-Semitism.” The report left itself open to criticism since it failed to compare instances of anti-Semitism in individual countries to those in previous years’ reports.
The criticism is valid; it can be addressed in future reports.
But it is comforting to know that anti-Semitism is a matter of concern at the highest levels of the American government. It is easy for hatred to grow in the darkness; haters around the world receive fair notice every year in the State Department report: someone is watching them.