The emergence of global anti-Semitism, and more particularly its manifestations in the Arab, Muslim, and European worlds, have prompted a debate about the quality and scope of the American Jewish community's response to this phenomenon. Before venturing an assessment, it is important to define the special features of this new form of anti-Semitism.
Global anti-Semitism represents a different challenge to Jews, Judaism, and Israel than earlier kinds. What is now confronted is a political and public relations offensive that is aimed at discrediting the case for Israel, subverting the legitimacy of the Jewish people, and undermining the integrity of Judaism as one of the major world
To achieve their basic goals of isolating and stigmatizing Israel, the Jewish people, and Judaism, today's anti-Semites use some more specific tactics:
Irwin Cotler has suggested that three themes in particular define this new anti-Semitism. First, genocidal anti-Semitism entails the public call for the destruction of the state of Israel and the killing of Jews. Terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad operate as "genocidal bombers"; religious elites including Muslim clerics present these objectives as sacred obligations of their followers; and in "state-sanctioned" policies, countries such as Iran work for Israel's annihilation.
Table 1 characterizes the new, global anti-Semitism and differentiates it from earlier forms.
Some critics in Europe and Israel have questioned how seriously the American Jewish community is relating to this growing anti-Semitism, especially in terms of institutional visibility and effectiveness.
Several key factors emerge in the American Jewish response. There is today a heightened public and institutional focus on the issue. As discussed below, there are varying levels of engagement. The American Jewish press, for its part, regularly reports on global anti-Semitism, and specifically on anti-Israeli statements and activities by individuals, organizations, and governments.
Since the Mortara Affair in the 1850s, American Jewry has been involved in matters related to anti-Semitism on the European continent. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on many occasions American Jewish leaders sought U.S. government intervention in cases of Jewish persecution in Europe.3
In the 1930s, there was a major debate among the main Jewish defense organizations about what strategies to take toward the rise of the Nazis in Germany. The American Jewish Congress advocated a highly public campaign, whereas the American Jewish Committee favored low-key diplomatic initiatives. In the end the more cautious approach prevailed despite efforts by some to mount a more confrontational response to the Nazi policies.
A current point of controversy is how American Jewish political action is perceived elsewhere in the Jewish world, particularly by leaders of the European communities. American Jewish organizations play to different, sometimes competing constituencies. On the one hand, they need to demonstrate to their membership base and principal supporters a serious approach to the international challenges, thereby confirming their credibility for internal fundraising purposes and underlining their status as global institutions. These priorities may not, however, directly comport with the interests or sensibilities of their European counterparts, who remain concerned about outside interference in their affairs or favor what they consider a European approach to the issues. This is linked in part to the broader European debate about alleged American domineering behavior in the international context.
Statements by some of the American Jewish organizations in their publications and websites indeed show a certain political brinksmanship. This involves using threatening terms such as "warn" in regard to specific European governments' failure to deal adequately with anti-Semitism.
The main American Jewish organizations have distinctive political styles.4 The strategies they use partly reflect their historical approaches to advocacy. For instance, the American Jewish Committee prides itself on its commitment to diplomacy and the quality of its institutional research. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), however, has centered its messages on the persona of its national director, who not only defines the agency's positions but shapes how they are conveyed. Seeking to compete with the public and sometimes strident voice of the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has tended to link its focus on global anti-Semitism to other core themes including Holocaust education, neo-Nazi activities, and the case for Israel.
More broadly, American Jewish agencies' approaches may reflect distinctive cultural styles and organizational tactics that are not always familiar to European Jewish publics. Indeed, the American Jewish bodies are patterned on advocacy models found in the general American political arena. This pertains both to the more diplomatic style of the American Jewish Committee and to the more high-profile stances, aimed at attracting media coverage, of the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
A three-tier framework is helpful for quantifying and classifying the nature of the American Jewish institutional responses to the issue of global anti-Semitism. Specific organizations can be evaluated within each category:
- Core participation: An active agenda designed to elicit public awareness, political intervention, and social-behavioral change.
- Selective interest: Primarily a reporting role while introducing a few initiatives, along with undertaking a monitoring function.
- Minimal commitment: Exclusively a reporting role aimed at providing
information on global anti-Semitism to constituencies
without any direct engagement.
Groups in this cohort use a host of public policy tools to convey
Jewish concerns about international anti-Semitism to officials in Washington,
the United Nations, and world capitals. These institutions
demonstrate six distinctive responses:
- Sponsoring research on anti-Semitic trends
- Hosting high-level meetings and participating in international
- Producing publications focusing attention on this issue
- Testifying before congressional and international bodies
- Developing international ad campaigns
- Using press briefings and statements
Core-participant institutions include the Anti-Defamation League,
the American Jewish Committee, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The first two are the most active in this arena. Each of these organizations
uses some of the above tools, and devotes significant attention
to global anti-Semitism on its website.
The ADL employs international press releases and is publishing a
series called "Global Anti-Semitism: The New Threat."5 The first two
installments have been "90 Ways to Respond" and "Fighting Hate
around the World." The ADL also mounted an international television
ad campaign titled "Anti-Semitism Is Anti-All of Us," designed to
coincide with the 2004 Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) Conference in Brussels focusing on racism, xenophobia,
and discrimination, and the opening of the fall 2004 UN General
Assembly.6 In its Annual Report for 2004, the ADL noted that in 2003
it spent 6 percent of its program budget on "International Affairs,"
11 percent on "Education," and 10 percent on "Marketing and Communications."
Each of these categories is aligned with the agenda of
fighting global anti-Semitism.7
American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee's engagement in the international
sphere is described in materials from its website:8
As AJC's agenda has expanded over the years, it has been referred
to as the "state department" of the American Jewish community.
Our staff experts use a combination of groundbreaking research,
innovative educational programming and diplomacy to advance our
concerns as Americans and as Jews. The highpoint of our international
outreach each year is the "Diplomatic Marathon," a two-week
period in September when AJC leaders meet with the heads of state
or foreign ministers of dozens of countries who come to New York
for the opening of the UN General Assembly. Advocacy for Israel
at the UN and in other international forums tops the discussion.
AJC's large-scale diplomatic undertaking is unparalleled among nongovernmental
organizations and underscores our long-term commitment
to global outreach as a way to ensure the well being of Israel
and Jewish communities around the world.
The Committee outlines its main activities in response to the emerging
The past three years have seen a startling intensification of anti-
Semitism in Europe - leaving many Jews feeling more vulnerable and
disillusioned than at any time in the last half century. Hundreds
of aggressive and often violent acts have targeted Jews and Jewish
institutions across Europe, particularly Western Europe.
AJC has been working intensively with European governments
to confront anti-Semitism in their countries. AJC played a leading
role in the planning process of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe's...conferences on anti-Semitism, the first in
Vienna in June 2003 and then again last April in Berlin. During the
two conferences, high-level representatives of OSCE nations met to
address the alarming rise of anti-Semitic violence in their region.
For months prior to the event, AJC worked in Washington and
European capitals to organize the forum. Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC's
director of international Jewish affairs, was a member of the U.S.
Public Delegation to the Vienna conference, chaired by former New
York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Through its close contacts to diplomats and government officials,
its ability to exert leadership among the major Jewish organizations,
and its initiative to coordinate leading Jewish and non-Jewish organizations,
AJC also played a crucial role in the success of the OSCE
Conference in Berlin. AJC Executive Director David A. Harris addressed
the conference. Just prior to this second meeting on anti-
Semitism, AJC's Berlin Office co-sponsored a daylong NGO forum
focused on strategies for combating anti-Semitism. Thirty-six U.S.
and European Jewish organizations signed an NGO Forum Declaration,
which was presented to the OSCE Conference. Robert Rifkind,
chair of AJC's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of
Human Rights (JBI), addressed the forum and presented a new JBI
report, After the Promise: Keeping OSCE Commitments to Combat
In 2004 the Wiesenthal Center averaged over twenty press releases per
month, with more than a third dealing with issues of European or
world anti-Semitism.9 Although most of these statements were in reaction
to specific anti-Semitic events or expressions, the Center also
launched several proactive initiatives, including testimony to the Commission
for Security and Cooperation in Europe in June 2004:
Years ago Simon Wiesenthal expressed the fear that we would "repeat
the old mistakes under new conditions..., that we are afraid to mobilize
right against wrong." If the Holocaust has any lesson, it is precisely
that we cannot stand by while antisemitism and other forms of
bigotry take root. And, as our representatives, it is the role and
responsibility of government to take the lead in that regard. Their
silence can condemn the world; their protest can save it.10
Here as elsewhere, the Wiesenthal Center has linked contemporary
anti-Semitism with the Holocaust. Throughout this document Mark
Weitzman, director of the Center's Task Force against Hate, keeps
returning to this theme.
The Perspective of Their Critics
In a Jerusalem Post article, Pierre Besnainou, deputy chairman of the
European Jewish Congress, is quoted as stating in a letter to the
president of the Committee Representing Jewish Institutions in France
(CRIF), Roger Cukierman, that: "Often when American Jewish groups
have become involved in affairs in France, their manner has come
across as presumptuous and somewhat patronizing, placing us in a
delicate situation." Charging that the ADL, AIPAC, and the American
Jewish Committee were "interfering in and undermining" the French
Jewish public's own efforts to combat anti-Semitism, Besnainou added:
"This alternating attitude of insolence and compliance, these interventions
of doubtful legitimacy are creating a real risk for the interests
of our community."11
As a result, Besnainou claimed, French Jews experienced "diminished
credibility" when trying to engage their leaders on issues of anti-
Semitism. He went on to suggest: "The question is not only of the
appropriateness of this intervention, but as well of its legitimacy. There
are institutions whose vocation is to represent the Jews of France and
Europe."12 Cukierman, in recent comments published in the American
Jewish press, has expressed similar discomfort with some U.S.-based
organizations' approach to France.
The Post, two days after the article quoting Besnainou, reported
this response by Laura Kam Issacharoff of the ADL's Israel office in
a letter to French Jewish officials: "We believe that in general criticism
of the ADL in this subject is unfortunate and unwarranted. We respect,
work closely with and consult with CRIF, and we believe that they
feel the same."13
Despite Besnainou's charges, there is no indication that AIPAC
issued any statements or was publicly active on the question of European
anti-Semitism. That agency's website, including its press releases
dating back to 2001, does not include any statements on this topic,
which is not surprising given AIPAC's single-issue focus on Israel-related
If there are complaints about these "core" institutional participants,
there may well be more unhappiness directed against the remaining
two categories of American Jewish organizations. These have
taken a stronger role whether in responding to the growth of global
anti-Semitism or in reporting on the key issues to their primary stakeholders.
Examples of the broad range of interest groups that could be included
here are the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress
(WJC), and B'nai B'rith.
The American Jewish Congress has responded to the anti-Semitism
issue by employing three programmatic tools: diplomatic visits, press
releases, and taking part in international conferences.14 In July 2002,
the Congress sent a high-level, eight-person delegation to France that
met with "senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign
Ministry, and the Interior and Justice Ministries; with members of
the National Assembly and Senate; and with representatives of the
media and the leading French Jewish community organizations."15
In March 2004, the organization announced that its then-national
chairman Jack Rosen had been nominated by Secretary of State Colin
Powell to attend the OSCE-sponsored International Conference on
Anti-Semitism in Berlin (28-29 April 2004). In August 2004, the Congress
issued a press release calling on the French government to lead
the fight against anti-Semitism.
The WJC, for its part, has used a petition campaign, as well as
publishing reports on anti-Semitism through its Monthly Dispatches,
Policy Forum, and Policy Studies.16 The petition campaign, which
seeks to obtain a million signatures, contains an educational and action
program that states the following goals:17
- Strive to ensure that...legal systems foster a safe environment
free from anti-Semitic harassment, violence or discrimination in
all fields of life
- Promote, as appropriate, educational programs for combating
- Promote remembrance of and, as appropriate, education about
the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the importance of respect for
all ethnic and religious groups
- Combat hate crimes, which can be fuelled by racist, xenophobic
and anti-Semitic propaganda in the media and on the Internet
- Encourage and support international organization and NGO
efforts in these areas
- Collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about
anti-Semitic crimes, and other hate crimes, ...making this information
available to the public
- Encourage development of informal exchanges among experts
in appropriate for a on best practices and experiences in law
enforcement and education
The dispatches dating back to July 2001 include articles on global
anti-Semitism such as, for example, No. 92, "The 'New Antisemitism':
A Volatile Mix of Anti-Israel and Anti-Jewish Hostility" (March 2003);
and No. 96, "Old Antisemitism in the New Europe? Overcoming
Romania's Long History of Holocaust Denial" (September 2003).
Among the twenty-seven Policy Forums the WJC has released, three
deal with global anti-Semitism: No. 17, "France Faces Its Past: French
Jews Face an Uncertain Future," by Shmuel Trigano (1998); No. 24,
"The Durban Debacle: An Insider's View of the UN Conference
against Racism," by Congressman Tom Lantos (2002); and No. 27,
"Countering Arab Antisemitism," by Menahem Milson (2002).
B'nai B'rith, which at one time was more prominent, has recently
played a diminished public role. It has, however, issued some statements
on aspects of the fight against global anti-Semitism18 - as in this excerpt
from a press release of 16 October 2004, titled "President Signs the
Global Anti-Semitism Awareness/Review Act":
"As we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the American Jewish
community this year," said B'nai B'rith International President Joel
S. Kaplan, "we would do well to remember and take great pride in
the words of George Washington, who told American Jewry in 1790
that the U.S. government 'gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution
no assistance.' The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 is
faithful to the spirit of Washington's message and to the sacrosanct
American tradition of tolerance and pluralism."
Slightly earlier, on 28 September, the agency issued a press statement
applauding seven senators for speaking out on global anti-Semitism:
It is our hope that the assertive leadership you have shown on this
issue will spur government officials, community leaders, and nongovernmental
organizations to further engage in the ongoing struggle
to combat anti-Semitism. By establishing a comprehensive record
highlighting current anti-Semitic activities, you and your colleagues
have helped provide an evidentiary basis for mounting the campaign
against this persistent form of hatred.
During that same week, B'nai B'rith announced it had sent letters
to those senators responsible for the adoption of a resolution expressing
support for the OSCE's ongoing work in combating anti-
Semitism and other forms of bigotry.
Under this category, organizations often provide to their members a
reporting function rather than an active program. Examples include
the two major Jewish women's organizations, Hadassah and the National
Council of Jewish Women, along with the religious movements
and the Labor Zionist Alliance.
Hadassah, the largest Zionist women's organization, mainly conveys
its messages through its national magazine and its website. The
former, apart from a generic article on European anti-Semitism19 and
a more focused one on the French crisis,20 has paid minimal attention
to the subject. In a statement in June 2004, Hadassah welcomed the
UN Conference on Anti-Semitism as a "positive and welcome first
step toward the ultimate goal of eradicating anti-Semitism at the UN
and across the globe."21
The major Jewish religious streams, as well, must all be classified
under "minimal commitment." A closer analysis of the Orthodox
Union (OU) found four main forms of engagement: press statements;
participation in international meetings - in Berlin and at the United
Nations; the mobilization of members to push for congressional resolutions
in this area; and the publication of background information
in the OU's International Briefs.
From 2001 to 2005, the OU issued several press statements on
aspects of global anti-Semitism, including one in May 2001 that condemned
Syrian President Bashar Assad's remarks during the Pope's
visit to Damascus:
The vicious accusations proclaiming that Jews are responsible for
the death of Jesus and for the attempt to kill Mohammed completely
undermine the spirit of reconciliation in which this visit by Pope
John Paul II was made. President Assad's repugnant remarks are
more than just rhetoric; they unfortunately foment hatred of Israel
and the Jewish people and destroy any hopes for peacemaking or
for the harmony and reconciliation that the Pope described.22
A September 2001 statement praised the decision of the United
States and Israel to withdraw from the World Conference against
Racism in Durban.
Another relevant press statement is that of 10 July 2002 in
response to an action by Congress. Following a spate of anti-Semitic
incidents in Belgium, France, and Germany over nearly a two-year
period, Congress unanimously adopted House Resolution 393 and
Senate Resolution 248 calling on European governments "to
acknowledge publicly the anti-Semitic character of the attacks and
to utilize the full power of law enforcement tools to punish those
who commit acts of anti-Semitism."23 On 17 November 2003, the
OU expressed outrage over the Shabbat car bombings of two Istanbul
In April 2004, the OU also issued a statement praising Secretary
of State Powell for his condemnation of anti-Semitism at the OSCE
Conference.25 This was followed in June by another declaration regarding
the UN Conference on Anti-Semitism: "We applaud this first
step by the UN...but this cannot be the final stop in confronting this
menace. Anti-Semitism is the oldest and most far-reaching bigotry in
the world, targeting Israel and Jews around the globe."26
And in September 2004, the OU applauded the passage of the
above-mentioned Senate resolution praising the OSCE.27
A review of the websites of both the United Synagogue (Conservative)
and the Union for Reform Judaism indicates that neither has
formally addressed global anti-Semitism through press statements,
news articles, or political action.28
As for the website of the Labor Zionist Alliance, there is hardly
any reference to this issue. Apart from an article on the roots of
the Holocaust-denial movement, there is no mention of the more
immediate topics of European or Arab anti-Semitism.29 Out of twenty
press releases issued by the Alliance over the past four years, not one
addresses this theme.
Several points emerge from this examination of the responses of American
- Organizations with a record of international engagement are
more likely to be active on this issue, particularly those that
maintain field operations abroad.
- American Jewish groups model practices found in the general
American political culture, with some variations in style.
- Conflicts with European Jewish organizations partly reflect the
larger political tensions between the United States and its European
- Organizations specifically committed to fighting anti-Semitism
as part of their institutional mandate have developed substantial
and distinctive ways of dealing with this issue.
- Organizations with a multifaceted policy agenda are also more
likely to get involved.
- Agencies with greater resources - professional staff services, research
capacity, international and diplomatic connections - demonstrate
a higher level of action.
- Institutions having a specialized agenda outside the field of political
advocacy are the least connected to this issue.
- Activism in this area sometimes triggers criticisms over efficacy
and appropriateness by those most directly affected.
Despite the recent controversy with French Jewish leaders, American
Jewish engagement with this issue seems to follow the same
patterns encountered by these agencies within the United States. In
light of European Jewry's growing concern about the rise of anti-
Semitism on their continent, they have a heightened anxiety about the
appropriateness and scope of the American Jewish response to this
phenomenon, prompting criticism and second-guessing.
* * *
1. Drawn from Steven Windmueller, You Shall Not Stand Idly By, American
Jewish Committee, November 2004, Appendix A: "The New Global Anti-
Semitism: How Does It Differ from the Past," pp. 81-86.
* * *
2. See Irwin Cotler, "Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness," Jerusalem
Post, 5 February 2004, based on a presentation to the Jewish People Policy
Planning Institute, November 2002.
3. Naomi W. Cohen, "An Overview of American Jewish Defense," in Alan
Mittleman, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Robert Licht, eds., Jews and the American Public Square (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), pp. 19-20.
4. See Steven Windmueller, "'Defenders': National Jewish Community Relations
Agencies," in Alan Mittleman, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Robert Licht,
eds., Jewish Polity and American Civil Society (New York: Rowman &
5. See the ADL website: http://www.adl.org/international-affairs/.
6. "First-Ever TV Ads on Anti-Semitism in Europe," Frontline Magazine
(ADL), Fall 2004, p. 7
7. "ADL Expense Allocations," in Fighting to Keep Our World Safe, Anti-
Defamation League, 2004.
8. See the American Jewish Committee website: http://www.ajc.org.
9. The website gives a comprehensive list of press statements and news releases
covering this period: http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nl/newsletter2.asp.
10. "Testimony to Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe," given
by Mark Weitzman, director, Task Force against Hate, Washington, DC, 16
June 2004, http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp?c>fwLYKn
11. Hilary Leila Krieger, "French Jewish Leader: US Intervention Illegitimate,"
Jerusalem Post, 4 March 2005.
13. Jerusalem Post, 6 March 2005.
14. See public statements and news releases on the website of the American
Jewish Congress: http://www.ajcongress.org/.
16. See the website of the World Jewish Congress for its press releases, news
stories, and petition campaign: http://www.wjc.org.il/.
17. The WJC's UN Petition includes these specific principles: http://www.wjc.org.
18. See the public statements and press reports of B'nai B'rith International on
its website: http://www.bnaibirth.org/.
19. Toby Axelrod, "Letter from Europe: The Shadow Returns," Hadassah Magazine,
20. William Korey, "Memo to Europe: Try to Remember," Hadassah Magazine,
21. See Hadassah's public statement on its website: http://www.Hadassah.org.
22. "OU Outraged by Syrian President's Anti-Semitic Rhetoric," Institute for
Public Affairs, OU, 7 May 2001.
23. "The Orthodox Union Applauds Passage of Resolutions Protesting Anti-
Semitism in Europe," Institute for Public Affairs, OU, 10 July 2002.
24. "Orthodox Union Outraged by Istanbul Car Bombings at Congregations
Beth Israel and Neve Shalom," Institute for Public Affairs, OU, 17 November
25. "Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Applauds Powell Condemnation
of Anti-Semitism at Berlin Conference," 28 April 2004, www.ou.org/public/
26. "Report from Today's United Nations Conference on Anti-Semitism: OU,
Encouraged that UN Is at Last Confronting Anti-Semitism, Declares that
Member Nations Must Heed Annan'sWords and Fight Anti-Jewish Bigotry,"
Institute for Public Affairs, OU, 21 June 2004.
27. "Orthodox Union Welcomes Senate Passage of Resolution on Anti-Semitism,"
Institute for Public Affairs, OU, 27 September 2004.
28. See the websites of the Union for Reform Judaism and its Religious Action
Center, http://www.urj.org/ and http://rac.org/index.cfm, and http://
29. See Michael Landsberg, "Anti-Semitism: Arab Style," Jewish Frontier, Vol.
68, No. 2, April-June 2002.
DR. STEVEN WINDMUELLER is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Since 1995 he has been director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. In 2004 he authored You Shall Not Stand Idly By, a community relations workbook published by the American Jewish Committee. This year, together with Professor Gerald Bubis, he completed a study on the creation of the United Jewish Communities.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect
those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The above essay appears in the Fall 2005 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.
Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org/), the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Spring 2005 issue will be available in the coming weeks."
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Assessing the American Jewish Institutional Response to Global Anti-Semitism by Steven Windmueller
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Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden by Mikael Tossavainen
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