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In 1873, German socialist August Bebel dubbed antisemitism "the socialism of fools." In 2003, a medical analogy is perhaps more appropriate. Herpes, as its sufferers know, is a virus which lurks in the body, which flares up on occasion, which can sometimes be controlled, but which cannot be cured. Its outbreaks are often provoked by stress.

One could hardly find a more apt description of antisemitism, Muslim and European. Following hard on the heels of the standing ovation given by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech claiming that Jews rule the world, we have the 15-nation European Union survey of 7,500 citizens, who were offered a pre-selected list of countries and asked which was "the greatest threat to world peace." Israel came in first at 59%, followed by Iran, North Korea and the United States at 53% each.

How shall we interpret this? Jewish billionaire George Soros places much of the blame on the policies of Israel and the US:

There is a resurgence of antisemitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that. It's not specifically antisemitism, but it does manifest itself in antisemitism as well. I'm critical of those policies. If we change that direction, then antisemitism also will diminish...

A Forward editorial puts it this way:

....something has changed. The hate was there before September 2000, but not the rage. Islam harbored anti-Jewish imagery, but Muslim mobs were not attacking Jewish worshipers in France or Belgium and Muslim leaders were not rallying their nations to holy war....

"The [EU poll] findings surely reflect some latent anti-Jewish hostility among Europeans.... But it also reflects the desperate situation in which Israel now finds itself, caught in the cross-hairs of a worldwide rage that has the world in turmoil.

No doubt these words from a prominent Jew and the preeminent American Jewish newspaper provoke ire among those who believe that they are blaming the victim.1 It is a truism that antisemitism is independent of what Jews do; it condemns them for what they are. What Soros and the Forward are saying is obvious and undeniable: some of Israel's policies have exacerbated antisemitism. But so what? Israel's very existence has exacerbated antisemitism.

It is here that the Herpes model makes sense. Antisemitism is, based on all the evidence, an incurable disease. One need look no further for an antisemitic double standard than Europe's resounding silence when Ehud Barak's peace initiatives were rebuffed by Yaser Arafat.2 Now the Europeans revel in blaming Ariel Sharon and his policies as the sole cause of the current violence. More than a few are entertaining the notion that only the demise of the "greatest threat to world peace" will bring peace to the world. These are the same Europeans who happily embrace China despite its murderous occupation and annexation of Tibet.

That having been said, lowering the stress level could send the disease into temporary remission. It is what we saw during the heyday of the Oslo process. We might well see it again if private Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives such as the "Geneva Accords" and the Ayalon-Nusseibeh petition can achieve either a change of behavior in the Sharon government, or a change of government — and if the Palestinian Authority can really sideline Yaser Arafat.

Nevertheless, if we believe the current policies are correct, we would be obliged to support them, regardless of how much rage they provoke among Muslims and Europeans. Israel and Jews in general should never act solely to please others, because, to say the least, others do not have our best interests at heart. Suicide is rather too drastic a cure for Herpes. That is the argument of those who support the current policies: that Israel risked its security and its existence by signing onto Oslo, and that it should not do so again, just to curry favor with a hostile antisemitic world.

But if we believe that these policies are wrong — and LZA does believe that they are wrong3 — then we must oppose them, irrespective of any effect on antisemitism. And our positions have been bolstered by the testimony of four of Israel's former Security Service heads, who charge that it is precisely these policies which risk Israel's security and existence.

So let's keep our eye on the ball: our primary objective is to insure that Israel is a Jewish state and a democracy, secure and at peace with its neighbors, including the Palestinians. If our support for policies which advance that objective also drives antisemitism into temporary remission, that would be nice, but it should not be the motivation for our actions. We cannot eradicate antisemitism. It is a chronic incurable non-Jewish disease, from which Jews suffer. But we can continue to seek a just solution to the problem of Israel and Palestine, for our own sake as well as theirs. To paraphrase Ben-Gurion, we should oppose the occupation as if there were no antisemitism, and we should oppose antisemitism as if there were no occupation.

President

Labor Zionist Alliance

1.

I must say that I feel a bit of ire at the Forward's phrase "some latent anti-Jewish hostility among Europeans;" those of us who have lived in Western Europe, and regularly read its press, wonder what non-latent hostility would feel like.

2. Yes, Barak made mistakes, but to place those on a par with Arafat's refusal to negotiate and his starting a war is revisionism at its ugliest.