The most myopic U.S. supporters of Ariel Sharon have launched a campaign to smear all who criticize Israeli and U.S. policy in the Middle East as anti-Semitic. They argue that Israel represents the crystallization of the aspirations of Jews as a people and that, therefore, questioning the idea of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state is intrinsically anti-Jewish.

Elected officials, academics and activists have been subjected to charges of anti-Semitism for their comments on the Middle East crisis. Lives and careers have been, and are being, damaged.

These charges must be challenged, and not only because they slander many excellent people. Anti-Semitism, defined as hatred and prejudice directed against Jewish people in thought, word and deed, is still a problem and could grow. But people calling for a settlement of the Middle East crisis that recognizes Palestinian rights to nationhood are not the people who should be charged with anti-Semitism.

Most of the anti-Semitism in the U.S. is, and has been, generated by the ultra-right – by neo-Nazis, xenophobic anti-immigrant groups and some embittered Christian fringes. In many cases, those who hate Jews also hate Arabs and all foreigners.

Nor can it be denied that some anti-Jewish tendencies exist among conservative Islamic elements in the U.S., manifesting itself in such things as Holocaust denial. But this should not be exaggerated. Most Arab-American and Muslim leaders and activists I know fall over backward to disassociate themselves from anti-Semites, Muslim or Christian. Here in Chicago, I witnessed a demonstration of over 3,000 Arab-Americans on the Palestine issue. There was nothing said about Jews as Jews (most of the speeches were in English), but one solitary person held up a sign which equated a star of David with a swastika. All the TV cameras zoomed in on that one sign among the multitude of other signs, and, of course, that is what was seen on the evening news.

The fear of being labeled anti-Semitic has led people I know, who feel outraged at the oppression of Palestinians, to keep silent on the whole Middle East crisis.

What to do? In my opinion, there needs to be a new campaign against anti-Semitism, and that campaign should be integrated with the struggle for a just solution of the Palestine/Israeli conflict. This is the correct thing to do, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of bolstering arguments on Palestine. The Jewish organization “Not in my Name” has played a valuable role by presenting Jewish voices in favor of the rights of the Palestinians. In the same manner, non-Jews, including Arab-Americans and Muslims, need to have an organized means to speak out against anti-Jewish prejudice in the U.S.

Such a campaign would educate the public on the history of anti-Semitism. For example, while schools in the U.S. often teach about the Holocaust, few, if any, mention the fact that while that ghastly crime was being plotted – and implemented – anti-Semites in the U.S. government blocked immigration of Jewish refugees to our shores. The degree to which governments like ours saw the channeling of Jewish refugees toward Palestine as a way of keeping our country “Christian and white” was actually a manifestation of “our own” anti-Semitism, and certainly contributed to today’s Middle East confrontation.

There is nothing to lose by creatively combining the struggle against anti-Semitism with the struggle for the rights of the Palestinian people, and a whole lot to be gained.

Emile Schepers is a frequent contributor from Chicago. He can be reached at pww@pww.org

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