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Our Confused Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism

July 5th 2010

Jewish Topics - Hannan Rosenthal
Hannah Rosenthal

Last December, the Obama Administration's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal attacked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for not toeing the J-Street line regarding his own country thereby taking J-Street's soft approach to terrorism against Israel. In March, in London at the Community Security Trust Dinner, while ostensibly discussing her work on anti-Semitism, she called for more effort in the fight against Islamaphobia. And most recently, in Kazakhstan at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), she again called for increased work to fight the problem. I am confused. Is she the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia?

In Kazakhstan for the OSCE's Conference on Intolerance, our envoy Hannah Rosenthal said the following, according to JTA, “In the OSCE region, for example, the free practice of Islam is severely constrained in different ways—from overt prejudices to non-support for structures that allow religious observance. In some participating States, Muslim communities have great difficulty operating mosques not controlled or sanctioned by the state, sometimes resulting in problematic penalties for this activity. In some states, in fact, one can't even build a mosque. In some states, registration systems often disproportionately burden small Muslim religious communities, and some countries' legal systems ban personal religious expression—restrictions which inevitably limit freedoms we all hold dear.”

In a compliment to Rosenthal's speech, Farah Pandith, the State Deparment's talented emissary to Muslim communities delivered the speech Rosenthal should have. Again according to JTA, Pandith said, “In addition to an increased number of violent attacks against Jews and synagogues in Europe and elsewhere, 2009 saw growing incidents of harassment of Jewish children in their schools; desecration of Jewish institutions; and increasingly violent and virulent rhetoric in graffiti, as well as in various media. In recent weeks, we have seen legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies cross the line into anti-Semitism. Natan Sharansky teaches us that anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism if Israel is demonized, delegitimized or held to a different standard than any other country.”

Now, its obvious they devised a clever way to show the inclusiveness of the fight against intolerance. Pandith, a capable smart diplomat has worked hard to bring the argument of tolerance to Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere and should be commended for her work. Yet, Rosenthal seems to continue her stray from her main job fighting anti-Semitism. Her consistent attention to Islamaphobia suggests a real sympathy for those very people who lead the way in attacking Jews in Europe. The meeting she addressed in Kazakhstan was part of the work of a number of European institutions' efforts at combating intolerance. Yet, like Rosenthal, Europeans have been almost as reluctant to label the origins of the massive increase in anti-Semitism there as coming from the continents' Muslim immigrants.

In 2003, a leaked version of a report from the European Union's Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia explained that “Physical attacks on Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues were acts often committed by young Muslim perpetrators in the monitoring period.” The EUMC was afraid to release the report lest Muslim reactions be too great. Moreover, the EUMC reported that there was a shift in public perception of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic events. Their report noted that the French Human Rights Commission (CNCDH) suggested that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks arose from “youth from neighborhoods sensitive to the conflict.” During the years 2001–2002, Danish Jewish victims as well as witnesses routinely reported attacks from “Arabic/Palestinian/Muslim background as being the main perpetrators.” In a June 2002 statement, a French government spokesman suggested that anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by “poorly integrated youths of Muslim origin who would like to bring the Mideast conflict to France.” Finally, in a European Union's Agency for Fundamental Rights report of February 2009, it was reported that “Anti-Semitic activity after 2000 is increasingly attributed to a “new anti-Semitism”, characterized [sic] primarily by the vilification of Israel as the “Jewish collective” and perpetrated primarily by members of Europe's Muslim population.”

In Summer 2004, Timothy M. Savage, a career Foreign Service officer wrote in the Washington Quarterly, “The Muslim factor is adding contours to Europe's domestic and foreign policy landscape in more than just demographic and geographical terms. The European-Islamic nexus is spinning off a variety of new phenomena, including the rise of terrorism; the emergence of a new anti-Semitism; the shift of established European political parties to the right; the recalibration of European national political calculations; additional complications for achieving an ever closer EU; and a refocusing, if not a reformulation, of European foreign policy.”

The points in Savage's article, cleared for publication by the State Department, are echoed in part, by Pandith's remarks in Kazakhstan. Rosenthal, however, is afraid to say what the Department let another of its employees say in print a few years ago, what Pandith said in Kazakhstan, and institutions and private citizens in Europe have been saying in one way or the other for most of this decade.

Our Special Envoy seems to be interested in fighting intolerance of many sorts, which is admirable if her job was to do that. Yet as her responsibilities are by her title limited to anti-Semitism, it is curious that she cannot find enough anti-Semitism to fight around the world so she has to migrate to other issues. According to the Roth Institute at Tel Aviv, anti-Semitic incidents doubled in 2009. Incidents in Canada, Great Britain, France and other European countries are on the same pace and steadily mounting with no end in sight. Is Rosenthal not seeing these numbers?

At the end of the day, it seems that our country's point person on anti-Semitism is highly confused and has spent the past seven or so months fighting the wrong fight. As such, I believe it is time for the Administration to reappoint her to the new title of “Special Envoy to Monitor Islamaphobia” and appoint someone else who cares more about the fate and welfare of Jews persecuted through anti-Semitism around the world than the Muslims that persecute them. Our Special Envoy is not doing her job.

Cutting Edge human rights analyst Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006–2009.

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