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Op-Ed

Anti-Semitism: The Week in Review

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on December 13, 2013

In the struggle against anti-Semitism and prejudice, there are days, and sometimes even weeks that go by when all is quiet, and when the actions of bigots seem to be in check. And it seems during those quiet periods that the haters -- while never entirely disappearing from the scene -- are once again marginalized or pushed to the far fringes of society enough to render them less potent, or at least, less visible.

It is during those lulls that we take some comfort that our work to end prejudice around the world may be having an impact.

Then there are days and weeks when we are reminded that the struggle is far from over. At those times we are awakened with shocking news of another vicious anti-Semitic attack or another outrageous expression of Holocaust trivialization by a public figure or a celebrity who should know better.

This, sadly, has been one of those weeks. A week where, despite all of the tributes to the life and legacy of that great freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, abject bigotry raised its ugly head more times than we wish to enumerate, and where we were reminded once again that the scourge of anti-Semitism is more than just a historical curiosity, but very much a current event.

Consider a few of the manifestations of anti-Jewish bigotry that crossed our desks here at the Anti-Defamation League over the past few days.

The celebrity musician and former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who has long made no secret of his stridently pro-Palestinian views, gave an interview with a sympathetic online publication where he invoked classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the music industry.

"The Jewish lobby is extraordinarily powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry," he told his interlocutor. Waters also had some choice words to characterize Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Right-wing Israelis, he charged, "believe that the indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick of the land ever since are subhuman. The parallels with what went on in the 1930s in Germany are so crushingly obvious...."

I had, somewhat reluctantly, defended Waters in the past against the charge of anti-Semitism. But his comments last week put his sentiments in a new light. Judging by his latest statements, Waters has absorbed classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and these have now seeped into the totality of his views. His comments about Jews and Israel have gotten progressively worse over time. It started with anti-Israel invective, and has now morphed into conspiratorial anti-Semitism.

We also woke up to the news that a former MTV reality show celebrity, Tila Tequila, had come out on her Facebook page as a devotee of Adolf Hitler. Not only did she post a series of pro-Hitler and anti-Semitic expressions, sending them instantly to her thousands upon thousands of online followers, but she drove the point home by posing for photos as a scantily clad Nazi temptress, brandishing a handgun and wearing a Nazi armband in front of an image of the infamous Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. (All this from a person who had earlier told her fans that she was thinking of converting to Judaism). Now she said she believed she was the very reincarnation of Hitler himself.

It was pretty transparent, to us at least, that this was little more than a sick publicity stunt. And, to some extent, it worked. The calls started to light up our switchboard, and the online Jewish magazine Tablet was one of the first to take the bait, publishing a piece on her sudden "conversion" to Nazism and her "raunchy Auschwitz shot."

Here was a person who was desperate for publicity at all costs. So, naturally, like so many others seeking to grab the limelight or to score political points, she reached for an old standard that is bound to stir up controversy -- the outrageous Hitler comparison, the Holocaust trivialization.

Fortunately, she found herself very much alone at this sick party, as many of her followers on Facebook found the stunt as repugnant as we did -- voicing disappointment, shock, outrage and anger. By the end of the week, Facebook had taken action to close down Tequila's account and remove the hateful anti-Semitism and praise for Hitler that she had put out there into the ether.

We then learned from one of our partner anti-hate organizations in Romania that a group of Christmas carolers had appeared in a live broadcast on Romanian public television singing a "folk tune" with perverse anti-Semitic lyrics. The carolers, members of a folk ensemble called "Dor Transilvan," wearing traditional Romanian garb, sang a Christmas song that seemed quaint and innocent enough, except if one listened carefully to the lyrics. They started out innocuously enough with words about the birth of "a beautiful child" named Jesus, but quickly devolved into a brand of anti-Semitism more fit for the Middle Ages than for modern times. "The kikes, damn kikes," they sang, didn't believe in Jesus, and so, they sang, "...this is what the kike is good for. To make kike smoke though the chimney on the street."

We have long known that anti-Semitism was not a thing of the past in Europe. Although we have not polled on anti-Semitic attitudes in Romania, ADL phone surveys in various other European countries in 2012 found as much. Still, it was shocking beyond words and unaccountable to see it manifested so blatantly as a call to burn Jews broadcast live on national television (!), and unchallenged by the hosts. At first this generated little controversy, until government leaders finally woke up and stepped in to say that it was unacceptable.

There also were disturbing reports out of Italy. First, we learned that the longtime former Klansman and avowed white supremacist David Duke had turned up in Venice, where he was now under court order to leave the country because of his "socially dangerous racist and anti-Semitic views." Duke had not relocated to Italy for the food or the culture or the climate, but in an apparent effort to establish a neo-Nazi group in Europe, a continuation of his four decade-long crusade to spread his hateful anti-Semitic and racist ideology in the U.S. and around the world.

This was quickly followed by news of anti-Semitic remarks by the leader of the populist Pitchfork Movement, which is currently one of the leading groups behind the anti-government protests in Italy. Here, again, was manifested the age-old canard about Jewish greed and control of global financial markets, reminiscent of the infamous 19th century anti-Semitic forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

The protest leader, Andrea Zunino, said in an interview with the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, "We want the government to resign. We want the sovereignty of Italy, which is the slave of bankers like the Rothschilds. It's curious that five or six of the richest people in the world are Jewish." Not content with that patently anti-Semitic observation, Zunino went on to suggest that Hitler's actions during the Holocaust may have been motivated by anger at his "initial Jewish financial backers."

Finally, there was this bit of news closer to home: In Florida, a Jewish women who wrote a letter to the Palm Beach Post expressing disappointment that a public menorah lighting ceremony the previous week was not in keeping with Jewish traditions received an anonymous letter in the mail with a clipping of her published letter and Post-it note, on which was written, "Very comical! It is what you are -- Go to Israel. HA, HA."

All of these incidents, while each very different from the next, share in common the fact that they once again have brought anti-Semitism to the fore.

There is still much work to be done. And when bigotry rises up to the surface, as it has done countless times this week, our determination to overcome the forces of intolerance in society becomes that much stronger.

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"All of these incidents, while each very different from the next, share in common the fact that they once again have brought anti-Semitism to the fore."

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