I had hoped we could finally put the depressing events of 2009 behind us. Yet, just one month into the New Year, our hope that history would not repeat itself, that anti-Semitism would not again rear its ugly head, has been tempered by the realities of our times.
January brought new and shocking manifestations of anti-Semitism — once again in places where we least expected to see it, in locales where Jews had otherwise felt safe, in nations and democracies we have become accustomed to calling our allies and friends.
In Greece, a historic synagogue on the island of Crete was attacked — not once, but twice — by arsonists. They left behind a calling card of hate, a bar of soap. And we were reminded that in Greece there is a popular anti-Semitic expression, "I'll make you into a bar of soap," a turn of phrase that remains in use despite its visceral association with the Holocaust.
The acrid smell of smoke still hung in the air when the prime minister, George Papandreou, finally spoke out and condemned the arson as "an attack against the history and the culture heritage of our homeland, Greece."
In Turkey — one of Israel's most important allies in the Islamic world — the government remained silent as Turkish television aired dramas portraying Israeli soldiers as baby snatchers and merciless killers.
In the midst of the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, a big lie took hold that Israelis were harvesting organs for profit. The false rumor started when a virtually unknown anti-Semitic blogger in Seattle, who identifies himself as "T. West," posted a video on YouTube suggesting that the Israeli medical teams in Haiti couldn't be trusted and likely were there to steal organs from earthquake victims.
This Internet video would have languished in obscurity had it not made headlines in Iran and other Arab countries, where the bizarre organ harvesting claims were picked up and, incredibly, accepted as fact and, therefore, "news."
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has a history of blaming Jews for the world's ills, on Jan. 21 did it again, this time accusing the "Jewish lobby" of preventing the U.S. from ending the war in Afghanistan.
There have been reports of anti-Jewish incidents in Argentina, Belgium and Lithuania. In Mumbai, at the scene of the November 2008 Chabad house massacre, January brought a letter bearing a photo of Hitler and the message: "Israel is dogs. We will strike again."
Surely, this is a depressing start for a new year, especially coming after what was probably one of the worst years for global anti-Semitism. There was no country, no city, and no continent that was not witness to anti-Semitic manifestations in 2009. And it was a year in which the Jewish state was vilified and demonized in ways none of us could have imagined.
Harsh criticism of Israel for its defensive military action in Gaza was followed by rallies and demonstrations around the world, with the most outrageous language imaginable and comparisons of Israelis and all Jews to Nazis, to Hitler, to swastikas. Those rallies were followed by violence, as Molotov cocktails were lobbed at synagogues and other visibly Jewish institutions and property were targeted.
Then came terror at home, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. was targeted by a lone anti-Semitic gunman with hate in his heart.
As 2009 came to a close there was another spate of anti-Semitic attacks, both at home and abroad, targeting that symbol of light and peace, the menorah. At least nine public menorahs were reported desecrated or stolen in the U.S. in December, with three incidents in Florida alone.
What is different now from the 1930s and 1940s is that we have people who can, and do, speak out. We can take comfort that the U.S. and many of its allies abroad take seriously the fight against anti-Semitism. It is our hope that those nations, and all world leaders of good conscience, will stand up and speak out against this enduring, age-old hatred.