ADL Highlights Top 10 Issues Affecting Jews in 2011

New York, NY, December 19, 2011 … The so-called Arab Spring, the series of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa that challenged the old guard and led to the surprising exit of longtime leaders from the scene, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, topped the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) annual list of top issues affecting Jews in 2011. 

Also among the Top 10 issues affecting Jews: The Palestinians' unilateral bid for statehood; Iran's defiance over its nuclear program; the prisoner-exchange deal with Hamas that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; and the ramping up of anti-immigrant hate speech as several states passed constitutionally questionable laws aimed at arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. 

"This was a year of momentous change across the Middle East, and the reverberations are still being felt in Israel, the United States and around the world," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  "No one anticipated the sudden and rapid fall of the old regimes in Egypt and Libya, and the political unrest now threatening the Assad regime in Syria.  The Arab Spring has fundamentally rewritten the history of the region and will redefine Israel's relationship with its neighbors, for good and ill, for decades to come.  It is quickly going from an Arab Spring to a Muslim Winter." 

"We were shocked by the cold-blooded shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge and other innocent bystanders in an attack that tore at the very fabric of our democracy," said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair.  "The hateful rhetoric in the immigration debate turned increasingly ugly as several states, including Arizona and Alabama, passed laws aimed at arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants, laws that are now being challenged by the federal government on civil rights grounds."

ADL'S TOP 10 ISSUES AFFECTING JEWS IN 2011

  • Arab Spring Transforms Middle East
  • Iran Defiant as Sanctions Squeeze Regime
  • Jewish Congresswoman Shot at Public Meeting in Arizona
  • Immigration Rhetoric Gets Ugly; State Laws Infringe on Civil Rights
  • Hate Speech Multiplies on Social Networking Sites
  • Palestinian Statehood Bid Circumvents Negotiations
  • Gilad Shalit Freed After Five Years in Captivity
  • Bin Laden Killed in Watershed Moment for War on Terror
  • Holocaust Trivialization Goes Through the Roof
  • Renewed Concerns About Religion in Politics  

Arab Spring Transforms Middle East as Old Regimes Collapse 

The Arab Spring, which started with a series of street protests in Tunisia, ushered in a year of profound transformation across the Arab world.  Old alliances were fragmented as the regional dynamic shifted away from despotism and toward democracy.  In its wake, the Arab Spring claimed several longtime Middle East leaders, including Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who remained defiant until the end as his own people and NATO airstrikes forced him from power; and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down to face justice in the Egyptian courts.  After the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic parties were poised to play a leadership role in the newly formed political structures in Egypt and elsewhere, raising concerns about anti-Semitism and the future of the peace treaty with Israel.  And the changes are still ongoing:  An armed insurgency in Syria has shaken the Assad regime, bringing that country into further international isolation and to the brink of civil war as the government has retaliated by killing thousands of protestors. 

Iran Defiant As Sanctions Squeeze Regime 

Despite international mandates for Iran to halt its nuclear program, an International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors report confirmed that the Iranian regime continued to work toward attaining nuclear weapons capability.  As a result, the U.S., Britain, Canada and European Union announced new sanctions in hopes of compelling Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Meanwhile, Iran remained defiant in the face of allegations of plotting against its enemies abroad.  The U.S. detected and intercepted an alleged Iranian-sponsored attack against the Saudi Arabian and U.S. embassies in Argentina and in Washington, D.C. Britain closed its embassy in Tehran and Iran's embassy in London after the British embassy compound was vandalized by Iranian protesters.  Iran continues its march toward nuclear weapons while countries around the world ratchet up the pressure to halt it. 

Jewish Congresswoman Shot at Public Meeting in Arizona 

The tragic Arizona shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January shocked the nation.  Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a public meeting that Rep. Giffords was holding for constituents in a Safeway parking lot, killing six and wounding 14 others. Rep. Giffords, the main target of the attack, suffered a gunshot wound to the head but survived, and has had to undergo intensive rehabilitation. A federal judge and a congressional staff aide were killed.  Loughner was arrested, and his online writings and videos revealed someone who, while not associated with an extremist group or movement, was motivated by a generic distrust of government and a vague interest in anti-government conspiracy theories. 

Immigration Rhetoric Gets Ugly; State Laws Infringe on Civil Rights 

The immigration debate was increasingly a flashpoint not only for racist and neo-Nazi extremist groups who foment bigotry and blame immigrants for all our country's problems, but also for mainstream activists whose xenophobic rhetoric led to harsh anti-immigration legislation.  The first of several states seeking to impose its own solutions to the problem of illegal immigrants was Arizona.  In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law one of the harshest state anti-immigration laws in the country.  The law's provisions included a requirement that local law enforcement officers who have "reasonable suspicion" that someone they have stopped is undocumented must check for evidence of legal status.  These officers, now entrusted with new responsibilities to enforce immigration law violations, expressed growing concern that their efforts to keep the peace and enforce hate crimes laws would be undermined, because victims and witnesses in minority communities would now be more reluctant to come forward.  A number of other states followed Arizona's lead; the most restrictive law was enacted in Alabama.  Lawsuits resulted, and the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review the Justice Department's challenge to Arizona's law. 

Hate Speech Multiplies on Social Networking Sites

 The Internet and social networking sites, which continued to grow in popularity with the explosion of smartphones and a growing "Twitterverse," helped improve the nation's ability to communicate but also remained one of the biggest bastions for spreading anti-Semitism and hate speech.  Internet providers continued to grapple with negotiating the balance between free speech and hate speech, and the rules governing the issue on their sites.  The problem of hate on the Internet and the many questions it raises for Internet providers was underlined earlier in the year when Facebook struggled with its response to a page created by pro-Palestinian activists calling for a "Third Palestinian Intifada," or violent uprising against Israel.  While at first insisting the page did not violate their terms of service, Facebook abruptly changed course after fieldingcomplaints from the Jewish community and comments on the site turned ugly.  The page was removed March 29, but that did not stop other pages with similar names from appearing elsewhere.  The prevalence of Holocaust denial pages on social networking sites also remained a serious and growing concern in 2011. 

Palestinians Circumvent Negotiations with Statehood Bid 

The Palestinian Authority rejected Israel's offer to return to negotiations and instead took their bid for statehood to the United Nations, which was formally submitted to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the forceful appeals from President Barack Obama and other leading members of the international community to return to negotiations and refrain from unilateral and confrontational action.  Immediately after submitting the membership application, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave a strident speech before the General Assembly in which his calls for peace rang hallow amidst his extreme accusations against Israel, including charges of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and clear efforts to reposition the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not as a territorial conflict, but as a religious and racial conflict.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu countered by calling on the Palestinians to "first make peace with Israel, and then get their state."  The Palestinians sought and gained membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  This triggered provisions of U.S. law requiring a cutoff of funding to UNESCO and put into jeopardy the body's ability to maintain many of its important projects around the world.  The U.N. Security Council action on the Palestinians' application has stalled, and the future of the statehood bid remains unclear. 

Gilad Shalit Freed After Five Years in Captivity 

The release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage in Gaza by the terrorist group Hamas since his capture in summer 2006, demonstrated some of Israel's most inspiring qualities but also came with a heavy price.  Facilitated by German and Egyptian negotiators, a deal was reached by Israel and Hamas to free Shalit in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, including some who were responsible for horrific acts of terrorism.  On October 18, Shalit was returned to Israel, where he was reunited with his parents and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The price for Shalit's freedom – the undeserved release of terrorists – was difficult for the country to bear, but showed Israel's deep commitment to the lives of each and every one of its citizen soldiers, and prompted renewed calls for the release of other missing Israeli soldiers, including Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz. 

Bin Laden Killed by U.S. Forces in Watershed Moment for War on Terror 

The death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Forces in May marked a watershed moment in the war on terror.  Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan 10 years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as the Obama Administration stepped up efforts to root out senior Al Qaeda figures.  It was one of several major victories in the war on terror.  In September, prominent Al Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.  Al-Awlaki's propaganda influenced a significant number of American citizens and residents involved in terror plots in the U.S and abroad since 9/11.  While the deaths of Bin laden and Awlaki -- and as many as eight other senior Al Qaeda leaders -- dealt a significant blow to the terrorist network in 2011, their ideology of extreme intolerance remains a significant threat. 

Holocaust Trivialization Goes Through the Roof

One of the more dubious distinctions for 2011:  For reasons unclear, it was the year of the inappropriate Holocaust comparison. The litany of public figures who engaged in comparisons to Hitler or the Nazis was startling:  Actress Susan Sarandon called the pope a Nazi, country singer Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler, football star Tiki Barber invoked Anne Frank in a discussion of his personal life, Dior fashion designer John Gallianoapologized for his remarks about Hitler, and celebrity chef Mario Batali apologized after comparing Wall Street Bankers to Hitler and Stalin.  The Holocaust also became fodder for anti-abortion activists in the U.S.  One pro-life activist developed a film that compared the mass casualties in the death camps to the killing of unborn fetuses.  And an Indian television network changed the name of its popular soap opera from "Hitler Didi" (translated: "Auntie Hitler") to a less-offensive title and apologized after hearing the concerns of Jewish groups. 

Renewed Concerns about Religion in Politics 

As the race for the presidency began in earnest, several candidates openly discussed faith on the campaign trail and, on several occasions, the candidates and their supporters used religion to call into question other candidates' ability to serve in office.  In remarks at the Values Voters Summit after introducing Republican presidential hopeful and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Baptist pastor told reporters that the Mormon faith was "a cult" and said he would prefer "a competent Christian to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney." At the same conference, a representative of the American Family Association said that the "ideal profile of a new president of the United States" should be "a man of sincere, authentic, genuine Christian faith." In September, hundreds of pastors participated in the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an effort to undermine the separation of church and state mandated by the U.S. Constitution, by preaching from their pulpits about American politics and specific candidates.  Gov. Perry released a campaign video in which he lamented that kids "can't celebrate Christmas" and pray in school, but now gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military.  As the country entered a presidential election year, the issue of religion in politics threatened to continue to be a source of debate and partisan rancor.