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The rise of anti-semitism today

by Ethan Wells Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2002 at 1:58 PM

Harvard President Lawrence Summers recent condemnation of the rise of anti-semitism at Harvard and elsewhere grossly underestimates the problem by excluding the anti-semitism directed against Arabic people.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers's condemnation of the rise of anti-semitism at Harvard and throughout the world (http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2002/morningprayers.html) raises a number of interesting questions. First and foremost among these is what precisely we mean by the term "anti-semitism." In this country, the term is generally taken to be synonymous with "anti-Jewish" and is often used in the even more narrow sense of "anti-Israel." Hence any opposition to Israel, such as the campaign at MIT and Harvard to remove all Israeli investments from their endowments to protest Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians, runs the risk of being labelled anti-semitic -- as Summers does indeed label the divestment campaign.



The term, however, might equally be applied to those who are anti-Arab, since the Arabs too are a Semitic people. In this more expanded sense, one would, I am afraid, have not only to concur with President Summers' bleak assessment of the rise of anti-semitism but would have to add that he seems to have grossly under-estimated the extent of the problem. Anti-semitism might indeed be the prejudice of the day, with countless Arabs in this country and abroad singled out for abuse and scrutiny for no other reason than their birthright. It would require very little effort, for example, to show that an Arab American does not enjoy the same privileges of citizenship today as, say, an Anglo-American such as myself.



In this expanded sense, even Israel cannot escape the charge of anti-semitism. One cannot help but note, for instance, that Israel holds the Palestinians to a higher standard than it holds itself. Recent events provide a good example of this double standard. As the leader of the Palestinian people, Arafat is held responsible for every suicide bombing carried out by a Palestinian against Israelis. Thus Israel has, in response to the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, besieged Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, killed a number of his men, and blown up at least two buildings. Just last week, however, a bomb exploded in a Palestinian school, injuring eight children. The bomb was attributed to Jewish settlers. Perhaps I missed it, but I do not recall that Sharon's headquarters were surrounded, his bodyguards killed, and his buildings destroyed. Nor do I recall Sharon being punished for the recent killing of a nine year old Palestinian boy when, as the Israeli journal Ha'aretz reports, "Israel Defense Forces troops used live fire to disperse a crowd of school children challenging the army's attempt to impose a curfew on the El Amari refugee camp, in El Bireh." Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a single example of Sharon being punished for injuries inflicted upon the Palestinians under his leadership -- with the notable exception of the 1982 massacres of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Chatila for which then-General Sharon was held, in the words of the Kahan commission, "personally responsible." That Sharon has subsequently ascended to the highest political position in Israel despite this responsibility is perhaps as good a sign as any of the rise of anti-semitism today. It also underscores the necessity to oppose anti-semitism in all of its guises.

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