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Apologizing for Anti-Semitism: A Case Study

10:37 AM, Dec 5, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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"During the Presidential campaign of Barack Obama, I participated in a lot of activities including policy, speechwork, press, fundraising and more. One of my efforts was working with the Jewish vote. Though there was much support in the Jewish community during the campaign, I combated significant suspicion and concern among the Jewish community as to whether a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could really be a good friend for Israel and the Jewish community.

"And since I have come to Belgium, I have made my story well known and it has been well received by all. I have engaged at great lengths with the Jewish communities, giving speeches in Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia and even before the World Jewish Congress on Barack Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community and the Middle East. The speech, which argues that by becoming credible in the Arab world, President Obama has become Israel’s best and most valuable friend, is on our website and is available to any who are interested. And I appear regularly at Jewish community events such as memorials, tributes and celebrations.

"I have engaged at great length as well with Muslim communities. I have done significant outreach with the largely Moroccan and Turkish communities throughout Belgium -- in Molenbeeck, in Anderlecht, in Hasselt and many other areas. Today alone, I met with leaders of a Flemish nationalist party to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian problem and the effect on the U.S. position with regard to UNESCO and other U.N. organizations, and with the largest mosque in Belgium to talk about the same topic and East-West relations. I host at my Residence an annual Iftar, last September sharing dinner in my ballroom with 180 leaders of the Muslim communities. I have available in fact copies of a column that was written two years ago by the former Mayor of Jeddah,Saudi Arabia, who was then the Saudi Ambassador to Belgium, talking about the advances of the Obama administration in East-West relationships following his participation at one of our Iftars.

"And I follow closely and think often about issues of anti-Semitism in Europe. In the past few months, Jacques Brotchi, a Federal Senator and leading neurosurgeon, quit his affiliation with a Brussels university over issues of anti-Semitism and we are in the process of following up on those developments. We have been following up since last week when a Jewish female student was beaten up at a Belgian school by other students spewing racial epithets.

"To some extent, I have unique exposure to these issues. And such exposure has left me convinced how complicated and changing this issue is. Generalizations about anti-Semitism in Europe are dangerous indeed – always at risk of oversimplifying and of lumping together diverse phenomena.

"So let’s start the analysis with the clearest and easiest departure point. There is and has long been some amount of anti-Semitism, of hatred and violence against Jews, from a small sector of the population who hate others who may be different or perceived to be different, largely for the sake of hating. Those anti-Semites are people who hate not only Jews, but Muslims, gays, gypsies, and likely any who can be described as minorities or different. That hatred is of course pernicious and it must be combated. We can never take our eye off it or just dismiss it as fringe elements or the work of crazy people, because we have seen in the past how it can foment and grow. And it is that hatred that lawyers like you can work vigilantly to expose, combat and punish, maybe in conjunction with existing human rights groups.

"I have not personally seen much of that hatred in Europe, though it rears its ugly head from time to time. I do not have any basis to think it is growing in any sense. But of course, we can never take our eye off of it, and you particularly as lawyers can help with that process.

"So in some sense, that is the easy part of the analysis.

"Let’s turn to the harder and more complex part.

"What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. It is the phenomena that led Jacques Brotchi to quit his position on the university committee a couple of months ago and that led to the massive attention last week when the Jewish female student was beaten up. It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

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