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Anti-Semitism gets a boost from the Iran deal

"Palestine: #1 on the White House Non-Fiction Best-Sellers List," a cartoon on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's new book. Credit: FeinTooner.
"Palestine: #1 on the White House Non-Fiction Best-Sellers List," a cartoon on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's new book. Credit: FeinTooner.

In Europe, Jewish communities are still licking the wounds from a miserable 12 months that saw deadly jihadist violence erupt against them in Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen. On the old continent, there has also been an unprecedented rise in hate crimes targeting Jews, along with a growing acceptance of anti-Semitic discourse masquerading as fevered, impassioned criticism of alleged Israeli crimes.

These events are entirely consistent with Europe’s trajectory since the turn of the 21st Century. One can now confidently predict that any upsurge of conflict in Lebanon, Gaza, or the West Bank that involves Israel’s military will be mirrored on the streets of Europe’s cities, with Jews subjected to verbal and physical abuse and even terrorist outrages. Indeed, data collected by the Community Security Trust (CST), the official body dealing with Jewish security in the U.K., suggests that even at comparatively quieter times for Israel, Jews are more at risk now than at any other period since World War II. During the first six months of this year, the CST recorded 473 anti-Semitic incidents, a 53-percent increase from the same period during 2014.

As CST’s Dave Rich noted in a recent essay for World Affairs Journal, “Not all anti-Semitic hate crime is perpetrated by Muslims, but enough of it is for Jews, and others, to connect it to wider issues of extremism and cohesion that can sometimes feel as if they undermine the very basis of society itself.” Hence we hear the oft-repeated but incorrect view articulated in Israel, and by some American Jews, that there is no secure future for Jews in Europe as long as they remain there.

On the scale between waking up to the threat posed by the Islamists and their fellow travelers and a mass exodus, both Europe’s Jews and Europe’s political class are still much closer to the former than the latter. True, the numbers of Jews leaving Europe have increased, especially in the French case, but a sizable majority has no plans to leave. The argument, instead, hinges on whether anti-Semitism is recognized as such, especially when it comes from immigrants and minority communities rather than natives dressed up in Nazi uniforms.

Among European governments, the answer, generally, is “yes.” In France, Germany, and the U.K., all the main political leaders have recognized the lethal strain of anti-Semitism at the heart of the Islamist ideology, and all have expressed horror at the thought that violence directed at Jews would uproot entire communities. But that’s not the case in civil society more generally.

“One factor that contributes to the relative lack of concern over anti-Semitism is the perception of Jews as a highly successful and relatively privileged group,” observes the recent “Statement on Contemporary European Anti-Semitism” authored by six British intellectuals and academics. Later on they argue, “The anti-Jewish racism of white nativists on the far right remains heavily stigmatized in the progressive mainstream. This is classed as the only true anti-Semitism, but it is minimized as a marginal threat. The equally odious anti-Semitism of radical Islamists is frequently treated far more indulgently as an unfortunate excess in an intrinsically just resistance to Western imperialism.”

I fear that the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal will exacerbate this trend. Whether or not President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry consider themselves part of the “progressive mainstream,” they have both been busily playing down the significance of Iran’s state policy of anti-Semitism with various arguments. Among them: Iran doesn’t have the desire to wipe the State of Israel—the crowning achievement of post-Holocaust Jewish life—off the map; Iran doesn’t have the means to carry out that threat in any case; Iran’s behavior, while troubling, shows that it recognizes there are limits to the degree of harassment that its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist proxies can subject Israel to.

Accepting these premises leads to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what Iran says; it matters what Iran does. Yet the division between speaking and acting isn’t quite as strict as some believe. Speaking can be considered an act of doing, after all. And what is certain is that Iran understands, in much the same way that many on the Western left do, that anti-Semitic agitation targeting Israel’s very existence is the kind of anti-Semitic agitation that resonates most these days.

It’s no accident, then, that ailing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—whose imminent death has been forecast for several years now, though we can be certain that he won’t be around in 15 years, when the “sunset clause” kicks in—has just issued a new book entitled “Palestine” that expresses the Islamic Republic’s core doctrine: the existence of a Jewish state is incompatible with the Islamic Revolution.

As translated by, that doctrine is summarized in Khamenei’s book as follows: “Palestine is the most important issue of the Islamic world. Palestine is the most important issue of the world of Islam. There is not any other international issue in the world of Islam more important than the issue of Palestine.”

The Iranian solution is one that is well-known, expressed in language that is sadly familiar. Israel is described as an “infected cancer gland… The only accepted treatment for the wound of Palestine is to cut and remove the cancer gland of the Zionist government, and this is possible.” The Qu’ran is quoted as follows: “O children of Israel! Indeed, you would do mischief in land twice and you will become tyrants and extremely arrogant.” (Surah Al-Isra’ 17:4-8)

An empowered Iran, then, can be regarded as the most important hub of anti-Semitism in the world today. As scholar Ruth Wisse recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Depending on the outcome of the Iran deal, this outreach to an anti-Jewish regime may one day rival the blot of slavery on the American record.” Staying alert to the threat from Tehran—even as others play it down or even mock its seriousness—is essential if we are to avoid that outcome.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).  

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