Last week an important step was taken in the battle against anti-Semitism. For the first time, a global forum was convened by the State of Israel to address the dangers posed by the recent explosion of anti-Semitism across the world. This forum was long overdue. Over the last few years anti-Semitism has reached heights not seen since the Holocaust. In Europe, where the wounds of the past are still fresh, Jews have been assaulted, cemeteries have been desecrated, and synagogues have been torched.
The response of European governments to what have largely been attacks by Muslims residing within their borders has been inadequate, to say the east. French diplomats and Belgian jurists have even been brazen enough to bring their anti-Semitism out into the open. In the Arab and Muslim world a long-virulent anti-Semitism is now even more ferocious. Here governments do not merely fail to thwart anti-Semitism, they actively promote it.
In this spirit, Egypt's government, formally at peace with Israel saw fit to broadcast during prime time and on state-controlled television a 41-part series based on the infamous Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Similarly, Syria's president, Bashar Assad, had no qualms about calling Jews "Christ-killers" in front of the pope, and his ministers considered it acceptable to publish articles perpetuating the blood libel myth.
The Palestinians, for their part, have indoctrinated an entire generation with vicious anti-Semitic invective designed to dehumanize Jews and delegitimize the Jewish state.
The extent to which anti-Semitism has returned was on display two years ago in Durban, South Africa. What was billed as an international conference against racism became a veritable carnival of hatred against Jews. Under a false banner of human rights the legitimacy of Israel was subjected to an unprecedented assault. At Durban it became painfully clear that the attempt to deny Jews their legitimate rights as individuals had been replaced by a systematic effort to deny the Jews their legitimate rights as a nation. What had always been a specious distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was exposed once and for all.
Now the State of Israel has decided to take the gloves off. An anti-Semitic disease that has spread like wildfire across the globe demands a global response. I feel privileged, as the minister of diaspora affairs, to have been given responsibility by my government for addressing this pressing issue.
I firmly believe that Israel must play a leading role in the battle against anti-Semitism, but I also know that we cannot win that battle alone. I was extremely pleased by the response from many of the leading forces in the struggle against anti-Semitism to my recent invitation to establish a forum that would begin implementing a coordinated counteroffensive.
Participants from abroad included the heads of organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish leaders from the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Russia, Australia and elsewhere, as well as individuals who have devoted much of their time and energy to fighting anti-Semitism.
Israeli participants represented an equally impressive array of individuals and organizations who have been at the forefront of this important struggle.
We all understand that if we hope to defend Jews effectively against anti-Semitism we must show that we are more committed to our mission than our enemies are to theirs. And there should be no doubt that our enemies are committed and sophisticated. With the charge of anti-Semitism still not politically correct, anti-Semites have cleverly continued their assault against the Jews under the guise of advancing human rights.
But the double standards at the UN, the perverted agenda of some NGOs, the warped protests at many anti-globalization rallies, and the inflamed rhetoric on college campuses belie their true intent. It is imperative that this anti-Semitism be exposed for what it is.
Though all who attended last week's conference continue to work tirelessly in this struggle, each understands that their important independent work must now be supplemented by a larger, cooperative effort. We agreed that combating this sophisticated and varied anti-Semitism requires a coordinated, systematic and proactive campaign. The State of Israel will not remain on the sidelines during this campaign. It will play, as it always should, a central role in defending the Jewish people. Fortunately, judging from what I saw last week, the forces the Jewish people have at their disposal are just as determined as I am to win this historic battle.
Natan Sharansky is a former Soviet prisoner of Zion and currently serves as Minister of Construction and Housing and chairman of the Yisrael Ba'aliya party.