European anti-Semitism and xenophobia no longer constitute an existential danger to the Jewish people and yet, nearly seven decades after World War II, Europe still hasn't managed to rid itself of the scourge of Jew-hatred.
It's on the rise again in western Europe and not dormant in the East. No real antidote has been discovered for the venom of old.
If we needed a reminder, it came on the veritable eve of the Jerusalem conference on anti-Semitism, which opened yesterday. Only last week, Romanian President Ion Iliescu sought to diminish the Holocaust, after having previously denied it ever happened in his country. His backtracking was expected. Of all its former Soviet-satellite neighbors, Romania has achieved least in its years of freedom from Communism and is in no position to court controversy. It can ill-afford to see Israel's envoy recalled from Bucharest, just when an Israeli ambassador is being returned to Vienna.
Israel chose to reduce its diplomatic representation in Austria over three years ago, when Joerg Haider entered the Austrian governing coalition.
Upgrading relations now was all but a foregone conclusion. Haider had long ago stepped down from the leadership of his party and that party's power was dramatically reduced.
However, neither the lip-service from Romania nor normalization of relations with Austria should lull us into complacency about attitudes towards Jews on the man-in-the-street level in both countries. The population that Haider would hint to about the Jews has not shed its bigotry, and the dark nationalist sentiments of Romania's neo-fascists haven't abated because Iliescu had to save face.
The sad fact is that there is still too much cause for convening symposia on anti-Semitism. A Tel Aviv University report published three months ago records dramatic increases in anti-Semitic incidents the world over, including outright violence. No longer are only synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish institutions targeted. Physical attacks on individual Jews are becoming alarmingly common, particularly in European countries with large Muslim populations like France, Britain, and Belgium.
Non-physical manifestations of anti-Semitism have become rife in European government, academic, and media circles ever since the latest intifada was unleashed. The extreme Right, Left, and Islamic fanatics lead Europe's unholy anti-Semitic alliance, spreading their pernicious messages quite effectively via the Internet.
Political opposition to the Jewish state and hatred of Jews have grown more indistinguishable than ever. Opponents of globalization and US intervention in Iraq gleefully blame Israel via the canard of inordinate Jewish influence in Washington.
The worst offenders, however, are to be found literally on our very doorstep. Our oldest peace partner, Egypt, sanctions hate of a nature and scale that couldn't be contemplated in today's Europe. Egyptian TV's recent serial based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is only one example, alongside openly disseminated virulent anti-Semitism, lies Egyptian school texts tell impressionable youngsters about Jews, indoctrinating propaganda that Egyptian academics encounter on campus, unfounded vilification which fills state-controlled papers, and what is widely available in book stores.
The fraudulent Protocols are a runaway best-seller in all Arab states, including those which have pro-forma made peace with Israel. So is Hitler's Mein Kampf. The covers and illustrations of these odious volumes are blood-curdling. So are the political cartoons printed almost daily in newspapers. The depictions of grotesque hook-nosed, bearded, thick-lipped Jews wouldn't have shamed Josef Goebbels or Der Sturmer.
The Syrian defense minister's embellished variation on the blood libel theme (Jews baking Purim pastries with Muslim blood) has just been reprinted and the official Syrian daily Tishrin has frequently accused Israel of fabricating the Holocaust. In the same breath it accuses Israel of committing atrocities far more heinous than those of the Holocaust-that-never-was. Adolf Eichmann's sadistic deputy, Alois Brunner, it should be recalled, found safe haven in Syria.
The Palestinians, for their part, have taken classic anti-Semitism to the next level, which combines dehumanization with the glorification of murdering Jews. Contrary to some reports, Palestinian incitement continues at a level that might make European anti-Semites blush, even though open support for suicide bombings has been reduced.
In Jerusalem this week, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, "Austria accepts her responsibility arising out of the tragic history of the 20th century ... The singularity of the crimes of the Holocaust, which are without precedent in history, are an exhortation to permanent alertness against all forms of dictatorship and totalitarianism." As vigilant as we must be, Austria and other European countries have come a long way toward facing their past and ensuring further progress. The Arab world, by contrast, has not begun to confront its demons and in many cases is still inflaming them.
The embers of anti-Semitism must be put out in Europe, but more urgent attention is needed to the flames burning uncontrolled in the Arab world. If the West, including Europe, showed the same level of intolerance for Arab anti-Semitism that it displays within its own ranks, the region and the chance for peace within it might be very different.