Anti-Semitism: New Trends in Old Hatred

Civil rights activists and Jewish-American organizations said tenuous connections but important parallels could be drawn between the anti-Semitic remarks made recently by the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a spate of anti-Jewish graffiti recently discovered by police.

On Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, police in Washington Township, N.J., discovered a massive swastika cut into a cornfield. And Monday night in New York, hours after Ahmadinejad addressed a crowd at Columbia University in which he questioned the historical accuracy of the Holocaust, swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti were found outside two Brooklyn, N.Y., synagogues.

Jewish groups are quick to point out that anti-Semitism, like other forms of prejudice and intimidation, including a number of recent events in southern states where nooses were found at schools and in black communities, has never disappeared; but they warn of a new trend in an old and hate-filled tradition.

Anti-Semitism monitors warn that traditional grass-roots anti-Semitism anchored in Old World ideologies, neo-Nazism and white-supremacism is mixing with newer forms of hate propelled by Islamic fundamentalism. The Internet, they add, is providing a new avenue for the cross-pollination of new versions of the old bigotry.

"Incidents continue to happen and often tend to be vandalism," said Deborah Lauter, the national civil rights director at the Anti-Defamation League.

"There hasn't been a sharp increase in incidents, but there has been a noticeable shift in attitudes. … Fourteen percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic feelings," she said.

The FBI's most recent statistics on "anti-Jewish" hate crimes date from 2005. Of the 1,405 victims of religion-based hate crimes in that year, 69.5 percent were directed at Jews, compared with 10.7 percent of attacks directed at Muslims, 4.3 percent directed at Catholics, and 4.1 percent targeting Protestants.

Most of the recent anti-Semitic attacks in the United States, like those in New York and New Jersey last week, have not been violent, according to monitors at Human Rights First and the Anti-Defamation League.

The New Jersey cornfield swastika was the third such incident in the area since 1998. The second, discovered in 1999, measured 600 feet by 600 feet, according to New Jersey's Star Ledger newspaper.

David Wald, the New Jersey district attorney assigned to the case, told ABC that the most recent incident was being investigated as a hate crime, but he would not comment further.

Though there was a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents between 2005 and 2006, the 2006 incidents, the Anti-Defamation League noted, were violent and included a shooting at a Seattle synagogue.

In that July 2006 incident, a 58-year-old woman was killed and five women were wounded when gunman Naveed Afzal Haq attacked the Seattle Jewish Federation.

"We can't close our eyes to the racist, lunatic fringe. … With the Internet, they can learn things to deploy in a more terrorist fashion," said Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Hate crime monitors said violent attacks on Jews were more common in Europe, which has a larger, more radicalized Muslim population.

In Denmark, for example, "there were as many anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2006 as in the entire year of 2005, with most aimed at people going to synagogue or at children on their way to school," reported Human Rights First in its 2007 Hate Crimes Survey.

Amid this rash of attacks around the world, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has made a name for himself with anti-Israel rhetoric and by continuing to challenge the academic and historical record of the Holocaust.

In the past, he has called for the annihilation of the Jewish state and Monday, in a speech at Columbia University, said new research on the Holocaust was necessary to determine if the established history of the event was accurate.

While no one would blame Ahmadinejad for directly inciting the most recent anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, observers said his high-profile gives credibility to new Islamist versions of anti-Semitism.

"He creates an environment that makes incidents more acceptable. … Ahmadinejad is a world leader, and when he spews this garbage, it trickles down. Much of what he says is echoed by the attackers in Europe and Russia," Lautner said.

Much of Islamist anti-Semitism is driven by the ongoing conflict in Israel over the fate of the Palestinians.

When asked his comments on the destruction of Israel, Ahmadinejad dodged the question and spoke instead about the plight of the Palestinians.

"The best way to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials is to reach out to our neighbors, Muslim and Christian," said Cooper.

"In between grass-roots thugs and Ahmadinejad, lots of work needs to be done," he said, "to educate people about the Holocaust and to work with local leaders."