Ever since the day that in 1989 when the Berlin Wall began to crumble, signaling the peaceful end to the Cold War, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) – which for decades played a key military and geo-political role in helping to defeat Communism – has been an organization in search of a new mission.
Most recently NATO sat on the sidelines when Syria deployed poison gas on its own citizens and turned a blind eye to Russia’s land grab in Crimea. Perhaps those crises were just too far removed from the everyday lives of its constituent members.
But there is another crisis that is evolving on the streets of virtually all NATO countries that requires not guns but moral and geo-political leadership.
We respectfully challenge newly-appointed NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, to take on a new challenge on behalf of NATO: Denouncing the newest cycle of the world’s oldest hate – anti-Semitism – specifically the genocidal rhetoric, violence and hateful chants unleashed by pro-Hamas protesters across much of NATO’s turf. As a former prime minister of Norway who was sometimes a very harsh critic of Israel, Stoltenberg’s voice could help to begin to quell the rising tide of anti-Semitism.
The NATO chief should begin by calling out the leader of NATO’s sole Muslim member: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An ardent supporter of Hamas, Erdogan took a page from former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s gameplan, bullying Israel, by word and (sometimes) deed to win points with the Arab and Muslim streets. Just a few days ago, he reached the apex of anti-Israel rhetoric, by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”
Turkey, a nation with a 500-year record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading pop singer who tweeted, “May God Bless Hitler” and “it will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”
The damage done by Erdogan and his supporters not only places Turkish Jewry in harm’s way, it has helped to unleash anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and The Netherlands.
Last year, Dutch Muslim social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended, publicly accused Mehmet of “being a Jew,” forcing the young couple to flee into a witness protection program. “Rabbi,” Mehmet told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this in Turkey, but today ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center have issued a travel advisory for travel to Turkey. But truth be told, no one in Turkey, least of all Erdogan, has had to pay any price for this pre-genocidal bigotry. To the contrary, when it comes to Erdogan, everyone seems to be walking on eggshells, lest it upset NATO’s tenuous’ status quo or the fear that any criticism will be met with charges of racism or Islamophobia. But what doe it say about NATO and its constituent members on both sides of the Atlantic, if they allow Erdogan to continue spew his vile hate? It is clear that unless and until someone stands up to this bully, his-Israel bashing and Holocaust denigrating Jew-baiting will continue unabated.
Meanwhile, Germany has witnessed one anti-Semitic outrage after another as Islamists were joined by neo-Nazis and radical leftists at pro- Hamas rallies where chants echoed on the street, “Jews to the gas chamber,” with frenzied protesters railing outside synagogues against the Jewish worshipers. Such scenes and verbal terrorism have been repeated in Paris and Antwerp. While French leaders have finally spoken out against the vicious hatred, this time most European leaders have said and done virtually nothing to stop the hate, apparently choosing to save their eloquent words for dead Jews, not their live fellow Jew citizens.
Once upon a time, NATO stood as the muscle behind the Western Allies’ commitment to protect democracy and freedom and stand up to the Soviet bullying. Standing up today for an endangered minority community in its midst would prove that NATO is still relevant in the 21st century.
Today, as Jews across Europe see their freedoms and values under attack by an unholy alliance of Islamists, the far Right and the far Left, they are once again confronted with political institutions and leaders unable or unwilling to stop the hate.
A NATO secretary general willing to challenge his lethargic club members to actually do battle on behalf of people whose parents and grandparents were murdered by Hitler – could help tamp down the hate and rekindle fading hopes that there may still be a place for Jews at Europe’s table.