Conference participants object to comparisons of antisemitism and racisms

World Jewish Congress official rejects description of antisemitism as ‘most pernicious hatred.’

World Jewish Congress panel on antisemitism and racism (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
World Jewish Congress panel on antisemitism and racism
Comparisons drawn between antisemitism and other forms of racism were met with objections by some participants of a conference held in Tel Aviv on Monday, hosted by the World Jewish Congress and NGO Monitor.
One Israeli journalist asked panelist Arab-Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish how she could compare hatred against Muslims with hatred toward Jews, given the disproportionate amount of murders carried out by Muslims.
The question drew an impassioned response from Aharish.
Jews living as part of a minority in the US, she said, can understand her position as an Arab Muslim woman in Israel, much better than Israelis can.
“When I’m talking about racism inside Israel toward Arabs or toward Muslims, I’m talking about what I am experiencing,” she said.
Referring to the regular racist abuse she experiences, Aharish said: “We’re talking about Jewish people who came to Israel and who are living in their Jewish land after 3,000 years who went through so much, who went through the Holocaust, who were burned and buried alive, and still they think they are better than other religions, or they think they are allowed to be racist toward other people. When I look at Jewish people I expect more from you because you went through more than anyone, you know how it feels to be put in a place where people are treating you in a racist way, you know how it feels to be hated.”
Earlier at the conference, Prof. Menachem Z. Rosensaft, general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, rejected the description of antisemitism as “the most pernicious hatred,” though he said the title of the conference which referred to antisemitism as “the oldest hatred” was apt.
“I reject that characterization, and any suggestion that antisemitism is somehow worse than other forms of bigotry,” he said. “... I’m sorry, but the white supremacist ideology that holds African-Americans to be inferior to Caucasians is every bit as reprehensible as antisemitism. So are other kinds of discrimination and oppression on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or ethnicity.
The hatreds that resulted in the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica and of Tutsis in Rwanda are no less evil than the hatred of Jews that resulted in pogroms and the Shoah.”
“It’s not in any way minimizing the evil of antisemitism to recognize that other bigotries exist and they are no less evil,” Rosensaft told The Jerusalem Post. “We cannot and should not focus on ourselves exclusively at the expense of others.”
Danny Swibel, a panelist representing the They Can’t organization, told the Post that he observed discomfort among several members of the audience when the Rwandan genocide or Islamophobia was mentioned in the same breath as antisemitism. “They were concerned it didn’t take antisemitism seriously enough and they were just lumping all intolerance together,” he reflected.
“People get caught up in the wording without catching the whole scope of the ideas behind it which is that we all must be intolerant of all intolerance,” he added, noting that the speakers had been careful to preface that they were not conflating antisemitism with other forms of racism due to the complexities of the former.
“Hatred is hatred and those who truly care about human rights and tolerance must stand up in the face of racism against whomever it is directed,” said conference participant Arsen Ostrovsky, executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress. “And as we have learned well from history, what starts with the Jews, seldom ever ends with the Jews. That being said, we must also differentiate between antisemitism and racism against Muslims and other faiths.”
Ostrovsky said that “both are inherently abominable and go against our very core values of tolerance and respect. However, the experiences between Jews and Muslims are also quite different, including the history, root causes of such hatred and the manner in which it has been expressed. Although there are many similarities, the tools by which we combat each will need to be also very unique.”