Former Likud MK says revival of anti-Semitism forum could help combat Israeli apathy.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
A veteran warrior in the fight against anti-Semitism, former Likud minister Natan Sharansky accused the government of "abandoning" the fight against anti-Semitism for the last year-and-a-half even as he congratulated it for resuming the battle this week.
He told The Jerusalem Post that during that time, "Our enemies got a lot of mileage [out of anti-Semitism], but the Israeli government was absent; it was not participating in the battle."
It was upsetting that at a time when human rights groups published "awful" reports about Israel, the government was not tackling the problem, said Sharansky, a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center, a conservative Jerusalem research institute.
He was cautiously optimistic about the meeting held by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday, in which she reconvened the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism, which has been dormant since Sharansky, its past chairman, resigned from the government in May 2005.
"The importance of it [the meeting] was symbolic; in that it [the forum] was resumed," said Sharansky, who attended the meeting. "I hope the Foreign Ministry will take it seriously" and make a push on the diplomatic level.
Part of the problem, he said, was that Israelis tended to think of anti-Semitism as a challenge for Jews living in the Diaspora and they did not understand enough how it impacted them as well.
Sharansky said it was particularly important to link anti-Semitism to life in Israel, specifically in light of the conference Iran held in Teheran last week denying the Holocaust, and the refusal of Hamas to recognize the existence of the State of Israel.
The danger was not just in Iran's call for Israel's destruction, but also in the thinking of some international leaders who are talking about "adjusting the world to this leadership" and who are talking about ways "to coexist with them," said Sharansky.
Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he thought it was too harsh to say that the government had ignored the issue of anti-Semitism.
Zuroff pointed to the existence of a Department for Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Issues within the Foreign Ministry.
It was more accurate to say that the government had not taken a leadership role on this issue in the last year-and-a-half to pull together the efforts of worldwide Jewry, he said.
Zuroff, like Sharansky, added that "the jury is still out" as to whether Livni's meeting on Tuesday was truly the start of a shift in attitude and policy on the part of the government.
The Prime Minister's Office could not be reached for comment. But both Bobby Brown, who heads the Israel office of the World Jewish Congress in Israel, and Andrew Baker, who directs International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, preferred to give the matter a more positive spin.
They said that a number of international Jewish organizations, along with the Israeli government, had been working hard on the matter, but that there was still a lot more that needed to be done.
Baker said that on the diplomatic level the Israeli government could do more to press international leaders to live up to commitments they have made to combat anti-Semitism.
Brown added, "The Jewish organizations have thrown down the gauntlet to Israel and Israel has thrown down the gauntlet to organized world Jewry.
"Now is really the time when we have to see if we can pick up the gauntlet and wave it proudly in the fight against anti-Semitism," Brown said.
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