AJC official urges outreach to Muslims
Dialogue is needed to fight anti-Semitism, says Jason Isaacson
A top American Jewish Committee official told a New Jersey audience Sept. 15 that making contacts in the Muslim communities of Europe can help alleviate anti-Semitism there.
“It is not just a matter of governments speaking out. It is a matter of finding contacts who are effective in communities that are the source of this problem — the Muslim communities in Belgium, France, Germany, and including the Turkish and North African population in Germany,” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at AJC’s Washington, DC, office.
Speaking to some 50 people at a meeting of AJC’s fledgling Bergen County Region in a Wyckoff living room, Isaacson said his organization maintains relationships with both grassroots Muslim community leaders and government officials in many parts of the world.
“What we can do about anti-Semitism is not to whine and complain about its impact on Jews. It is not to ask governments to address this problem because it affects Jews,” he said. “It is to insist that governments defend the values of their countries — European values. It is important to remind governments to make this a national priority — not just a communal issue but a national issue.”
Turning to the aftermath of Israel’s latest conflict with Hamas in Gaza, Isaacson told his audience, “The international community has shown extremely limited sympathy for Israel’s defensive response.”
He said while the United States opposed a UN-sponsored investigation of the conflict that Israel considered “biased from the outset,” he noted that many European and some African delegates abstained instead of “typically voting for a resolution bashing Israel.” He called that “relatively good news in the world of politics — but the fact that no one in the room other than the U.S. voted against it is abhorrent and outrageous and typical.”
One of the few positive diplomatic developments of the summer came from India, where the new government supported Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks.
“European Jews are nervous in ways they haven’t been nervous in years,” said Isaacson. And though Jews are leaving Europe, and aliya has grown in recent years, he acknowledged that “there is not an exodus of European Jews to Israel right now. “There are still deeply embedded Jewish communities in Europe and I think they are likely to be there for some time to come.”
Acknowledging that Israel has an enormous public relations problem in many parts of the world, Isaacson suggested bringing journalists — “including people who write columns for The New York Times” — and scholars to Israel “so they can see with their own eyes what is going on.”
But a questioner, Ira Belsky of Franklin Lakes, objected to the notion that the source of Israel’s problems was bad PR.
“I don’t think the critics of Israel challenge its right to defend itself,” Belsky said. “But the condemnation of Israel is about excess…. I think there is a lack of sufficient empathy and sensitivity and understanding that the Hamas rocket launcher has got a one-in-50 chance of hitting a population center but the Israeli rocket launcher has got a 99 percent chance of hitting a population center. That is a lack of equivalency that is real, and that is a reason for Israel’s lack of popularity.”
“I respect what you say but I disagree with a lot of what you are saying,” Isaacson responded. “I don’t give Hamas a lot of credit because their missiles were shot down by Iron Dome. They were trying as hard as they could to kill Jews.”
“There is no question about that,” responded Belsky. “But there is no question that Israel’s missiles were going to do incredible human damage to the people in Gaza.”
“This is true, and it is also true that in a war there is collateral damage,” Isaacson said. “When the United States has gone to war in Germany or Japan or Afghanistan there has been collateral damage that has been horrific.
“But when Israel does it, it has to answer to a higher standard, and I think that is unfair.”