As director of the Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mark Weitzman has been a staunch battler and expert on anti-Semitism for the past 30 years. His interest in the subject began when he was studying Jewish-Christian relations at New York University.
He will put his advocacy and knowledge to use on Thursday, Jan. 22, when he discusses “Rising Anti-Semitism Around the World” at 7:30 p.m. at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael.
In a Jan. 8 phone interview, Weitzman described the changes in anti-Jewish bigotry stemming from both Christian and Muslim sources.
NJJN: How has anti-Semitism changed since the end of World War II?
Weitzman: At a certain point after the war there was a kind of shock wave that enveloped Europe that made anti-Semitism very, very socially unacceptable in the United States and Western Europe, but you still had anti-Semitism coming from the Soviet bloc until the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Then in the 1970s you had the “Zionism = Racism” resolution at the United Nations which tried to cast Israel as a pariah state. You also had the first wave of airplane hijackings and attacks on synagogues and Jewish institutions in Europe. But that was beaten back and the “Zionism = Racism” resolution was rescinded.
It seemed like almost a golden age in the 1980s and ’90s.
NJJN: How would you characterize the current situation?
Weitzman: What you have now is radically worse. You have the growth of jihadi terrorism, which has reshaped opinion and the collapse of some political backbone in Europe.
NJJN: Do you equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism?
Weitzman: Theoretically they are 100 percent different. As a practical matter it depends on where a person is coming from and what they are saying. I am not saying that everyone who is opposed to Israel is an anti-Semite. Sometimes we are not careful about nuance. We look at people who may oppose Israeli policy and cast them as an enemy. That is not the same as someone who is against the existence of Israel.
NJJN: Are the recent wars between Israel and Hamas in Gaza a major reason for the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe?
Weitzman: I don’t think that is the only factor. In France, for example, the Muslim population has not been integrated into French society. A lot of people, especially younger people, are disaffected and prone to radical ideology. Some of the radicalization is done electronically.
NJJN: How about Christian anti-Semitism?
Weitzman: You have the Christian Right neo-Nazi types and Holocaust deniers and people on the extreme Left who view Israel as an imperialist, colonialist entity that needs to be destroyed. You also have right-wing Catholics who reject the Church’s teachings against anti-Semitism. These people number in the millions.
NJJN: What can people do to fight anti-Semitism?
Weitzman: We — and not just the Jewish community — need to be forthright about anti-Semitism. There are a lot of people who are hesitant to call anti-Semitism anti-Semitism. We can make our representatives in Washington know this is an issue they need to be concerned about. Ideas matter, and to be able to speak out publicly is another important issue.