Jewish lawmakers discuss global anti-Semitism

Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y. ) officially became chairman of the ICJP last week. Photo courtesy of ICJP
Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y. ) officially became chairman of the ICJP last week.
Photo courtesy of ICJP

The International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians (ICJP), composed of Jewish lawmakers from around the world concluded a series of meetings last week with a discussion on Capitol Hill with Ira Forman, U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

Coming from places as wide-ranging as Costa Rica, Belgium, Israel and more, the ICJP used the week to release four resolutions touching on anti-Semitism in Europe and South America, the ongoing concerns about Iran and efforts in some parts of Europe to limit or even ban male circumcision.

Additionally, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), whose district includes sections of Westchester and the Bronx, assumed his new role as chairman of the group.

The ICJP was originally created in 2002 as a project of the World Jewish Congress in partnership with the Israeli government to create and pursue partnerships in commonly held goals, of which the fight against anti-Semitism is one of the most prominent.

“I think there are roles for this group in particular,” Forman said in his discussion.
He spoke a bit about his own understanding of how anti-Semitism continues to play a role in the world and how North America, Israel, Europe and South America all face diverse facets of the same prejudice.

“Each of these areas experience anti-Semitism in different ways,” Forman said.

Forman also discussed the frequent references to the 1930s when discussing modern anti-Semitism, pointing out aspects that mirror those times as well as the many ways the world is different when it comes to negative attitudes and actions about Jews. He cited the openly anti-Semitic members in the parliaments of Hungary and Greece and their corresponding street militias and propaganda as reminiscent of that time.

“I am shocked when I see the comparison of Jews to cockroaches and other insects,” Forman said.

However, he cautioned that it’s easy to take the comparison too far, pointing out that Israel and the U.S., among others, provide refuges for Jews that the quota system of the 1930s by Britain and the U.S. prevented, and that the kind of anti-Semitic establishment of the time is mostly gone.

“By and large governments are not anti-Semitic that we deal with, Iran being the obvious government exception,” Forman said, adding that the exception is still very different from the early 20th century. “Iran is not Germany,” he said.

Israel plays a major role in how Jews are treated though, Forman said, adding that she acts as a lightning rod and a cover for anti-Semitic comments disguised as criticism of Israel.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is having a great impact on Jewish communities around the world,” Forman said.

When they cross the line from legitimate criticism into anti-Jewish sentiment, then there is cause for concern, he said.

The parliamentarians also shared some of their regional and local concerns with Forman. Issues such as anti-Zionism from the political left, Muslim extremism in France and the growing influence of anti-Semitic politics in Venezuela, and their impact throughout Latin America, are the things Forman said he wanted to learn more about. He said he had so far focused on Europe but would be expanding the scope of his work as he continued in the position.

“Anyone who thinks there is no anti-Semitism is not paying attention.”

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