Some years ago a bumper sticker appeared encouraging people to "practice random acts of kindness." Sadly, a twisted inversion of this message has spread across Europe and the Middle East, a disturbing call to demonstrate random acts of hatred and prejudice, and far too many are heeding this dark call. I refer to the troubling rise of open and extreme anti-Semitism -- both on the continent where 6 million Jews were slaughtered, and in the neighborhood where the only Jewish nation on earth experiences daily threats from those who seek its destruction.
Anti-Semitism is a baffling and poisonous virus with a long and shameful history. This inexplicable pathology reached its horrific climax in the tragedy of the Holocaust, and for a time, open anti-Semitism became taboo among civilized people of the world. Sadly, respite from this evil was short lived, and in recent years we have seen its return in a most frightening way.
In Europe, instances of anti-Semitism have been resurfacing at alarming rates. A 2012 report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows that the overall level of anti-Semitism in Europe has risen significantly in the last three years. Hungary, the country where many of my relatives were killed during the Holocaust, showed shockingly high levels (63 percent of respondents) of anti-Semitic attitudes. In a chilling echo of Hungary's fascist past, a leader of the Jobbik party, recently called for the compilation of a list of citizens of Jewish heritage who it was alleged pose a threat to the nation's security. Fortunately, the government and the responsible opposition have pushed back forcefully against such outrages. However, there remains a worrying pattern of hostility and open attack against the Jewish community of Hungary. In a another poll conducted by The Israel Project in France, over one quarter of French Jews reported feeling threatened by the resurgence of anti-Semitism and were considering leaving the country. Incidents such as the Jewish school shooting in Toulouse and a letter sent to a French rabbi invoking death camp imagery understandably feed the deep anxiety felt in this country. In Belgium, a recent UNESCO-listed carnival included men dressed as SS soldiers parading down the streets in a Nazi rail car. While in Turkey, a television commercial promotes men's shampoo as something worthy of Hitler's use.
In the Middle East, the longstanding pattern of anti-Semitism has been a matter of grave concern for many years. Sadly, the Arab Spring, which initially held the promise of more tolerant and democratic societies in this volatile region seems to be degenerating into increased Islamist control over key governments and an attendant rise in the public expression of hatred toward Jews and Israel. The Lantos Archives on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial, which the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) established in cooperation with the Lantos Foundation in 2009, has exposed numerous instances of blatant Holocaust related anti-Semitism in the Arabic speaking world. Over the last year alone, reports have included a disturbing number of clerics and scholars preaching the virtues of long-debunked anti-Semitic texts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Franklin Prophecy, repeated instances of soccer fans in Egypt openly calling for a new Holocaust, and the existence of a smart phone "App" of the Protocols.
Incidences like these, occurring daily in the Middle East and Europe, are far too grave to ignore. In this time of economic dislocation and pain, it is easy to see how the Jewish community is once again at risk of being scapegoated by frustrated and angry populations looking for a convenient target against which to direct their fury. Holocaust imagery has become so commonplace that its use is seen as acceptable in many societies. We cannot ignore the potential for the Internet and social media to take such hate "viral".
The late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress, reminded us that "The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians and we can never rest." Now is the time for people of good will to wake up and act as guardians of civilized society by fighting the resurgence of anti-Semitism in all its forms. We must call for more education, more tolerance, and less ignorance. Leaders in government, academia, and the media must expose and oppose this age old curse. Those who traffic in hatred and prejudice must be de-legitimized and held up to public condemnation. In this vital mission, we must not grow weary; we must not be indifferent; we must never rest.