More than 500 Jewish leaders from around the country meeting in Baltimore yesterday heard dire warnings of a drastic rise in anti-Semitism, increasingly expressed in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric by European populist politicians and Arab religious and civic leaders.
Irwin Cutler, a human rights lawyer and member of Canada's Parliament, told the members of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that he sees a convergence between traditional anti-Semitism and an exhortation to genocide that "calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be."
"We are witnessing a new, escalating, virulent, global and even lethal anti-Jewishness reminiscent of the 1930s, and without parallel or precedent since the Second World War," Cutler said.
He said this "genocidal anti-Semitism" is characterized by state support in some countries, an increasingly religious underpinning, and the immediate reach of the Internet and mass media such the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network.
Those concerns were echoed by U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who is Jewish. In his work as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Cardin said, "We've found local officials have been able to gain popular support by use of anti-Semitism. That's the type of action we're most concerned about."
Cardin urged the Jewish leaders to be vigilant and vocal. "We've got to confront anti-Semitism. We've got to confront it head on."
The Jewish Public Affairs Council, which concludes its four-day annual plenum today, was established in 1944 to be a united voice for the organized Jewish community. It is the largest meeting of the national public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community.
Its membership includes representatives of the three largest religious branches of Judaism - Reform, Conservative and Orthodox - as well as 13 national groups and 123 local community relations councils, including the Baltimore Jewish Council.
The plenum was scheduled to vote last night on nine resolutions, including one that questions the use of boycotts against entities deemed anti-Israel as a long-term strategy, and another that calls for funds collected in the name of Holocaust survivors be used for their care.
A resolution on Israel calls for support for the Jewish state, but affirms the need to protect innocent Arab victims of the conflict. It endorses President Bush's support for separate Israeli and Palestinian states and calls for a freeze on new Jewish settlements in disputed territories.
The group was also debating a resolution that would maintain a balance between national security in combating terrorism with the group's traditional support for individual rights.
"The protection of civil liberties is fundamental to all the agencies of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs," said Hannah Rosenthal, the council's executive director. "But the whole question of security calls into question the way government acts. ... The tension is, does there need to be a recalibration? Does the line need to be redrawn?"