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Editor's note: On April 25, seven Christian leaders wrote the following open letter to President Bush in response to a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents around the world.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
We write because, as Christian leaders, we can do no less. Our faith and our reading of history lead us to ask you, as a man of faith and as President of the United States, to publicly and vigorously condemn an ugly specter that stalks today's world: that specter is anti-Semitism.
Throughout history, calls to "blame the Jews" have always been signals of imminent disaster-not only for Jews, but for others as well. Likewise, complaints about "inconvenient Jews" who would make the world a better place if only they would step aside, if only their sacrifice were passively countenanced, have always cloaked the march of evil.
They have also cloaked attacks on basic democratic values. Harvard professor Ruth Wisse has rightly noted that "[e]xperience ought to have taught the international community that anti-Semitism is an instrument of anti-democratic politics." She has also noted what we believe to be so:
"A society's deflection of energy to anti-Semitism is a sign of its political demoralization; the more it whips up frenzy against the Jews, the more it requires going to war to release that frenzy. The rise of anti-Semitism ... correlates with the rise of the politics of resentment against what Jews represent-an open and democratic society, the ethic of competition and individual freedom."
Simply stated, we know that you deeply believe the libel of anti-Semitism to be one of the great lies of history.
And yet, barely 50 years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, the scapegoating of Jews has become a powerful element of world politics. It is increasingly heard at comfortable dinner party tables, on campuses, at the United Nations, in foreign ministries, and in many other "respectable" quarters. In its starker form, it is now openly expressed in school textbooks, official newspapers, and television broadcasts-often through libels identical to those employed by the Nazis.
It must stop. It must be tirelessly and publicly denounced. For this reason, we respectfully ask you to make clear that the United States will actively confront all leaders, countries, and movements that finance or propagate the lie of anti-Semitism.
There are of course serious differences over the best means of achieving a just peace in the Middle East. Robust debate over those differences, some of which may prove discomforting to Israel, some of which may prove discomforting for Palestinians, is an essential component of a meaningful peace process. But the bounds of civilized debate must clearly be fixed if real peace is to be achieved, and if the world is to avoid descent into yet another spiral of hatred and devastation.
We call upon you to fix these boundaries with public denunciations that strip the slightest veneer of respectability from developments such as these:
- A recent reported dinner party remark by the French ambassador to England referred to Israel as "that [expletive] little country" and asked why "the world [should] be in danger of World War III because of those people."
- The stark anti-Semitism that permeated the ironically named UN-sponsored Durban Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and the singularly anti-Israel focus of the 46th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the recent meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights and other UN meetings.
- Respectful references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and alleged Jewish rituals of human slaughter in government-controlled media outlets of many Middle Eastern countries, repeated designations of Jews as "pigs" by Islamist leaders, and government financed, worldwide Islamic elementary school textbook references to Jews in caricatured terms not seen since the days of Hitler.
We also write to you because we believe that vigorous condemnation of the overt anti-Semitism now practiced in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere is as important to Muslims and Islam as it is to all other people and faiths. Unless given no quarter, anti-Semitism will become as effective a means of hijacking Islam and oppressing Muslims as prior libels against Jews captured and debased other great cultures of the world. The great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, who has written of the "enterprise and ... openness" of classical Islam, has also described the fanatical anti-Semitism now being preached in many parts of the Middle East:
"The demonization of Jews goes further than it had ever done in Western literature, with the exception of Germany during the period of Nazi rule. In most Western countries, anti-Semitic divagations on Jewish history, religion, and literature are more than offset by a great body of genuine scholarship ... In modern Arabic writing there are few such countervailing elements."
Andrew Sullivan has written of the "sobering truth" of Professor Lewis's findings-and of the fact that he and others have long known them to be true but have failed to say so. Mr. Sullivan has asked, tellingly and movingly:
"So why did I look the other way? Why did I discount this anti-Semitism on the grounds that these are alien cultures and we cannot fully understand them, or because these pathologies are allied with more legitimate (if to my mind unpersuasive) critiques of Israeli policy? ... We in the West simply do not want to believe that this kind of hatred still exists; and when it emerges, we feel uncomfortable. We do everything we can to change the subject. Why the denial ...? What is it about this sickness that we do not understand by now? And what possible excuse do we have not to expose and confront it with all the might we have?"
Whatever the complexities of Middle East policy-and they are many; whatever criticisms may be leveled against the countries involved in the Middle East peace process, we believe that the time has come for all people of goodwill to act by declaring that anti-Semitism is a wholly illegitimate basis for political action.
In his famous 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Rhode Island, President George Washington summed up what we believe to be a singularly positive contribution to the world-a unique and timeless understanding of religious freedom:
"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
In the interest of a lasting Middle East peace, and of keeping faith with our own virtues and the successful conclusion to the war on terrorism that you rightly lead, we respectfully urge you to let the world know, in the strongest terms, that those who cherish freedom proudly recommit to George Washington's sentiments: that we give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." There is no more important time than now to denounce the growing specter of anti-Semitism and to ensure that it is never again permitted to become a tolerable element of diplomatic, political, cultural, or religious expression.
Richard D. Land, D.Phil.
President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention
Chief Counsel, American Center for Law and Justice
Nationally Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Salem Radio Network
President, American Values, Arlington, Va.
Chairman and CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
President, National Association of Evangelicals
Fr. Keith Roderick
Secretary General, Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights