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Defense Department

Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy, must defend Israel from delegitimization while confronting a growing wave of anti-Jewish rhetoric among European elites

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Hannah Rosenthal, center, during an international Centropa teachers’ seminar at Terezin, listening to Holocaust survivor Pavel Stransky, left. (Edward Serotta/Centropa)
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Anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe, in some countries, particularly among elites, U.S. State Department official Hannah Rosenthal told Tablet Magazine on Monday. Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said that Holocaust denial is a growing phenomenon around the world and that anti-Semitism “is increasing on every continent.” She reserved particularly harsh criticism for the rise of neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe and the delegitimizing criticism of Israel in Western countries like Spain.

Rosenthal also condemned state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, citing by name Sheikh Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a popular television personality and spiritual adviser to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. She accused Qaradawi of whipping up genocidal fervor against the Jews in the Middle East, pointing to his appearances on Al Jazeera in which, she said, he “calls for a new Holocaust, Allah willing, let us be the perpetrators to finish the job.”

Rosenthal spoke to Tablet Magazine at the State Department in Washington following a lecture on the Eichmann trial by the Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose The Eichmann Trial was released by Nextbook Press March 15. The event was attended by nearly 200 State staffers, guests, and diplomats, including representatives from Turkey, Morocco, Lithuania, and Israel.

Rosenthal had much to say on the Middle East, from Saudi textbooks (“They’re still teaching children that Jews and Christians are children of apes and pigs”) to Iranian human rights abuses. She also accused the United Nations of a “complete obsession with Israel.” However—as in November 2009, when she first took the State Department job—Rosenthal seemed most passionate about anti-Semitism in its historic breeding ground and the site of its greatest crime: Europe. “I have been amazed—almost paralyzed—by the degree to which I hear anti-Semitic statements like blood libel in Spain, or blood libel morphing—instead of Jews killing Christian children to use their blood for baking matzoh, Jews kidnapping children to steal their organs—in Ukraine, or Sweden,” she said.

As an example both of the prevalence of extreme views on Israel in Europe and how her office addresses them, Rosenthal talked at length about Spain—once, she noted, a site of fruitful co-existence that included Jews. “Our ambassador to Spain, Alan Solomont—a great guy, a proud and activist Jew—said to me, ‘I’m not concerned about rank-and-file, I’m not concerned about graffiti, I’m concerned about the elite—the editorial writers and the public artists, and the insensitivity they have,’ ” she said.

Rosenthal is only the second special envoy on anti-Semitism—the post was created in 2004—and so is still in a position to shape the job. During a recent trip to Spain, Rosenthal and Solomont organized several roundtables, including one that brought together Jewish leaders and editors of major news outlets. “For the first time, they talked to each other,” she remembered, sounding optimistic. “While I do not believe that, for instance, El País will change its editorial view of Israel and the wrongs they believe Israel is doing to Palestinians, do I think they’ll have more sensitivity in their cartoons and in some of the language they use? Absolutely,” she said.

Rosenthal is a vivacious woman who seemed most at home hugging and glad-handing her guests; she wore a flowing tunic that happily contrasted with the trim gray suits that clung to several official-looking men sitting in the front row. But Rosenthal turned bulldog-serious when discussing European anti-Semitism in the emptied-out George C. Marshall Auditorium. She said she sees Holocaust denial in Europe as only one manifestation of a larger trend that disturbingly recalls a time the world should hardly wish to revisit. “One is Holocaust glorification,” she said. “Just last week, there was a parade in downtown Riga, in Latvia, for the Waffen SS—they proudly marched.” She linked such pro-Nazi and neo-Nazi movements to the rise of more mainstream anti-immigrant politics throughout Europe. “I think that the rise of the neo-Nazi parties that we’re seeing throughout Europe, and frankly the hatred of the other, the anti-immigrant stuff that is happening throughout Europe, should catch our attention, and does,” she said. “Because, one, whenever there is hatred of the other, it is not good for the Jews; and secondly, the fact that we have political parties running on hatred, and winning, and gaining seats in parliaments, is something extremely disturbing—it can be Hungary, it can be the Netherlands, it’s out there.”

Rosenthal’s office condemns anti-Semitism every chance it gets, she said, and recorded some of the most worrisome instances in a human rights report released last week. She praised the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for raising the profile of Rosenthal’s position by moving the anti-Semitism office from a satellite building to State headquarters and integrating its findings into the department’s annual human rights report. “I’m an activist, not a career diplomat,” she said. “They brought in somebody who has a lot of experience dealing with the Jewish community and organizing advocacy, and I think that’s a statement.”

Though careful to preserve substantial space to question Israel, Rosenthal seemed to define criticism of specific Israeli policies that meets, and leads to, anti-Zionism as unacceptable. “To come to the conclusion that because Israel is doing X, Y, and Z, therefore it shouldn’t exist—I know of no other country on the globe, and we’ve got human rights abusers like you couldn’t believe, from Burma to Sri Lanka to Vietnam to China, and it goes on, where the conclusion is the country shouldn’t exist,” she said. “[Israel is] the only country where that is the policy of some governments and certainly the rhetoric of more. And that’s the ultimate delegitimization.” Rosenthal estimated that she spends about a third of her time on Israel-related issues.

Which is not to say her office polices all criticism of the Jewish state. “Israel is an imperfect country—I don’t know of a perfect country,” she noted. “When rabbis told the Israelis not to rent their apartments to Muslims, we condemned it.” And she was very careful to note that “criticism of the state of Israel, it does not make someone an anti-Semite.”

A Knesset committee recently held hearings into whether certain groups, most prominently J Street, the Washington-based lobby, are sufficiently pro-Israel. Rosenthal, a former J Street board member, provoked controversy within her first two months in her State Department job when she chided Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his criticism of the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” organization, which has a knack for igniting arguments and instinctively attracting Jews to a pro or con position. (Oren later apologized.) When asked about the group, Rosenthal bridled—mainly, one sensed, because she considers the topic inside baseball, and minor league at that (she had, after all, been discussing Holocaust denial and Sheikh al-Qaradawi). But she stood her ground. “We have diverse groups in this country, I think that’s what makes us strong,” she said. “And an organization that is pro-Israel and pro-peace should be welcomed by all tables.”

Israel, anyway, was an obvious subject. Introducing Lipstadt Monday, Rosenthal talked of watching the historic event on television as a 10-year-old girl with her father, a German-born survivor of Buchenwald. “I can almost smell his cigar smoke,” she’d reminisced in that introduction. Later, she argued, “I don’t appreciate dueling victimhood and dueling atrocities—it’s not helpful. But never before and never since the Holocaust have we seen a government use its creative and high-educated assets to build efficient killing factories.”

“The Holocaust has to continually represent the possible,” she added.

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James says:

How someone can be against anti-Semitism and at the same time be against anti-immigrant parties completely eludes me.

In Europe one major source of anti-Semitism (especially in Scandinavia, France, England and Holland) are Muslim immigrant groups. Witness recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in France.

The national anti-immigrant parties and platforms are trying to address this, as well as the oppression of women, homophobia and other forms of intolerance that these Islamic immigrants are fostering and teaching.

Steph F. says:

But the Neo-Nazi groups she is talking about are not worried about Muslim immigrant groups fostering intolerance. They are busy fostering intolerance of their own, including their anti-Semitic roots.

stan nadel says:

James ans Eli have a rose colored view of Europe’s anti-immigrant parties. Some, like the Austrian Freedom Party have their roots in the Nazi party. They have a long history of Antisemitism and are heavily infested by neo-Nazis and their sympathizers–even at their highest levels. Like most of their counterparts in Europe they are allied with the openly Antisemitic Jobbik party in Hungary. Marie LePen may have rejected her father’s Antisemitism, but he is still a major force in France’s National Front. DeWinter’s Vlaams Belag is also deeply implicated with Antisemitism as are the British and Swedish anti-immigrant parties. Only the Dutch anti-immigrant party seems to have clean hands in this regard. So James and Eli are barking up the wrong tree when they support the anti-immigrant parties under the delusion that they are not also Antisemitic.

Rick Goldberg says:

James, let me help you out. Attitudes on immigration are based on several variables, one of which is the place of origin of the immigrants. There are immigrants who overall contribute and those who disrupt, and some immigrants are quite different from others. Several European countries have in recent years facilitated the importation of Muslims, a relatively disruptive enclave if there ever was one. The black joke on Europe is that after getting rid of the productive, uber-assimilationist Jews during WWII they now invite immigration from Muslim countries to folks who are and will remain more problematic than the foolish Europeans could ever imagine. Nice trade.

Jason M says:

As someone who has spent years living in Europe, I can tell you the anti-Semitism of the elite comes from a few sources:
– a way to “bridge the gap” with Muslim minorities (“See? We hate Jews too.”) that they’re afraid of
– resentment at the US, which they believe is controlled by Jewish interests
– plain, old-fashioned anti-Semitism which never really completely goes away

I’m glad Rosenthal is taking them to task.

pheldermaus says:

Rosenthal is a bit confused and misguided. When the Jewish Community is a strong supporter of dubious Israeli policies and by proxy become the ‘Israel Center’ in their own respected countries, they can expect getting some heat for that, but it is NOT anti-Semitisim.

Ironically, having a special ‘anti-anti-semitic’ envoy by the powerful US might indicate to some that the Jewish agenda DOES carry a lot of weight in DC and beyond, thus strengthening stereotypes.

I would be more concerned about general displays of intolerance: against north African and Muslim immigrants, against blacks etc. why forcefully go and look for the Jewish angel on everything?

and to conclude i pose a question: What is the most anti-Semetic country in the world today? take a guess. a possible answer in the link below.

Gerry Philip Mok says:

Although Ms Rosenthal does recognize som antisemitic aspects of muslim-clericks while praising President Obama’s policies and infamous J- Street in one breath,she is for the European ‘elite’ at least positively an old-fashioned Hofjude and as such can only stimulate te antisemitic ‘reasoning’of Israel’s enemy (and I mean the state AND the People, all around the world. Sad indeed.

Ahmed says:

Get your hands off Spain

Joe Black says:

Jstreet and the credibility of protecting Israel don’t come together for me. Sorry, but jstreet has too many anti Israel supporters to trust.

benj says:

Antisemitism in Europe has 2 sources: the muslim immigrants and the left.
Neo-nazis are not even fringe group. And the far-right is getting more and more pro-Israel, not by love of the Jews but for tactical reasons. Anyway, the far-right does not target Jews.
The problem is indeed the left. Not just the far-left that is already so insane that you can’t even speak with them, but the regular left that jas been slowly eaten from inside by its more ideological elements.

Jason M. says:

benj: That’s a bunch of bullcrap, and if you’ve actually spent serious time in Europe, you’d know that’s bullcrap. Uninformed Americans have been gobbling up that right-wing line for far too long.

@ Benj: The far-Right in Europe does “target Jews,” albeit indirectly. Currently, their proposed ban on halal in the Netherlands, a follow-up to the ban on mosque minarets, will also ban kosher slaughter. Dutch rabbis are up in arms about it. (

I believe the line used to be, “Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.” Today, in Europe, it seems to be “Then they come for the Muslims.” What will follow? History provides a dark outline.

Religious liberty is vital in a democracy. In Europe, it’s the far-Right that wants to strip those protections. In the US, it’s the far-Left (I’m thinking especially of the proposed ban on circumcision in San Francisco, my town). As usual, it is the pushed-pulled Center that must hold. I hope that we can.

Antisemitism is a tradition that is so old that it predates modern political distinctions like “left” or “right.” Indeed, anti-Semites can be from any place on the political spectrum: leftist anti-Semites hate Jews for their own reasons that might be very different from the reasons right-wing anti-Semites hate Jews.

The point is to address antisemitism: arguing that it is exclusively a phenomenon of the left or of the right for your own partisan political agenda doesn’t advance the fight against antisemtism.

Manuel Jerusalmi says:

As a Jew from Barcelona I can confirm that there is indeed a concerning level of prejudice towards Jews in Spanish society, even if, or perhaps because, there are only some 25000 Jews in the country. There is old style Christian-influenced anti-Semitism and, more worryingly, a totally misplaced antipathy towards Israel, found strongly among progressives who, like their peers across Europe, are often infatuated with the leftist post-colonial rethoric in the Arab world. What few observers fail to note, however, is that in the last decades Spain has also witnessed a strong emergence of philo-Semitism, reflected in the number of universities teaching Jewish studies, a vibrant pubishing industry around Jewish topics and the rediscovery of Jewish roots of towns and individuals alike. This phenomenon initially focused on the historical role of Jews in Sepharad but nowadays includes a broad interest on all things Jewish in today’s Spain

Understanding modern Judeophobia is easy.

Murderous racist genocidal Central & E. European Jews invaded & stole Palestine with concomitant genociding of the native population, which has the sympathy of at least two billion of the world’s population.

Maybe I should use the term Zionists, but AJC & ADL polling show 80% of American Jews supported the Gaza Rampage while the number of Jews is minuscule that demand dismantlement of the Zionist state and categorically condemn Zionism.

Israel has become the keystone of a vast Jewish system to manipulate the US politics, law, economics, and culture.

The situation has become so painfully obvious that the Zionist intelligentsia & political economic oligarchy have given US government underlings (like President Obama) orders to appoint Jews to US government posts from which they can explain to the rest of the world that there is nothing wrong with the current situation, in which the US is effectively a dependent & intimidated client state of the Zionist Virtual Colonial Motherland of which the Israel Lobby is the public face.

Such officials loaned to the US government from the Lobby (1) tell non-Jews that objecting to the current situation is anti-Semitic and (2) reinforce complacent, insouciant, & condescending Jewish beliefs that non-Jewish concern about Jewish behavior represents flawed non-Jewish thinking of which non-Jews must be “cured” — by denouncing or even by criminalizing discussion of excessive Jewish power.

Comparison with 19th & early 20th century Jewish history is illuminating.

In early phases Jewish & non-Jewish leaders encouraged reform of questionable Jewish social & business practices. As Jewish wealth & power increased around the middle of the 19th century, Jews began efforts to “reform” non-Jewish society with critiques of non-Jewish religion, culture & ultimately politics.

By the election of Hitler, Jews were up to their eyeballs in mass murder, ethnic cleansing & genocide just as Jews are today.

Europe’s relationship with Jews is “complicated” to say the least.
Among the elites, there are some with resentment of Jews. Most are Leftists and see Jews in the same way that hard core Marxists saw Jews. However, there is also a surprising philosemitism among some elite. For example, Thilo Sarrazin suggested that Germany should promote immigration of Eastern European Jews. (Unfortunately, he should have checked with his grandparents’ generation who did the best they could to eradicate that population.)

To figure out which elite is right – walk into an old science library: physics, chemistry, whatever. How many scientific journals were written in German in 1920 and how many are written in German today?

Anyone familiar with Central and Eastern European Jewish political economic history is quite aware of the traditional philosemitism of German and Polish aristocracy.

In general the Jewish and Gentile elites worked together the squeeze the peasantry and sometime the developing bourgeoisie. One early and not improbable interpretation of the HEP in the HEP HEP riots is “Hebraeer, Edelmaenner, Profitgeier” — Hebrews, Nobles, Profiteers.

Populist politicians in Germany and Poland had to work very hard to explain to their respective elites why bourgeoisie and peasants had some serious problems with Jewish social and business practices.

As for modern dominance of English language in scientific publications, there are many reasons supporting the current situation with no connection to Jews whatsoever.

It is also worth mentioning that Central and European universities historically were quite aware of the tendency of far too many Jews in academia to favor fellow Jews over more qualified gentiles and put countermeasures in place to against such unconscionable practices.

Roberto says:

I do not know if it is worthwhile to answer to the stupid and malignant talkbacks by one “Joachim Martillo”. The existence of guys like this (which regrettably are rather abundant) is further proof that the State of Israel has to exist. Antisemites are like pornographers: they thrive appealing to the lowest instincts of people. I do not know if this guy is the actual pornographer or if he has been brainwashed by pornography. If he belongs to the second category, I would suggest him to do some serious reading.

There is plenty of anti-Semitism in the USA and not just among “dumb skinheads” or other “uninformed” but in corporate America all the way to the Supreme Court. And mainstream Jewish organizations in the business to combat anti-Semitism do absolutely nothing about it because of their selfinterest.
Read about ALIANA’S CASE in:
The file of which has been declared “inexplably missing” at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

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Defense Department

Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy, must defend Israel from delegitimization while confronting a growing wave of anti-Jewish rhetoric among European elites

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