State Department’s Antisemitism Report A Good First Step, But Softpedals Some Arab Government-Sponsored Antisemitism

News Release
January 10, 2005

The State Department’s first annual report on global antisemitism deserves praise for its strong definition of antisemitism, but the report fails to give adequate attention to antisemitism sponsored by some Arab governments, an analysis by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has concluded.

“It is encouraging that the report includes Israel-Nazi analogies in its definition of antisemitism, but it is disappointing that the report says so little about some Arab governments which promote such analogies and other types of antisemitism,” said Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff.

The State Department’s report, issued Friday, is mandated by the recently-passed Global Antisemitism Review Act, sponsored last summer by U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) and signed into law by President Bush in October.  The Lantos bill came in response to the rising tide of global antisemitism, especially in Europe and the Middle East.

During Congressional consideration of the measure, the Wyman Institute organized a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, signed by 108 prominent American political and cultural leaders, which helped Lantos overcome the State Department’s opposition to the bill.

The report provides the first official U.S. government definition of antisemitism, and this is one of the report’s strongest aspects.  It states that in addition to direct attacks on Jews or Judaism, “The demonization of Israel or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue.”

The 37-page report, covering the period from July 1, 2003 through December 15, 2004, offers summaries of antisemitic incidents in various countries and of what actions in response have been taken by government authorities.  Surprisingly, more space is given to some European and South American countries where there has been relatively little antisemitism, and noticeably less space to some Arab countries where government-sponsored antisemitism is widespread.

For example, the section about Iceland is 387 words long, even though the report notes only one instance of antisemitic harassment and one hostile cartoon there.  By contrast, Saudi Arabia is given just 182 words, including the apparently contradictory statements that “Anti-Semitic sentiments….were present in the print and and electronic media.  The local press rarely printed articles or commentaries disparaging other religions.”

Only 86 words are devoted to the Palestinian Authority, more than half of which discussed a sermon on PA Television by a Muslim preacher urging tolerance (but not mentioning Jews).  That sermon unfortunately was not typical of sermons that are broadcast on PA tv and radio, which often contain antisemitic themes, including denial of the Holocaust.  Additionally, the State Department report does not mention instances of antisemitism in the PA-controlled press.  Surprisingly, Armenia (194 words), Brazil (149), and Azerbaijan (142), where there is little reported antisemitism and no evidence of government-sponsored antisemitism, are given more space in the report than the Palestinian Authority.