US skips Knesset meeting on rising anti-Semitism
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US skips Knesset meeting on rising anti-Semitism

Hearing attended by representatives of Germany, Austria, UK and France; Zionist Union MK laments 'very disappointing' stayaway by American officials

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

German Ambassador to Israel Clemens von Goetze (L), Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss (2L), and Deputy UK Ambassador to Israel Tony Kay (R) attend a Knesset hearing on October 30, 2017 (Times of Israel)
German Ambassador to Israel Clemens von Goetze (L), Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss (2L), and Deputy UK Ambassador to Israel Tony Kay (R) attend a Knesset hearing on October 30, 2017 (Times of Israel)

The United States Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to send a representative to a Knesset committee meeting Monday on rising anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe, in a hearing attended by high-level diplomats from Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, and France.

“They were invited, [but] decided not to send [a representative],” Knesset Immigration and Diaspora Affairs Committee chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) said of the US embassy.

The absence of a US representative was underlined by Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, chairman of the the Knesset Lobby for US-Israel Relations, who later called the American decision not to participate “very disappointing” on Twitter.

Praising the “determined” European efforts to curb anti-Semitism in their respective countries, Shai noted that the absence of American representation came after a year of climbing anti-Jewish incidents in the United States, according to reports by the Anti-Defamation League.

Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai is seen on January 5, 2017. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment on the decision.

On Monday evening, however, Shai wrote on Twitter that he spoke to US officials during the course of the day “at length” and “was happy to hear that the embassy and its officials are committed to the fight against anti-Semitism and are investing major effort.”

During the hearing, Shai also offered subtle criticism of the Israeli government response to incidents of US anti-Semitism, calling for a more principled stance to shield Jews abroad.

“We cannot forget that the State of Israel has a role in the world, including a role to protect all Jews — to be their voice in places where they cannot speak, or where they don’t speak with sufficient power,” he said.

The ADL in April 2017 reported an 86 percent surge in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, in an audit that included hundreds of bomb threats to Jewish institutions by an Israeli American teenager. Both US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been criticized by Jewish groups for not forcefully condemning the phenomenon, most recently in the aftermath of violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

Right-wing extremists vs. ‘imported’ anti-Semitism

Monday’s Knesset meeting was attended by Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Clemens Von Goetze, Austria’s Ambassador Martin Weiss, EU Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, the UK’s Deputy Ambassador to Israel Tony Kay, and a representative from the French embassy.

In their remarks, the envoys outlined their countries’ respective efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

Von Goetze said Germany had a “historical responsibility” in the wake of the Holocaust to both protect Israel and fight anti-Semitism, which he stressed would never be fully eradicated. He reported a slight increase in anti-Semitism in 2016 as compared to the year prior, though the figures were lower than in 2014.

“In our case, most of the crimes that have been committed have been committed by right-wing extremists,” he said, adding that “over 90%” fall under that category.

Weiss, of Austria, acknowledged “there is a phenomenon of imported anti-Semitism,” referring to opinions held by some of the Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees who have entered his country. The rise has seen a modest increase by 12 cases in 2016 in relation to the previous year, he said, including in online hate speech.

“You can rightly say it took Austria all too long” to face its culpability in the Holocaust, added Weiss, having cast itself as the “first victim” of Hitler.

“But that narrative has changed,” he added, elaborating on Holocaust remembrance education in the country.

Arab MK compares Jewish state law to anti-Semitism

Also attending Monday’s hearing was Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, who condemned anti-Semitism but objected to conflating Jew-hatred with criticism of Israeli government policies.

Addressing the European diplomats directly, Tibi likened state-sponsored anti-Semitism to Israeli policies — including the proposed “Jewish state” law  — and anti-Arab incidents, such as a Bar-Ilan University lecturer who kicked a student out of class for refusing to remove her hijab.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi attends a discussion of the ‘Jewish State’ bill in the Knesset on October 23, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“There is a policy by the State of Israel. They say, if you’re against it, you’re anti-Israeli. And if you’re anti-Israeli, then you’re certainly anti-Zionist. And if you’re anti-Zionist, then you’re anti-Semitic,” said Tibi. “We must shatter this equation and say that in Europe — and I say this to the ambassadors — the phenomenon of anti-Semitism against Jews is a phenomenon of individuals… it’s not the policy of the countries.”

Tibi then pivoted to comparing the “Jewish state” law, which would enshrine the country’s Jewish status in its constitutional Basic Laws, to government policies targeting Jews.

“There is a problem when the policy against an entire population is by a government,” added Tibi. “Mr. ambassadors, in the next room, there is a discussion on the Jewish state bill,” he said, calling it “an inherently anti-Arab law.”

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