Checking anti-Semitism

The need to repudiate anti-Semitism has arisen once again in the United States, as it recently did in Europe. There has been, for instance, a tripling of anti-Semitic assaults and other incidents in the ''enlightened'' state of Massachusetts. Dealing with such bigotry calls for action by government leaders - but even more by the suburban neighborhoods where swastikas are being scrawled , schoolchildren harassed, hate calls received, and just recently a bomb threat was directed at a synagogue near Boston.

There does not appear to be any organized campaign, according to local Anti-Defamation League officials, who estimate that this year's identified anti-Semitic episodes in Massachusetts will total three times the 25 or 30 of last year. ''It's our neighbors,'' said one. But this only made the situation more poignant, harder to combat than the machinations of a notorious group like the Ku Klux Klan.

In fact, to the credit of Boston young people, the Klan was conspicuously unsuccessful when it sent a recruiting team to various high schools. Such resistance to the appeals of prejudice can be fostered by each family's and each individual's adherence to American principles.

The President and Congress have the responsibilities of leadership in this realm as in others. It was jarring for former President Nixon recently to single out Jewish opposition against the AWACS sale - as if no substantive reasons were being argued against it whether by Jews or non-Jews. It was saddening to hear a vote for AWACS supported on grounds that a defeat would cause anti-Semitism - as if Jews in the United States of America could not take sides in a debate (or perhaps even open their mouths?) without risking retaliation.

No wonder the Anti-Defamation League's national director, Nathan Perlmutter, has seen fit to speak out against such insidious implications. To forestall them on other Mideast issues, he asks no more than what should be expected of Americans:

''It is imperative that these issues be discussed rationally, that Jews not deem their adversaries as necessarily anti-Semitic, but that when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, persons in high responsibility promptly and categorically repudiate it.''

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