Behind a growth in anti-Semitism across the US

After years of decline, anti-Jewish groups seem to be on the rise again, feeding on 9/11 theories and US policy.

When a cable TV program in Manchester, N.H., included offensive Jewish stereotypes this summer, some in the area weren't surprised when, a few days later, a local synagogue was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. Or when, around the same time, extremist groups distributed hate literature in several other New Hampshire communities.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that such incidents are on the rise across the country. In Westchester County, N.Y., for example, there were 26 anti-Semitic incidents last year, up from seven in 2002. Members of the West Virginia-based National Alliance have become active in the Pacific Northwest, leafleting in many communities and showing up at antiwar rallies with signs saying "No More Wars for Israel." Later this month, the National Socialist Movement (which traces its roots to the American Nazi Party) is holding a rally at the Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.

Young people in particular seem to be the targets of such efforts. Panzerfaust Records, a Minnesota-based music label specializing in "radical pro-White rock music" and Nazi paraphernalia, just announced that it will sponsor "Project Schoolyard" - the distribution of 100,000 sample CDs featuring such bands as "Skrewdriver," "Bound for Glory," and "Max Resist," on school campuses, in malls, and at mainstream concerts.

But anti-Semitic rhetoric these days is showing up on the left as well as the right, says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

It's more noticeable in Europe, he says, where the left-wing movement is much more vibrant than it is in the US, and where there is strong opposition to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. But it's also "seeping into the debates that we see here in the United States," says Mr. Levin, and it's appearing in the literature and rhetoric found on American college campuses.

"One of the ways that you can excite your anger against the United States is to accuse the United States of not just having wrong-headed policies, but of being impermissibly influenced by this kind of Jewish cabal," says Levin.

Left-leaning Internet discussion sites have seen heated conversations about whether or not opposition to the war in Iraq, coupled with criticism of Israel's policy vis à vis Palestinians, amounts to not-so-thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, and despite the passing last week of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler in Idaho, there's evidence that new antigovernment militia cells are forming in many states.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) estimates that the number of racist skinhead groups in the United States has doubled over the past year, and that the Aryan Nations has 11 new chapters. The SPLC tracked 751 hate-group chapters in 2003, 43 more than the previous year.

More recently, the Anti-Defamation League warned that right-wing militia activists have been recruiting members and mobilizing new groups or cells in at least 30 states as well as on the Internet.

"Much of what agitates the 'new' militia movement is a post-September 11, 2001, fear of conspiracies and government power," the report states. "These militia members tend to view the war on terrorism as a war directed at themselves, not foreign terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, and consider anti- terrorism measures such as the Patriot Act merely a prelude to mass gun confiscation and martial law."

Such groups burgeoned after the federal attacks on antigovernment radicals in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993, but then declined after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. It's difficult to know how many people are involved with such groups, but experts say the total today probably is about 5,000.

Still, the organizations have made an apparent comeback since the Sept. 11 attacks, recruiting new members and holding paramilitary training. Observers see several reasons for this.

For one thing, the Patriot Act feeds conspiracy theories about federal efforts to snoop on and control citizens. Recent allegations about a Pentagon official spying for Israel further rouses extremists, especially those linked to hate groups whose philosophies include anti-Semitism. Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" prompted a poll showing that 1 in 4 Americans believe "the Jews killed Jesus."

Meanwhile, a related snit has broken out between conservative columnist and television commentator Pat Buchanan and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Listing neoconservative defense officials who all happen to be Jewish, Mr. Buchanan warned of "a recurrence of Pollardism at the Pentagon" - a reference to convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, an American now serving a lengthy sentence for passing secrets to Israel. The current case involves allegations that a Defense Department analyst provided classified intelligence information to Israel by way of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Washington-based pro-Israel lobbying organization. "America needs a Middle East policy made in the USA, not in Tel Aviv or at AIPAC," Buchanan wrote in a column last week.

Although he did not mention the religion of the administration "neocons" (and also made a point of noting that the alleged AIPAC mole is "a devout Catholic"), the ADL accuses Buchanan of "demagoguery" and "classic Jew-baiting."

It's all an issue of rising concern among Jewish leaders. "One-third of Americans believe today that American Jews are more loyal to Israel" than to the United States, says Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director. "That's the oldest anti-Semitic canard in history."

In Brussels this week, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is holding a conference to discuss racism, discrimination, and anti-Semitism.

"That's good news in a sense that European countries and institutions are struggling with the question," says Mr. Foxman. Still, he says, "The old right-wing, fascist, neo-Nazis haven't gone away."

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