Susan Heller Pinto has the unenviable task of sifting through political cartoons that appear in publications worldwide and that many deem anti-Semitic, and then deciding which are egregious enough to be highlighted on the Web site of the Anti-Defamation League. She recalled a recent one in particular that likened Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to none other than Adolf Hitler.
"This kind of hatred is not just directed against the Jews and Israel, but against the West and democracy," Pinto said at last week's board meeting of the ADL's Philadelphia chapter. "Too many policymakers say that when there is peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] everyone will hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya.' We really have to deal with the entrenched hatred."
Pinto, one of two featured speakers at the Dec. 7 meeting in Center City, told the more than 80 people in attendance that part of ADL's mission is to educate policy- and lawmakers in the United States and Europe about the serious dangers presented by Arab anti-Semitism.
Getting Some Attention
That message, she claimed, has gotten across to at least some officials in the Bush administration. According to Pinto, ADL national director Abraham Foxman handed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a binder full of recent cartoons and editorials that he felt slandered the Jewish people. Rice promised to take up the matter with her Arab counterparts.
Pinto also credited ADL lobbying efforts with a speech earlier this fall by Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a Bush advisor. During her recent high-profile tour of several Arab countries, Hughes cited anti-Semitism as a primary concern.
But Pinto said that the Arab world, too, is beginning to confront anti-Semitism.
She pointed out that articles have started appearing in the Egyptian press debunking The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a century-old pamphlet penned by the czarist secret police that fabricates a Jewish plot to control the world, which has long been accepted as true in the Arab world.
She also said that in meeting with Arab and European officials, she has found that Israel's diplomatic standing has improved since the Jewish state's summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and that many policymakers now feel the ball is squarely in the Palestinian Authority's court.
Harvey Sicherman, president and director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the gathering's other presenter, also said there are encouraging signs coming out of the Arab world.
"There is no doubt that this was the year that established that people in the region think that elections matter," said Sicherman, referring to votes held in Iraq, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
He further explained that a citizen living under a dictatorship feels powerless, and is susceptible to believe in large "conspiracy theories - namely, that their lives are dominated by American and Jewish interests."
"With elections, the victimization ideology begins to lose its appeal," added Sicherman.
The foreign-policy analyst, however, ended his report with a caution. While situations appear to be improving in other parts of the Arab world, he said, Israel's other neighbor - Syria - still has a long way to go to becoming a democratic country that respects the Jewish state.
Summing up his talk, Sicherman sounded a rather pessimistic tone: "You have a region that's gone nowhere in the last 20 years."