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Jewish Federation of Portland speaker describes anti-Semitism troubles at WashCo forum June 26

Bob Horenstein talks at the WashCo Public Forum about anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is on the rise again in America — and Oregon — according to Bob Horenstein, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Portland.

At the June 26 Washington County Public Affairs Forum luncheon, Horenstein said some of the attacks come from self-styled supporters of President Donald Trump and others on the political right, but unlike past occurrences, some attacks are coming from the political left as well.

Horenstein said he doubts Trump is anti-Semitic. "But his lack of decorum, his nastiness, his personal insults have mainstreamed that type of behavior now, so it's coming out of the woodwork. We're seeing it in the Jewish community," he said.

"The political landscape in America is so poisoned by the deep divisions found within the political culture that it gives license to forms of negative social expression."

Swastikas and 9/11 lie

Horenstein said examples of anti-Semitism can be found in Portland, where swastikas — a symbol of Nazi Germany — were carved into a dorm-room door and drawn on a bathroom wall at Portland State University.

A poster in the cafeteria at Lake Oswego High School depicted Nazi extermination of Jews — 6 million Jews died in the World War II genocide known as the Holocaust — and an overpass banner on Interstate 205 in Portland proclaimed "Jews did 9/11" before it was taken down the first weekend in June.

"Some say there is a cycle of hate in our country," Horenstein said.

He referred to the 1920s, when a resurgent Ku Klux Klan — founded after the Civil War to advocate white supremacy over blacks — took on hostile overtones toward Catholics, Jews and immigrants.

(In Oregon, voters elected a governor with KKK support and banned private and parochial schools by initiative in 1922, although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban in 1925.)

A 2015 study by the Louis D. Brandeis Center at Trinity College in Connecticut, found 54 percent of the 1,157 Jewish students questioned had experienced bias.

Another study in 2016 conducted by the Amcha Initiative counted 287 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses during the first half of 2016, an increase of 45 percent from the same period in 2015.

Attack from the left

Horenstein said that a resurgence of traditional anti-Semitism from the far right is coupled with a surge of anti-Israel sentiment on the far left.

"It is deeply insidious — and I think actually more dangerous than the old-fashioned, undisguised hatred of white supremacists — because we are starting to see it seep into the mainstream," he said.

"They have had success in getting their anti-Semitic campaign of delegitimization to take hold within certain segments of mainstream society."

Horenstein is referring to the BDS (boycott, delegitimize, sanction) movement.

In Oregon, he cited a 2016 resolution by the student Senate at Portland State University — despite criticism by now-departed president Wim Wiewel that it was "divisive and ill-informed" — and activist pressure on the Portland City Council to divest from Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers to Israeli armed forces. (The council voted in April to drop all corporate investments.)

The Portland State student resolution was largely symbolic, because the Oregon State Treasury — not individual campuses — manages state investments.

"On the left, Israel is depicted as a gross violator of human rights and is a pariah state that does not belong to the family of nations," Horenstein said.

Not perfect but not Nazi

He's not saying Israel is perfect. Horenstein, for example, disagrees with the current Israeli government's push for settlement of East Jerusalem and other communities where Arabs are predominant, although he believes certain parts of East Jerusalem might be appropriate for Jewish settlement.

"I am not talking about legitimate criticism of the state of Israel," he said.

But some people have compared present-day Israel with Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa.

Horenstein said such critics go beyond opposition to Israeli policy and align themselves with opposition to Israel's existence as a nation. He said that stance is decried by people such as Pope Francis, Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid — an Israeli political commentator — and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

"Others have recognized this is not just the Jewish community crying wolf," he said.

"If I want to read legitimate criticism of Israel, all I have to do is go to the Israeli press or listen to the Jewish community."

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