Thane Rosenbaum fears a “déjà vu” of the 1930s may be taking place — only the current scenario features a nuclear-armed Iran, anti-Jewish language emanating from the Muslim world, and rising anti-Israel and Jewish sentiment, particularly in Europe.
In a program at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick on Sept. 9, the novelist and law professor said the situation may be even more alarming than in the pre-World War II years.
“In the 1930s you never heard such avowed Jewish-hating language,” he said of the threats contained in statements from Iran, Hamas, and other extremist groups, countries, and regimes in the Middle East. “Even Hitler would have said, ‘You can’t say that.’”
Rosenbaum said these modern-day extremists level blood libels against Jews, Arab papers depict Israeli children with blood dripping from their mouths, and suicide bombers glorify in spilling Jewish blood.
“It is unabashedly and unashamedly anti-Jewish language,” said Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum is a distinguished fellow at New York University School of Law, where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. He also moderates an annual series on culture and politics at the 92nd Street Y. His novels include Second Hand Smoke, a semi-autobiographical story of Holocaust survivors and their American-raised son.
He said Muslim extremism defies Western logic with its focus on the afterlife and “culture of death,” rather than on what happens in this world. Those who crafted the recent Iranian nuclear deal, he said, displayed a lack of understanding of that culture.
“There is no compromise in the Muslim mindset,” said Rosenbaum. “To come to terms is to lose.”
Though he said that “the Iran deal is so frustrating I won’t say much about it,” he added that there were things he believes President Barack Obama could have done to make the deal more palatable to Israelis and the American-Jewish community.
These include laying out what the repercussions would be if Iran cheats, using counter-espionage and intelligence to monitor any cheating, and making sure Iran knows “if they try to spin a centrifuge, something will go wrong.”
Rosenbaum also said Obama should have “gone on Air Force One and put his arm around Benjamin Netanyahu” to let him know he had his back and to reassure Israelis that even though he knows the deal has flaws, he believes it is the best option.
The controversy surrounding the deal comes at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment has been building. Rosenbaum said although Americans have largely been shielded, anti-Semitism is a growing concern throughout many Western democratic countries.
A significant number of Europeans perceive Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East and one of the world’s biggest impediments to peace, said Rosenbaum. In many countries, Jews are now afraid to wear identifying religious articles.
In addition to Canada and France, there have been incidents in Denmark, Norway, Italy, Greece, Great Britain, Belgium, and Hungary.
“But there’s been no violence directed at anyone else so this can’t be blamed on the economic crisis,” said Rosenbaum. “There’s a crisis of violence everywhere but here. We’re not being honest if we don’t admit most of these problems are centered on Muslims.”
While Rosenbaum said that not all Muslims are Islamists, a substantial number follow a strict interpretation of the Koran incompatible with Western-style democracy.
“The president has no understanding of the Arab mind,” said Rosenblum. “He thinks it’s like Harvard Law School, with rigorous debates and then going out to lunch together; with respect and civility everyone comes to terms.”
However, said Rosenbaum, Iranians “are not interested in debate and negotiation, and the only submission acceptable to them would be to Allah or God.”
Rosenbaum acknowledged he often tells his human rights students they should be outraged by the “barbaric practices” toward women and homosexuals in much of the Islamic world.
“Fifty to 75 percent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa have said they want to live under Sharia law,” he said. “That explains why the Arab spring failed.”