The many faces of modern anti-Semitism

The other morning, I received an email from the president of my synagogue, an invitation for the membership to attend a town hall, where “a comprehensive discussion on safety and security” would be discussed.

It struck me when I read the email that my grandchildren have never known a time, as we did, when synagogue doors did not have guards. The town hall may reveal that additional layers of security will be considered necessary. Nobody needs me to explain why this is happening. It’s the new normal for Jews here, just as it has been for many years in Europe.

Anti-Semitism is not a unitary phenomenon. There’s anti-Semitism on the right—the old-school kind that regards Jews as an inferior race and says so —and there’s anti-Semitism on the left, the new school kind most evident on campus in the BDS movement, and a growing presence in left-wing political parties in the West, which claims only to hate Zionism and the illegitimacy of the Jewish homeland, not, of course, Jews. There is the hardcore, exterminationist Jew hatred, available wholesale throughout Iran and much of the Arab Middle East, and in jihadist circles around the globe, and there’s soft core anti-Semitism of the kind one finds in the liberal media, which lends itself to a laundering of hardcore Jew hatred.

Here’s a perfect example of the latter kind: Last month BBC Two aired a 60-minute documentary, “One Day In Gaza,” which focused on Arab protests against the US embassy’s transfer to Jerusalem. One of the Palestinian protesters interviewed explains why he was glad he attended the protests. He says in Arabic, “The revolutionary songs, they excite you, they encourage you to rip a Jew’s head off.” But the subtitles translated Jew (“yahudi”) as “Israeli”  (in Arabic “israyiyli”). The same mistranslation occurred five times in the film. Responding to the backlash, a BBC spokesperson claimed to have sought “expert advice” on the translation and insisted that the misuse of the word “Israeli” was “true to the speaker’s intentions.”

One has to wonder who their “expert” was. The hypocrisy behind that statement would be hilarious on Saturday Night Live, but it is instead a chilling reminder of the lengths leftist media will go to in promoting their own agenda on Israel. The speaker’s candid, precisely Judeophobic “intentions” are crystal clear to any objective viewer, but if the BBC were to translate “Yahudi” correctly, they would then be called upon to deplore his anti-Semitism. This would involve the further complication of explaining why leftists are so inextricably allied with America-and-Israel hating  Islamists. The BBC knows the rules. Expressed hatred of Israel requires no judgmental commentary. Hatred of Jews does. Change “Jew” to “Israeli” and hey presto, you can’t be charged with anti-Semitism.

We know that the Six Day War in June, 1967 was pivotal in rebranding Israel as a powerful regional Goliath rather than the vulnerable David it had been up to then. We know that leftists then began to withdraw their sympathy from the Jewish state and transfer it to the new underdog, Palestinian refugees. But when did the new anti-Semitism coalesce into an internationally acceptable point of view? There were two pivotal moments.

In 1975 the UN adopted the resolution, “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” by a vote of 72-35, with 32 abstentions. This was a terrible slander perpetrated by the world’s highest authoritative body. U.S. Representative to the UN, Daniel Moynihan declared that “a great evil has been loosed upon the world. The abomination of antisemitism … has been given the appearance of international sanction.” The resolution, stood for 16 years, during which time a great deal of damage was done in its name.

Then in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, at the antisemitism festival billed as the United nations Conference Against Racism, Israel was condemned as a “racist, apartheid state” and effectively de-legitimized with the effective compliance of UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, secretary-general of the conference. In the words of Anne Bayefsky, “Durban was not an aberration. It was the culmination of a long campaign under UN auspices both to turn Israel into a pariah state – the new South Africa – and to deny anti-Semitism as a human rights issue of our time.” After Durban, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) began in England, and metastasized throughout the West, absorbing and effectively supplanting the less sophisticated Israel Apartheid Week movement, which is now BDS’s political handmaiden.

Europe is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for Jews. In France, there have been many high-profile cases of murder. In 2014 alone, there were 851 anti-Semitic acts of violence (as compared to 423 in 2013), according to the Protection Service of the Jewish Community. Indeed, some Jews in their private lives in France have given up wearing their kippa or the Star of David for fear of insults or aggression. Thousands of Jews have emigrated to Israel, and many more thousands speak about emigration there as a strong future possibility. Since 2004, French Jews have been emigrating to Quebec in significant numbers—and liking it here. In fact, the province is now a destination of choice for the French Jewish community.

In Germany, anti-Semitism has become more normalized than at any time since World War II ended.  A 2013 study by the Technical University of Berlin examined the hate mail sent over the previous 10 years to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and to the Central Council of Jews in Germany. They analyzed 200,000 Internet texts, 20,000 emails and 150,000 phone texts related to Middle East affairs.  They found that 60% of the hate mail sent to the Israeli embassy came from the educated class—both from the right and the left—and these haters used the words “Jews” and “Israelis” interchangeably. Most of them provided their names and addresses, which is enormously significant. It is one thing to post anonymous hate on the Internet, quite another to consider it safe to identify yourself. The same situation holds in Austria. (Simon Wiesenthal’s hate mail, by contrast, was usually anonymous.)

The confusion between Jews and Israel extends right up into the judiciary, the most educated of any society. In 2014, following an end of Ramadan celebration and at the height of anti-Israel protests over the Gaza war, three men of Palestinian descent firebombed a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany. They were charged with felony arson, and were convicted, but given suspended sentences. The judge opted for lenience on the grounds that the action was a statement of displeasure with Israeli policy rather than a hate crime against Jews. If he had examined the logic behind his judgment, he would have seen that in endorsing the odious principle of Jewish guilt by association with the politics of the Jewish homeland, he was applying a standard to anti-Jewish hate crimes he would almost certainly not have applied to hate crimes aimed at other religious groups.

In France and parts of Germany, Jews are afraid to wear their kippot in the streets, something—in spite of infrequent incidents directed at observant Jews in certain neighbourhoods—most Jews do not feel concerned about in North America. As historian Deborah Lipstadt put it in her latest book, Anti-Semitism Here and Now, if you’re looking for a synagogue in some European cities, just “follow the baseball caps,” which observant Jews now wear as head-cover out of fear.

According to anti-Semitism researchers, Sina Arnold and Jana Konig, “approval ratings for anti-Semitism remain high: up to 30 percent of the German population hold secondary anti-Semitic opinions and 10 percent exhibit classical antisemitism sentiments. The approval rating for antisemitism directed against Israel is at about 20 percent.”  Amongst migrants, conspiracy theories and even genocidal anti-Semitism were higher than in the general population. Only the Kurds displayed noticeably pro-Jewish sentiments. In Germany, a recent quantitative survey among 553 Jews reports that 83 percent of them believe escalating anti-Semitism will continue to rise.

An important caveat here: Although life for Jews in Europe is likely to become more tense, more stressful and more vulnerable as anti-Semitic attitudes in significant swaths of the populations becomes less containable by law enforcement, I am not suggesting another European Holocaust is in the works.

In fact, I am disturbed when I hear people referencing 1930s Germany when anti-Semitic incidents occur, and I think that is a mistake. It is important to note the essential difference between European anti-Semitism now and then. Then, anti-Semitism filtered down from the top, from an elected fascist government. Acts of aggression, culminating in Kristalnacht, were either encouraged by or initiated by the government. Today we see a reverse situation. Anti-Semitism arises organically from the streets, academia and political Islam, but is condemned by the government.

Indeed, all European leaders, including the leaders of populist parties (even those formerly associated with extreme anti-Semitism like the National Front, now the National Rally) condemn anti-Semitism in the most forceful terms, and do not hesitate to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. In 2014, Manuel Valls, France’s Prime Minister, called anti-Zionism “an invitation to antisemitism.” His successor, Emmanuel Macron, recently called anti-Zionism “a reinvention of antisemitism.” And Pope Francis in 2015 boldly stated that “to attack Jews is antisemitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also antisemitism.”

The real danger to Diaspora Jews as a collective—and here I will pivot to the situation in North America—is the normalization of Israel hatred and the banalization of the absurd idea that Israel is both evil and the sole impediment to peace in the Middle East. The villain behind this Big Lie is the BDS movement (as noted above now pandemic in the West, not to mention amongst a vocal segment of the Israeli left-wing intelligentsia), a creation of the alliance between progressives and revanchist Palestinians, and vigorously promoted by influential left-wing NGOs.

BDS activism was in the past largely confined to campuses, but it is now widespread across social media, and spreading, as I observed on Twitter, “like an Exxon oil slick,” with this thread a good example of the comfort level anti-Semites feel in bruiting their Jew-hating message. Still, it is important not to overstate the numbers of people involved or their effect on the campus or on society as a whole. Many students sojourn through their four or five years at university with no interaction at all with BDS activity. BDS largely affects pro-Israel students and those who take a keen interest in Middle Eastern affairs. Some of them do feel besieged and hated as Jews, because BDS’s goal is to demonize and de-legitimize Israel, and to see the Jewish homeland dissolved politically in favour of a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority. As a movement that seeks to exterminate the Jewish homeland—and only the Jewish homeland—it is an anti-Semitic movement as well.

Student unions promoting divestment and boycott resolutions generally fail to gain passage of them. But that is not their real purpose. They are aware that no university is bound to act on these resolutions, nor has any university so far indicated any intention to act on such a resolution. Their real purpose is to normalize Israel exceptionalism amongst the student body. BDS activists have had real success in that ambition. It is no coincidence that on campuses where BDS is most active, we see disturbing incidents of unadulterated anti-Semitism, both in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Canada.

In his book, Industry of Lies, Israeli author Ben Dror Yemini opens with an anecdote about encountering demonstrating activists from Jewish Voices for Peace, one of the more rabid conduits for Israel hatred. Their signs called attention to the Palestinian “genocide” perpetrated by Israel. He asked them how many Palestinians had been killed in this alleged genocide. One proposed that it was “millions” and that Israel commits crimes against humanity more or less daily. (The population of non-Israeli Palestinians has risen eightfold since the “Naqba” and in 2020 will tally more than 7 million. Ask any of these mindless mouthpieces where the mass graves of these millions of victims are, and they will have nothing to say, since that is a question they have never asked themselves.) Dror says they were filled with passion for social justice and were not motivated by anti-Semitism. They were simply misinformed and ignorant. They are BDS poster children.

The industry of lies about Israel—located in the universities and the liberal media—“has,” Dror tells us “created one of the greatest intellectual frauds of recent decades.” In accusing Israel of “genocide, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, apartheid, and war crimes,” it has set Israel apart as “one of the countries considered most dangerous to world peace.” The language of anti-Zionism has become ritualized and has taken on the status of a socially acceptable catechism. In his book, he demolishes them all: genocide, apartheid, colonialism, war crimes, racism, and the Holocaust inversion myth, the absurdity that he Palestinians are the equivalent of Auschwitz inmates. He also conclusively demonstrates that what happened to 800,00 Jews in Arab countries (the “Farhud”) was far worse than what has happened to Palestinians under Israeli control.

We have seen the outcomes of the BDS movement in the Democratic Party’s tolerance for anti-Semitic attitudes they would have distanced themselves from and condemned even a few years ago. The Democratic Party has demonstrated their willingness to accept freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn) anti-Semitism as the price to be paid for progressive correctness. We saw it in their capitulation to Omar’s insistence that a resolution against anti-Semitism, inspired by her anti-Semitic statements, include so many other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia, that the resolution was meaningless and more significantly, which wrote her specific anti-Semitism out of the script. (Omar gives new depth of definition to the word hutzpah!) It took a new resolution, drafted by Republican Texas senator Ted Cruz, to bring forward a condemnation of anti-Semitism with teeth.

Most troubling of all, the BDS movement has succeeded in subverting the natural inclination of young Jews to take pride in Israel’s accomplishments at best, and at worst to submit to the anti-Semitic jackals in order to maintain their status as progressives. As Anthony Julius, author of the landmark book on English anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora: A history of anti-Semitism in England, has observed, “contempt for Jews, when sufficiently widespread, can foster self-contempt among Jews.” (See, for example, under Jewish Voices for Peace.)

What can be done? I think we must be realistic. Anti-Semitism today is a hydra-headed monster. It can be resisted, but not slain. We should support politicians who support Israel and take anti-Semitism seriously. We should also support with our voices and our dollars the many organizations that dedicate themselves full time to fighting anti-Semitism wherever it arises, like HonestReporting, MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch, NGO Monitor, Shurat HaDin, Stand With Us, CAMERA, AMCHA, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), B’nai Brith, the Canadian Anti-Semitism Education Foundation, and others. We should consider it a duty to be well informed on the subject of anti-Semitism—if not everywhere in the world, at least in our own cities and country.

That said, we should not succumb to what Columbia Professor Salo Wittmayer Baron called “the lachrymose conception of Jewish history.” He meant that we should not allow Jewish tragedies and ongoing anti-Semitism to define us as Jews or as human beings. We have often been victimized, but we refuse, unlike some other identity groups, to adopt victimhood as our people’s distinguishing feature. As proof, we have only to look to Israel, born in the ashes of the world’s most heinous crime against humanity, but within a few decades a “start-up” nation, a military and economic tiger, and —as evidenced in Israelis’ unusually high fertility rates, even amongst secular Israelis—one of the  most buoyantly optimistic and dynamic nations on earth.

Israel is also a country where some of the world’s best nosh can be found. As the old joke has it, Jewish history can be summed in these nine words: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” Words to live by.