May 31, 2021
Antisemitism seems to be on the rise, raising ripples of fear across the Jewish community.
Behind the veil of that stark picture, we can see the effort by supporters of Israeli policy to cynically twist the fear of Jews into a cudgel and beat down Israel’s critics, and silence the voice of the Palestinian People. Equating hatred Jews with supporting a liberation movement because it is an expedient way to build support for the unsupportable is evil and cannot be ignored.
It is easy to see the evidence of a wave of incidents, the people being attacked, and the synagogues being defaced in the daily headlines and in our social media feeds.
Major Jewish organizations, fed by the Anti-Defamation League, have focused policymakers and the media on how widespread anti-Semitism is and how it is exploding with perpetrators from the left and from the right.
The ADL tells us that the situation is serious. In 2020 there were “2,024 incidents of antisemitism in the U.S. … including 1,242 of harassment (a 10% increase), 751 of vandalism (an 18% decrease), and 31 of physical assault (a 49% decrease).” These are just the tip of an iceberg because they also found that almost 80% of all incidents are never reported to the Police of Community Organizations.
2021 is worse. Newlyreleased data covering the first months of 2021 shows that the arc has shifted upward, depicting a worldwide wave of words and deeds targeting Jews as Jews. “Preliminary data from our Center on Extremism revealing an increase in online and real-world incidents of antisemitism in the United States… the ADL has documented disturbing antisemitism on multiple platforms — from Facebook and Twitter to TikTok and Instagram – with messages including explicit praise for Hitler, promoting tropes about Jewish control and demonizing all Jews.”
Jonathon Greenblatt, ADL CEO makes a connection that should be considered, words have consequences. “To those who choose to indulge in age-old antisemitic tropes, exaggerated claims, and inflammatory rhetoric, it has consequences: attacks in real life on real people targeted for no other reason than they are Jewish. This is antisemitism, plain and simple. And it’s indisputably inexcusable in any context.”
If these voices stopped there, I would not be writing this today.
But they do not. Too many want to take the emotions they arouse to attack those who dare to question the righteousness of Israel no matter what it does.
Their message switches and the dangerous conflation of hatred with a political difference is made.
“Extreme antisemitic and anti-Zionist content can be found across a wide variety of channels calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, including posts that state: ‘GAS THE KIKES RACE WAR NOW.’ An analysis of Twitter in the days following the recent outbreak of violence showed more than 17,000 tweets that used variations of the phrase, ‘Hitler was right’ between May 7 and May 14, 2021.”
From the founding of Israel in 1948, its advocates saw the power of this equivalence. Esteemed Israeli diplomat Abba Eban was clear that “one of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all. Anti-Zionism is merely the new anti-Semitism.”
More recently we have seen a concerted effort to codify this connection. A working definition of anti-Semitism, created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), was deemed as the gold standard of definitions because it presented examples of anti-Semitism that centered Israel next to all Jews.
Armed with this anointed definition, Israel’s supporters successfully lobbied it to be adopted by governmental and private organizations to allow them to shut down opposing voices. The wider its adoption, the broader the force clamping down on challenges to Israel’s brutality would be.
In 2021, this effort has gotten even more forceful. As the world’s spotlight fell on Israel’s eviction of Palestinians from their homes, on the actions of Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount, and on the brutal ten days of fighting in Gaza, those supporting Israel found opinion swinging against them.
Decades of Israeli treatment of the millions of Palestinians who live as stateless people under Israeli occupation were harder to ignore as high-rise buildings fall and families are killed. Challenging Israel’s behavior can be dismissed as despicable if those doing it can be tarred with an anti-Semite label. Anyone challenging the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State, one in which its non-Jewish citizens are diminished and marginalized has no right to be at the table or taken seriously. Palestinians claiming their own birthright can just be swept away.
A recent ADL webinar, part of its “Fighting Hate From Home” campaign, twisted the recent Gaza conflict in this way. “In recent days, Hamas and its allies have sent thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel, Israeli military counterstrikes have struck Gaza, and extremist violence — both Jewish and Arab — has erupted in the streets of Israel. During the crisis, anti-Israel protests have erupted and anger against Israel has surged in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, and has often crossed the line from lawful protest to hateful antisemitism. In Illinois, pro-Palestinian demonstrators calling for an Intifada (an uprising) gathered outside a synagogue. In Los Angeles, a pro-Palestinian mob violently attacked Jewish diners while yelling slurs. In London, a caravan of cars with Palestinian flags drove through the streets shouting antisemitic obscenities. In Germany, synagogues have been the target of hurled rocks and threats. In Montreal, pro-Israel protesters were injured by pro-Palestinian protesters. On social media, seething antisemitic posts laden with misinformation have surged on every major platform, with Jewish students as young as middle school feeling embattled on channels including Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.”
Cries of “anti-Semitism” are used as an get-out-of-jail card when Israel’s destruction in Gaza is protested or when the decades long siege of Gaza is questioned. Those who deny that Palestinians have any ties to the land and that there is indeed a difficult tangle of two peoples with two historical narratives that both see a common small piece of land as their homeland do not want any debate or challenge. They wish to turn those who challenge Israeli policy and stand for the rights of the Palestinian people into anti-Semites who must be silenced and punished.
In their effort to defend a less and less defensible Israel, those weaponizing anti-Semitism making it harder to combat anti-Semites. In making a challenge of Israel an attack on Jews they are making it harder to place the battle against anti-Semitism where it should be, alongside the effort to raise up others who have been marginalized. Letting Israel escape responsibility for its behaviors and the racism of its occupation does not benefit the Jewish People. Any historic claim to a homeland cannot ignore those who also have a similar claim, nor can it try to prevail through brutality and force. Yelling “anti-Semite” may make it easier to ignore the harsh reality, but it does not stop anti-Semitism. It breeds it.