The shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was the latest attack on Jews in the Western world that attracted global attention. However, the more subtle ways to boost anti-Semitism can be a sign that Jews in the U.S., Britain, France or Germany may not feel safe anymore.
Mor Altshuler declared in a recent op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that liberal, cosmopolitan Jews should seriously consider migrating from Britain to Israel. Altshuler stressed the fact the liberal Jews have seen the Labour party as their home for many, many years, with shared values for globalism and universalism, but times have changed and denial can be dangerous.
“Denial of reality, shock and disbelief are classic responses to distress among liberal Jewish communities, from German Jews who, after the rise of the Nazis, refused to believe that their loyalty to Germany would end in their deaths, to Communist Jews in Stalin’s Soviet Union, who believed the blood libels against other Jews until they themselves were executed or exiled to prison camps in Siberia,” he wrote. It is indeed common among liberal Jews to have the intention to “fight from within” instead of just escaping a dangerous situation. But what is more concerning about what Altshuler touched is the fact that Jews have to even consider migrating from European countries. Altshuler is not a smug Israeli who puts his country ahead of others; he has data on his side.
In the Western world, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in its three typical forms: left-wing, right-wing and religious anti-Semitism. Left-wing anti-Semitism usually arises today when the political left is apologetic towards extremist Islamist groups who are seen as victims and the oppressed ones just like other minorities while neglecting the anti-Semitism that breads in some of these groups. Right-wing anti-Semitism stems from a feeling of superiority towards Jews or conspiracy theories according to which Jews would control governments and banks. George Soros is the most prominent target these days. Religious anti-Semitism is somewhat self-explanatory. It entails discrimination against Jews as a whole based on religious beliefs and false claims against Judaism.
Anti-Semitism does not include the criticism of the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government, Israel’s trade policy or other political issues regarding Israel. In today’s world, it is usually the denial of Israel’s right to exist or the right for Jews to have their own state, singling out Jewish national aspirations as an illegitimate and racist endeavour. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, now Fundamental Rights Agency, developed a working definition in 2005 stating: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. […] Such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective.”
In the wake of the 27 October shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, which took the lives of 11, many tried to examine the upward trend in anti-Semitism in the U.S. with both sides of the political aisle casting the blame on each other, as it is common at the moment. Not only such highly reported incidents are signs of anti-Semitism, but everyday life of Jews who are identified as such can be affected. Incidents on U.S. universities and colleges nearly doubled in 2017, from 108 to 204. Public figures like the controversial right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, who openly wears a kippah at public events, are among those who receive the most abuse online. The Anti-Defamation League noted that online harassment of Jewish journalists, political candidates, and others had increased ahead of the mid-term elections.
The United States’ rising trend of anti-Semitism is not unique to the rest of the world. In Germany 1,453 anti-Semitic instances were recorded in 2017. In France anti-Semitic violence is reported to have increased by 25 percent in the last year. In both of these countries police patrols are regularly stationed in front of synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Violence against Jews is the most obvious form of anti-Semitism and can be uncovered through traditional and social media, yet the more subtle forms are where controversy arises.
Take for instance the 13 October anti-racism rally in Berlin entitled “#unteilbar” (indivisible). The objective of the rally was to take a stand against the rise of xenophobia and the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany). Some 100,000 demonstrators showed up, most of them with good intention. The Central Council of Jews in Germany supported the march and its general objective, but had to face reality once attending the event.
The Jerusalem Post reviewed a video showing two speakers who called for the “liberation of all of Palestine 48” and “We must take a stand and boycott Israel.” The slogan to “liberate all of Palestine” refers to the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, and is widely considered a euphemism to cleanse Israel of Jews. The participation of left-wing extremists and radical Islamists at the march caused Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Berlin to voice its opposition to the event. The organisers distanced themselves from any hatred spread at the event in the aftermath, though they did not interfere when groups like the Islamische Föderation Berlin (Islamic Federation Berlin) with alleged ties to the Millî Görüş movement signed the march’s proclamation in the lead-up.
Prominent actress and left-liberal activist Alyssa Milano just recently turned down the opportunity to speak at any Women’s March events unless co-chairs Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory either denounce Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism or step down from leadership. Around the same time, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, rescinded its decision to give the foundation’s Human Rights Award to the Women’s March after pressure from doctoral students who accused the march’s organisers of anti-Semitism. The two announcements certainly threw light on a pressing issue on the political left.
The existence of right-wing anti-Semitism is undeniable and has been around for over one-hundred years. Particularly Europe is sensitised to right-wing anti-Semitism, although the rise of right-wing parties could reinforce extreme groups’ believe they could attack Jews and get away with it. Some of these parties, e.g. Rassemblement National, the former Front National, in France, have made a 180-degree turn and are now pro-Israel in their strong stance against Islam.
Left-wing anti-Semitism or anti-Semitism that is neglected by moderate political organisations can become a severe issue, since it is far harder to convince the wider public of its danger and abomination. When anti-Semites can be at the forefront of public events, when Barack Obama can call a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Paris “random”, or when Jeremy Corbyn is not able to denounce claims of him seeing Jews as fundamentally alien, the comments like the one written by Mor Altshuler will become more common.
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