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June 15, 2021 12:22 pm
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An Appeal to Politicians, Journalists, and Scholars: Stop Excusing Jew Haters

avatar by Gunther Jikeli

Opinion

Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders holds hands with US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) during a campaign rally at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota – Minneapolis in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nov. 3, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Caroline Yang.

The spectrum of antisemitism is widening. The call for murder, which is what modern antisemitism amounts to, is also becoming louder. On the left, on the right, and in the center, hatred of Jews is related to identitarianism. Antisemites project their bad conscience or fear onto a delusional idea of the Jewish people, who supposedly represent a danger to their own community.

Right-wing radicals such as the terrorist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2018), or Halle in Germany (2019), who set out to kill as many Jews as possible, justify their hatred of Jews with the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. Allegedly, all Jews are somehow responsible for immigrants coming into the country, threatening the “white race.” They speak of the government as a “ZOG” — Zionist Occupied Government.

The rhetoric against Zionists is even more prevalent among leftist anti-imperialists. They project onto Zionism, and the Jewish state, all that is evil in their worldview, such as colonialism and imperialism. On the other side, they see themselves and the Palestinians, whom they over-identify with, as the original, rebellious, and innocent par excellence.

Radical Islamists also refer to the pure and original, but with reference to Islam, according to which society should be structured and governed. They do not believe, as probably most Muslim Americans, that Islamic societies should be democratized or reformed, but that Islam is under attack and that we are in a global religious war led by the Jews, in which Muslims have a duty to defend Islam.

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If antisemitism was limited to a few on the extreme fringes, that would be bad enough — but we would be able to contain antisemitic mania and render it largely harmless in everyday life. Society could give Jews a sense of security that, when in doubt, they would be assured of solidarity and help.

This is not the case, however, as shown by the fact that Jews largely feel left alone, and that many are afraid to identify themselves as Jews in public or even at school, more so in Europe, but increasingly so in the US.

Almost half of the European Jewish population avoid wearing symbols of Judaism in public, at least occasionally, because of safety concerns; 31 percent of American Jews have avoided certain places, events, or situations out of concern for their safety or comfort as a Jew.

This is not surprising when looking at hate crime statistics. Jews are more likely than any other group to become victims of hate crimes in the US. Jews are about 2 percent of the American population; but according to the FBI, 13 percent of all hate crimes in 2019 were anti-Jewish hate crimes. By comparison, 27 percent were anti-Black hate crimes, with a much larger community. Muslims were also disproportionately targeted.

In early 2021, 25 percent of American Jews reported that they were the target of antisemitic remarks in person in the past five years. Nine percent say they have been physically attacked in the last five years because they are Jewish. However, under-reporting of antisemitic incidents is a big issue. According to the same survey, 75 percent of those who personally experienced antisemitism did not report the incident to any authority or organization.

The fact that antisemitism is not only on the fringes also becomes evident from fragments of extreme ideologies that we find increasingly in mainstream society. The question is whether the extreme fringes of society influence the center, or whether widespread hatred of Jews is simply voiced more openly and murderously on the fringes. Our research shows that even on the mainstream platform Twitter, about 15 percent of all tweets about Jews were antisemitic in the summer of 2020, up from seven percent in 2019 — and this only counts tweets that have not been deleted.

However, only a few want to shout “Death to the Jews.” Most antisemites pretend to have nothing against Jews and deny the murderous hatred. This was true of the mother of the white nationalist terrorist from Halle who targeted Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur. Her son had nothing against Jews, she declared. “He has the wrong vocabulary. He has nothing against Jews in that sense. He has something against the people who are behind the financial power — who doesn’t?”

Indeed, she is not alone in this opinion. That same month, in October 2019, 24 percent of the German population thought Jews had too much power in international financial markets. The percentage is presumably lower in the US. The last time, in 2015, when Americans were polled with a similar question, 16 percent agreed.

Like antisemitism from the right, antisemitism from the left also has a long history. The most current and prominent forms of antisemitism on the political left — anti-Zionist campaigns — began under Stalin, including the murder of Jewish intellectuals. They intensified after the 1967 Six-Day War, when anti-Zionist campaigns took root among Western intellectuals as well. The effects are still felt today; for example, the old slogan that Zionism is racism, could be seen and heard at numerous anti-Israel rallies in May 2021.

But the slander of Israel based on distortions and falsifications can also be found today in the opinion pages of leading newspapers, where Israel is accused sweepingly of racism, of being an “apartheid state,” and even of genocide. This defamation legitimizes the only slightly concealed call for murder, when the liberation of “all of Palestine” is called for “from the river to the sea.”

While white nationalists and in one case Black supremacists were responsible for antisemitic murders in the US in the past few years, in Europe — on the other hand — jihadists were mostly responsible. Antisemitism is as inherent in white nationalism as in Islamist movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in Turkey, to the Iranian regime and jihadist movements such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas. But even among Muslims, it is evident that antisemitism is not only found on the fringes among Islamists, but is adopted by many who do not have a coherent Islamist worldview (see here and here and here).

In sum, antisemitism is a clear and present danger, even if it does not come from the opposing political camp or if it comes from minorities who face discrimination themselves. Those who still minimize antisemitism in their own camp and who reinterpret hatred and defamation of Jews or the Jewish state as “criticism” of Israel, are complicit in the growing antisemitism in our societies.

Gunther Jikeli is the Erna B. Rosenfeld Professor at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University’s Borns Jewish Studies Program.

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