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the rise of anti-semitism

Kenneth Jacobson, Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke at an  Ad Hoc Caucus of the Jewish NGOs at the UN in New York on J une 22, 2015.  ICJW's UN NY team reports on what he said. 

Mr. Jacobson gave a briefing on the rise of anti-Semitism in many countries around the world and the efforts to monitor and combat this growing threat. In order to explain global anti-Semitism, Jacobson posed four questions and then gave his answers to each one.

1. Is “it” happening all over again?
  • The answer is NO….because Jews are NOT powerless now as they were during the Holocaust. Today, leaders in Germany and France and most governments in Europe defend the Jews and condemn anti-Semitism. The existence of the State of Israel makes a huge difference but there is a lot of anti-Israel behavior especially in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war.
  • Jacobson worries that there is a growing “loss of the sense of shame” about the Holocaust and how it demonstrated the evil effects of anti-Semitism. Just 70 years later this sense of shame and embarrassment are disappearing, leading to the justification that the Jews in Israel are doing to the Palestinians what was done to them. In the past the sense of shame inhibited some anti-Semitism.
2. Seventy years after the Holocaust there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. What does this say about the nature of anti-Semitism?
  • Many groups talk about “victimhood and prejudice”.
  • There is a fundamental difference between anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. In the case of racism, “what you see is what you get” but anti-Semitism is different. Jews tend to look like their enemies and the reality of the Jew is regarded as hidden and evil.
  • Enemies of the Jews are still using The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as written confirmation that they have caused all the problems in the world. This despite the fact that the Protocols are widely recognized as false. There is a long history of portraying the Jew as the power behind all the world’s evil; reality is portrayed not as what one sees but rather as a result of Jewish plots.
  • Even when there are no Jews in a country, there can be anti-Semitism as, e.g. in Malaysia.
  • Anti-Semitism has little to do with the Jews. It is about finding a scapegoat for the world’s problems and tends to get worse when there is anxiety as now in Europe, over finance, Muslims and migrants. This is a perfect storm for the rise of anti-Semitism.
3. Do Jews have a future in Europe?
  • France has the largest number of Jews in Europe and is also the country with the most cases of violence aimed at Jews. A French Jew is 40 times more likely to be assaulted than an American Jew.
  • There are also many assaults against Jews in the UK, much less than in the US.
  • Most of this violence comes from Islamist extremists. French Jews do not feel safe. 50% feel that they will become a target of violence.
  • French Jews don’t want to show their Jewishness and their Jewish schools, out of necessity, have become fortresses. But, to date, the emigration rate is low though higher than 10 years ago.
  • France is doing much to counter anti-Semitism in their schools, etc.
  • Much of the answer to the question of whether Jews have a future in France depends on how the government deals with their minority immigrants. France and Europe in general do not have the US history of absorbing immigrants.. A lack of assimilation plays into Moslem extremists and fundamentalists.
  • Three groups are anti-Jewish in France and elsewhere in Europe- Muslims, right wing extremists and the left (which is anti-Israel).
4. What is the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism?
  • There is a spectrum of feelings from legitimate criticism of Israel all the way to anti-Semitism. A good guideline to whether anti-Israel rhetoric has become anti-Semitism is Sharansky’s 3Ds, demonization, de-legitimization and double standard.
  • Israel cannot afford to be powerless; this is the lesson of the Holocaust. The IDF provides power and security as well as the opportunity for peace.
  • Today the Jews have power but it also brings responsibility. There needs to be a middle ground. It is, therefore, okay to criticize Israel as we would any democracy whose policies are in question.
  • We must always be honest when looking at Israel and discourage
  • media distortions.
  • To be effective against movements like BDS requires leadership. On US campuses, the highest administrators should be speaking out as Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, did when the college tried to start a BDS movement; he said: “Not on my watch”.
5. What is different now in the world?
  • The existence of Israel.
  • The role of the United States - The US veto power in the Security Council of the UN is key to protecting Israel and the Jews. It is good for Jews when America is the “leader of the world” and bad for Jews when the US becomes isolationist as in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • The power of American Jews and the organized Jewish community.
  • President Obama is not anti-Israel. The problem is his view of the US role in the world that tends to isolationism rather than the US as the keeper of world peace. The US has continued to help defend Israel when needed as with dollars for Iron Dome last summer.

REPORT by FRAN BUTENSKY, JOAN LURIE GOLDBERG, AND JUDY MINTZ