by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President
The alarming global increase in anti-Semitism has Jewish leaders deeply concerned. “There’s always been threats, there’s always been anti-Semitism. But it feels like an epidemic right now,” said Beth Kean, CEO of the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, California. “And the spread of hate and lies is just happening at a lightning speed.”
Kean is right. It really is an epidemic of sorts. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has just released alarming figures tracking anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2021. “It’s the highest total we’ve seen in 47 years,” says Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. “It’s a 34% increase, year over year, and almost triple what we saw in 2015.” Assaults were up 167% over 2020, 11 of which were perpetrated with deadly weapons.
And it’s not just an American trend. The Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report 2021 by the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities bases their annual report on studies done by countries around the world as well as information gathered from Jewish organizations, law enforcement and media. The report paints a disturbing picture, say Jewish leaders worldwide, with “a significant increase in various types of anti-Semitic incidents in most countries that have large Jewish populations.”
The findings are chilling:
The report in its entirety, however, records incidents of harassment, threats and vandalism reaching record numbers in dozens of countries for Jewish populations large and small the world over.
The report identifies reactions to the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip as part of the reason for the increases, a common reaction Israel often faces when it is forced to respond to terrorism. The fighting occurred in May 2021 and lasted 11 days. According to the United Nations, it resulted in 261 deaths in Gaza as well as 14 in Israel.
However, the report also examined the proliferation of conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic that began circulating in 2020. In a February 2021 article, the Jerusalem Post published excerpts from a report issued by the British Security Trust, an organization that advises British Jews on security matters. “The COVID-19 outbreak has not merely given rise to a new medium through which offenders express anti-Semitic sentiment; it has provided them with new strands of anti-Semitic discourse as well,” the report said.
In a similar article in Moment Magazine, the global reach of COVID-related anti-Semitism became clear. Conspiracy theories were abundant, including the claim by Iranian government officials that Zionists were behind the coronavirus as well as a white supremacist who planned to use a car bomb in a Kansas City area hospital claiming Jews were behind the pandemic. In Portugal, a local politician complained that Israel’s vaccination success came only because of Jewish financial power, while a radio personality in Norway stated that he “almost wished” Israel’s vaccination campaign had failed. A New York Times headline, which originally read, “How Israel Became a World Leader in Vaccinating against COVID-19,” was changed to read, “How Israel Became a World Leader in Medical Apartheid.” Unfortunately, the Instagram post of the article was widely shared, said Moment Magazine, even by a political leader in New Zealand.
What some have called the “longest or oldest hatred” is being normalized anew. Anti-Semitic rhetoric is increasingly pervasive in politics and public discourse. Even more concerning is its prevalence on social media and among movie stars, sports heroes and others who hold positions of vast influence and power.
In a Moment Magazine interview, Kean argued, “Kanye really opened the floodgates with his comments.” She was referring to a number of widely reported anti-Semitic statements made in late 2022 by Kanye West, including his belief that black people are the “real” Jews and his appreciation for Adolph Hitler. Museum leaders were outraged that such an influential celebrity was using his platform to spread anti-Semitic hatred, said Kean. But they were shocked by the flood of anti-Semitic emails and social media comments that followed, expressing agreement with West in his animosity.
Jewish leaders were further dismayed when West was fired from lucrative partnerships with fashion industry giants yet replaced with a well-known supermodel whose Instagram posts are filled with anti-Israel rhetoric and support for Palestinian terrorists. “They have simply replaced one anti-Semite for another,” says human rights attorney Arsen Ostrovsky, “Hatred is hatred is hatred and we need to call it out regardless.”
Unfortunately, there is a growing list of movie stars, sports icons, rappers and even comedians who are using their celebrity status to spread anti-Semitic hatred. Many of them have three times as many followers as there are Jewish people in the entire world. “Each time there is a new set of appearances or remarks or tweets that come out,” says Ari Ballaban of the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council, “people in the Jewish community feel a little more unsafe.”
In the interview mentioned earlier, Kean talked of her grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. “They would never have imagined in a million years that something like this would happen. I’m actually thankful that they’re not alive to see this.” Kean went on “The Holocaust started with words after all.”
As Christians, our hearts should break as we witness the virulent hatred that our Jewish friends are dealing with. Jewish leaders are concerned for the future, and we should be as well. Standing against anti-Semitism in all its forms and praying fervently for Jewish communities worldwide is a responsibility we simply can’t shirk.
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