by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update
In 1945, the Western world was horrified to discover the full extent of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were slaughtered. Adding to the shock was the fact that the atrocity originated and often played out in the heart of Europe, largely perpetrated by educated Europeans. At the same time, Americans and Canadians weren’t altogether innocent either. For example, over 900 Jews aboard the MS St. Louis were denied refugee status in 1939, sending them back to almost certain death in Europe.
Just over 70 years after the world shuddered at the horror wrought by anti-Semitism, the menace appears to be on the rise again. A mass shooting at a synagogue in the United States killed 11 people last October. Mere months later, a member of the US Congress was accused of repeated anti-Semitic sentiments. An overwhelming 85% of European Jews surveyed in a 2018 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) considered anti-Semitism a “very big” or “fairly big” problem in their nation. The Community Security Trust (CST) reported a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom during 2018. Has the West forgotten the Holocaust already? How serious a threat is anti-Semitism in the nations that proclaimed “never again” just decades ago?
The expansive 12-nation survey of Jews conducted in 2018 by the FRA—a decentralized advisor to the European Union—found that almost 90% of those polled believed anti-Semitism had grown worse in their country in the last five years. Over a quarter of the Jews surveyed said they had been victims of anti-Semitic harassment in the previous 12 months, while over a third admitted they avoid Jewish events or sites because they feel unsafe.
Dr. Henri Nickels, an expert in equality and non-discrimination with the FRA, told the Mideast Update that the survey is important as it highlights the hatred that usually goes unreported. He said almost 80% of Jews victimized by anti-Semitism do not report the offenses—even if they are serious—to the police or other institutions. “Often this is because they feel nothing will change,” Nickels said.
He noted that “the survey findings suggest that anti-Semitism pervades the public sphere, reproducing and engraining negative stereotypes about Jews. Simply being Jewish increases people’s likelihood of being faced with a sustained stream of abuse expressed in different forms, wherever they go, whatever they read and with whomever they engage.”
According to the CST’s 2018 report, the UK experienced record numbers of anti-Semitic incidents per calendar year for three consecutive years. Anti-Semitic episodes rose from a then-record 1,182 incidents in 2014 to 1,652 in 2018, an increase of almost 40%. Nickels also referred to the 2012 and 2018 FRA reports, noting there is a sense among Jews in the European Union that anti-Semitism is increasing. “This points to a longer time trend, where Jewish people in some member states fear more and more for their safety…”
Nickels considered the overall survey numbers “troubling,” but was quick to note they do not mean Jews are not tolerated in Europe. He pointed out that European Jews generally believe their governments are doing enough to protect them. At the same time, it is troubling that they need protection. The sense of growing anti-Semitism “points to a deeper social malaise and to the need for the EU and its member states to develop measures to prevent and combat anti-Semitism effectively and lastingly.”
The US is home to the largest number of Jewish people outside of Israel. It is also home to its own disturbing trend in anti-Semitism, with anti-Semitic incidents skyrocketing in 2017. The 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), reported 1,986 incidents in one year, an increase of 57% over 2016—and the fifth consecutive year of rising anti-Semitism.
While the number of assaults dropped from three dozen in 2016 to 19 in 2017, the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic incidents in general in the US reached heights not seen since 2010, with an incident occurring in every single US state in 2017. “These incidents [in 2017] came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director, said in a press release about the data. “In reflecting on this time and understanding it better with this new data, we feel even more committed to our century-old mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
Even the US Congress hasn’t been immune. Rep. Ilhan Omar was accused of issuing anti-Semitic comments twice since February this year, claiming the Jewish lobbyist group American Israel Public Affairs Committee bought off American lawmakers and then alluding to the old anti-Semitic trope of Jewish dual loyalty to Israel. This resulted in a controversial resolution by the US House of Representatives, which did not name Omar but condemned a range of prejudices, including anti-Semitism. According to the New York Times, the Democratic party was divided over responding to Omar after the dual-loyalty comments. The ADL issued a press release welcoming the resolution, while strongly criticizing Omar’s statements.
The UK’s Labour Party has also faced charges of anti-Semitism, with leader Jeremy Corbyn even standing accused. Nickels noted that there are international legal means for balancing freedom of expression with protection against prejudice, including in the EU. He also noted the danger of anti-Semitism in politics.
“When anti-Semitism becomes part of a political discourse and goes viral online, it becomes difficult to challenge this discourse. This, in turn, can have a corrosive effect, where such content gets amplified in ‘echo chambers’ where alternative views are seldom, if ever, expressed,” he said. “In other words, the continued and unrestrained expression of intolerant rhetoric disseminated through the media and in political discourse could lead to incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence.”
It’s been less than 75 years since the Holocaust. Yet from cities in Europe to every state in the US to the halls of power in government, anti-Semitism is once again appearing in the West. Whether this is a passing anomaly in an ever-progressing tolerant worldview or the signs of a new era of evil will be up to the citizens and leaders of the countries who proudly declared “never again” more than seven decades ago.
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