In many ways, 2019 will be remembered as the year anti-Semitism returned to the center of Jewish identity in English-speaking countries. From California through New York to England and Australia, Anglo Jewry found itself facing a very real, very dangerous surge in anti-Semitic attacks.
The horrific stabbing attack against ultra-Orthodox Jews in Monsey during Chanukah made headlines. However, it was far from being a standalone incident. During the Jewish Festival of Lights at least 7 anti-Jewish attacks were reported in the New York area. This grim December statistic made the public feel what many communal leaders already knew: Antisemitism was once again a threat to American Jews.
On April 27, Lori Gilbert-Kaye was shot and killed at her local synagogue in Powey, California. At the start of December, three people were murdered when a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, was attacked by two shooters in what the mayor named a hate crime against Jews. (A fourth victim was killed nearby shortly before the store was targeted.) In between, numerous more anti-Semitic attacks took place: schools were vandalized, men and women verbally abused on the subway, children called names and people beaten in the streets of Brooklyn.
This surge of Antisemitism was not unique to the United States. Sadly, it was prevalent throughout other English-speaking countries; rattling communities who, for some time, had been viewed as part of the social fabric around them.
In Australia, for instance, reports showed a 30 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents. At one of Canada’s top universities, Jewish students were targeted for visiting Israel; at another, a campaign for Kosher food was branded by the student union as pro-Israel, and, therefore, problematic.
The most glaring example of English-speaking anti-Semitism came from England itself. The British elections centered on the Antisemitism accusations leveled at Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Here, it was not only the Jewish community which was united and mobilized in ways almost unparalleled in history but also members of his own party and the general British public who called him out.
These incidents, and others, were shocking in a somewhat surprising way. As a People, we have dealt with Antisemitism for generations. In the past few years, Jews were murdered in Belgium and France. Yet 2019 caught many people off guard. This happened for multiple reasons. First, because of the quantity and scope of such cases. In addition to all the examples already discussed, the communal feeling entering 2019 was difficult, with the murder of 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Etz HaHaim synagogue still fresh. Second, for the fact that the places targeted were “safe” for the most part. True, Australia and England already had the communal security American Jewry has just started thinking of installing. However, also they view themselves as members of the broader community, with relatively low levels of public or violent Antisemitism.
The third reason is the realization that Antisemitism, and anti-Semitic attacks, can come from all parts of society – not only from the Alt-Right. To be clear, right-wing anti-Semitism stills threatens Jews. In Europe and elsewhere, neo-Nazis carried out numerous attacks. Memories of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville are still fresh. This past August the Republican Party in Rockland County, New York, posted, then removed, a video with strong anti-Semitic currents, and half of US Jewry blames the Republican party for America’s high levels of Antisemitism. However, the recent surge is turning the spotlight on the anti-Jewish sentiment from the Left – and this has caught many off guard.
2019 saw a clear conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism among Left-wing, liberal circles. Corbyn’s anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment is an obvious example, but not the only one. The idea that Canadian Jewish students can’t campaign for Kosher food on campus because it is somehow pro-Israel is a shocking concept. Another example was described well by Forward Editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, after she was protested against at Bard College. As she noted, her Jewish identity somehow made her responsible for Israel’s policies.
All this has thrown the Jewish community off-balance, almost into a frenzy. The Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee are gathering and publishing data, trying to make sense of the situation. Robert Kraft and Ronald Lauder have announced two independent initiatives to fight the surge in Antisemitism in the US and elsewhere.
Without a doubt, the response in the Jewish community show 2019 was a watershed moment. Whether or not these responses are adequate or successful is yet to be determined. But already now, one thing is clear as we head into 2020: the oldest enemy and nightmare of the Jewish people has awakened and morphed. Yes, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are still a threat. However, the radical Left has developed a life-threatening, violent wing which must be dealt with.