Civilized people the world over expressed shock and outrage upon hearing the news that Argentina’s chief rabbi, Gabriel Davidovich, was beaten in his own home in the middle of the night by strangers who asserted, “We know that you are the rabbi of the Jewish community.”
Davidovich suffered severe wounds that required hospitalization and money and valuables were stolen during the incident. And yet, as appalling as this episode was, it cannot really be surprising, considering the current climate.
In the US alone, according to the ADL, the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017 — the largest single-year increase on record. During the same time period, FBI statistics demonstrated an increase of 37% in hate crimes and noted that the majority of hate crimes because of religion were due to anti-Semitism. There were eight times more anti-Semitic hate crimes than gender identity-related crimes.
In Europe, as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, more than 25% of people surveyed in a recent poll believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance; nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world; and a third said they knew little to nothing about the Holocaust.
On the 80th anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht attack on Germany’s Jews this past November, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe noted a 69% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the course of the year. The rise in these incidents, to my mind, is tied to the rise in anti-Semitic statements and outrageous anti-Israel comments. What this surge has done is normalize criticism of Jews and Israel.
Educated and rational people can and should argue civilly against policies of the Israeli government that they feel are unjust. However, it is important to recognize that the policies of the Israeli government are motivated by self-defense, even if some might deem the response disproportional. Given the climate in the Middle East, referring to Israelis as murderers and Nazis is not rational or defensible and invoking conspiracy theories that recall rumors that have previously justified pogroms is racism of the worst kind. When the language and tone of legitimate discourse is ratcheted up to the level of hyperbole and extreme criticism, anti-Semitism is empowered and enabled even if the speakers are not themselves anti-Semitic and may even be Jewish.
When a member of the US Congress asserts that a pro-Israel lobby pays off American politicians to favor Israel, anti-Semitism is enabled. When leaders of the Women’s March claim that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people or that Jews hold all the wealth, new anti-Semitic tropes are born and spread online like a cancer. When a beloved author gives an admiring shout out in The New York Times book review to a writer who is best known for arguing that the world is run by a secret cabal of alien lizard people, many of whom are Jewish, a toxic environment is created.
The recent barrage of criticism of Jews and the Jewish state by high profile individuals with massive platforms to broadcast hate has opened the floodgates, stoked anger on the part of followers and enabled this devastating rise in anti-Semitic events targeting individuals, communities and those who are deemed to represent the Jews and Israel. Those who speak irresponsibly are responsible.
To stem this tide, we must not be afraid to speak out loudly each and every time such an incident occurs. We must share our position with lawmakers, the media and influencers. Educators must incorporate the lessons of the Holocaust into curricula so that today’s youth can understand the large scale ramifications of unchecked hate. Stereotypes must be challenged and facts must be presented to students in elementary, high school and college so that they will not be tempted to go with an anti-Semitic flow, but rather stand up for the truth and for justice. Anti-Semitism must be identified for what it is — racism pure and simple. The zero tolerance our society practices for racism must be practiced for anti-Semitism After all, on a per capita basis, there are more hate crimes against Jews than against any other group in the United States.
We need to work together to create an environment where people of all races can coexist with understanding and a future when every synagogue does not require an armed SWAT team to enter before the congregants, when people can enter recognizable Jewish centers with ease and religious leaders no longer fear for their lives.