Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on anti-Semitism; the Holocaust; Persecution of Christians

Anti-Semitism or Not?

Is it anti-Semitic or not?

COVID-19 has brought out serious expressions of hatred. We now have a specific form of anti-Semitism called COVID-19 anti-Semitism. Just yesterday, I lectured about this topic, using current images from Social Media. Someone had commented: “It is not a plague until it is blamed on the Jews“. Indeed, during the Black Death (1347-1351), Jews were perceived to have immunity; at the time it was not understood that this was due to their isolation as well as the Biblical practice of handwashing. They were then blamed for having poisoned the wells. It is important to emphasize that anti-Semitism was a part of medieval society so scapegoating the Jews was natural. Later, during the 19th century’s typhoid and cholera epidemics, Jews were accused of spreading the virus. This happened again during the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Fast forward to 2020. All of us know that Jews were shown as lice and rats by the Nazis – now pictures of viruses with “Jewish faces” are very much visible on Social Media. Somehow Israel is spreading the virus. But we can still celebrate virus deaths in Israel. In the so-called anti-mask demonstrations signs were seen saying: “This is the real problem” whilst showing the Israeli flag. But, instead of the Star of David, a rat was shown in the middle of the flag. A yellow armband, like those Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany, has also been a feature of some of the anti-mask events. Online, I have seen photos of Hitler – this time equating him to those who (amid terrible circumstances) try to find a way to cope. Personally, since I wear the mask anytime I am in a crowd, I have an extremely hard time understanding these reactions. (In parts of Asia masks have been shown to be a very effective way to control epidemics). I have an even harder time understanding why the Holocaust is brought in the mix.

Many people would never admit to being anti-Semitic. Whilst posting questionable images, they still deny any such motivation. That is why it is very important to understand that anti-Semitism is not defined by the person, who expresses it. Instead, it is a certain perception of the Jews, which then expresses itself as hatred. The expression happens verbally or through forms of art or in any other way.

So how do we recognize it?

Anti-Semitism has been defined by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA); many governments have signed the definition. It has been defined also by the EU as well as many Holocaust scholars and institutions. Anti-Semitism is not defined in a specific moment because we do not like what a person posts or says. This is a hatred, which has existed for thousands of years. This means that there are ways to recognize and define it.

Stereotypes about the Jews, demonizing of the Jews and related accusations are anti-Semitic. These include (but are not limited to) the myth of Jewish control, power, and conspiracy. For decades, the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion from Czarist Russia in 1903, were used as evidence of an existing Jewish conspiracy. The protocols were shown to be a forgery. But similar ideas are still expressed. Holocaust denial is anti-Semitic too. Trivializing the Holocaust, and/or belittling it, is a form of Holocaust denial. Using anti-Semitic myths and accusations against the State of Israel is anti-Semitic. We have already seen that anti-Semitic expressions easily progress to violence and death.

Nazi anti-Semitism has been defined as Genocidal anti-Semitism because in the Nazi world view there was no room for the Jews. All the Jews of Germany, and Europe, would have to be eliminated. If there is no room for the State of Israel in the worldview of a person/ movement, then this too should be defined as Genocidal anti-Semitism. The goal is the same if these things are taken to their logical conclusion. In today’s world, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and scapegoating are all mixed up. There is much confusion in Social Media. There is much room for misunderstandings. The danger is that all these ideas lead to events that were not intended.

The question is what does Never Again mean in 2020?

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, lived in Israel for twenty years. She has a Doctorate in Holocaust Studies. She has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking in churches, synagogues and civic gatherings. Her book 'Journey to the Holocaust' is available in Finnish, Swedish and English translations.
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