Sharon Nazarian
Sharon Nazarian
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Assaults, chants, vitriol: Antisemitism has reached global crisis level

The ADL is finding a harrowing spike in speech and acts targeting Jews as Jews. Governments and civil society must act now
People attend a rally held in solidarity with Jews in the United States and across the world following a wave of antisemite attacks on Jews and in parallel to the rally held in New York, on January 5, 2020, in central Jerusalem. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90
People attend a rally held in solidarity with Jews in the United States and across the world following a wave of antisemite attacks on Jews and in parallel to the rally held in New York, on January 5, 2020, in central Jerusalem. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Today, Jews around the world are confronting direct threats to their security, even more so now as a result of the recent violence in the Middle East. This spike of violence, incitement, and harassment is happening both on and offline. Governments and civil society must act now.  For even if this surge in incidents may decrease some over time, the hate, lies, and fear will still remain, setting the stage for deeper potential problems in future years.

The data of antisemitic incidents over the past few weeks that we have collected fit into three main categories: violence, vandalism, and vitriol, all with the potential result of terrorizing Jewish individuals and communities.  Fear of this sort harms national pluralism and the rule of law, but it also may deter Jewish individuals from publicly expressing their Jewish identity — by going to synagogue, wearing religious attire, or identify openly and safely as Jews. And sadly, we also know from international survey data that the vast majority of antisemitic incidents are never even reported.

To be clear, we are not talking about publicly expressed criticism of Israeli actions and policies that are a part of legitimate civil discourse and free expression in a democratic society.  Rather, the incidents we have documented through the month of May show a direct targeting of Jews and Jewish institutions under the guise of, or motivated by, anger at Israel.  That’s not activism.  That’s antisemitism.

First and foremost of course are the acts of violence. For example, ADL’s British counterpart, the Community Security Trust, reported 13 physical assaults in the span of just two-and-a-half recent weeks. And that’s not even counting many other direct threats of such violence, such as when a car caravan drove through a Jewish neighborhood with somebody shouting over a loudspeaker “F*** the Jews” and “rape their daughters.”

Sometimes these assaults target Jews at pro-Israel rallies or who have Israeli flags, such as in the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, or Canada.  For example, this occurred in Montreal, where a pro-Israel demonstrator was hit in the head with a rock.

But in this tense period, Jews are also being targeted simply because they are Jews. In London, a rabbi was beaten so severely outside his synagogue by men yelling antisemitic slurs that he had to go to the hospital. In Frankfurt, protesters left a pro-Palestinian rally and marched toward a synagogue before police stopped them. In Edmonton, Canada, men came to a homeowner’s door, asking “do any Jews live here?” The head of Germany’s Jewish student union has received multiple death threats.

Second, there has been a spike in vandalism targeting Jewish communal sites, including but not limited to synagogues and even cemeteries. On the same day as anti-Israel rallies in Argentina, vandals spray-painted Jewish community buildings with the words “we are going to kill you, Jewish rats” and “be a patriot, kill a Jew.” Numerous other cases have taken place in Chile, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among others. A Jewish news site in Turkey was even hacked and replaced temporarily with terrorist propaganda.

Third, we are also tracking a spike in antisemitic vitriol, including more generalized threats as well as anti-Jewish hate speech, both on and offline.

For example, one particularly disturbing chant that we have documented at some anti-Israel rallies proclaims in Arabic “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Mohammed will return.”  This chant recalls a series of seventh-century battles that ended in the subjugation, expulsion, and slaughter of Arabia’s historic Jewish communities. This chant has nothing to do with the State of Israel, but it has everything to do with hatred and violence against Jews. We have documented this chant in recent weeks at protests in Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Turkey, the UK, and Yemen.

Other hate speech we documented at rallies include calling Jews “shitty,” claiming they poison wells, that they bear collective guilt for killing Jesus, and are perpetrating a second Holocaust.  Also, our partner organizations abroad tell us they are seeing a huge surge of online antisemitism linked to the conflict, in their own languages, on a range of platforms, and often targeting youth.

Most of these incidents have been directed at Jewish communities in the Diaspora but often in ways that make hateful references to Zionists and the State of Israel. And we must also recognize that the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered and exacerbated in part by antisemitism.

On May 7th, the day the crisis broke out in full, Iran’s leader gave a horrific speech calling the Jews of Israel “devils” and “the evilest and most filthy of people.” That same day, one of Hamas’s top leaders gave a televised speech urging Arabs in Jerusalem to buy knives so they could “cut off the heads of the Jews,” whom he said corrupt humanity as part of their nature.  While the recent conflagration was also sparked by a complex array of grievances and provocations, to suggest that antisemitism played no part in the crisis would simply be wrong.

There is much that responsible leaders can do to address this global crisis, including an array of policy recommendations that are listed in a new report on Europe from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that my team here at ADL helped research and write.  Going forward, our recommendations include engaging with law enforcement, educators, faith leaders, multilateral institutions, and tech companies to do a better job inoculating society against anti-Jewish hate, as well as responding to incidents when they occur.

But first comes recognizing that we are facing a real and growing problem of anti-Jewish hate – one that has nothing to do with the recent Mideast violence, particular Israeli policies, or political trends in any one country or region of the world. Now it is up to all of us to highlight the problem, to mobilize in our communities, and to call on leaders everywhere to stand up against hate.

About the Author
Sharon Nazarian is Senior Vice President, International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League
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