Carrie Hart
Carrie Hart
News Analyst

Is Israel losing the war on global antisemitism?

Pro-Israel rally in Kosovo. Photo by Radio Evropa e Lire. Used with permission.
Pro-Israel rally in Kosovo. Photo by Radio Evropa e Lire. Used with permission.

From May 10-20, 2021, during Israel’s 11-day “mini-war” with Hamas, there were 256 recorded anti-Semitic incidents worldwide. It was a 50% increase compared to what was recorded just one week before. In April and May 2021, global antisemitism skyrocketed to a 465% increase overall. At least 41-42% of the new incidents came from Islamists.

According to Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact, “What happened in those 11 days was just a peak of what was cooking for a pretty long time. People would claim that this is not against the Jewish communities, but against Israel. Obviously, it was purely anti-Semitic actions.”

Singer, who is also a Senior Advisor to the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said that in the U.K., Palestinian activists went so far as publicly calling for the sexual assault on Jewish women. Britain, alone, witnessed a 600% rise in anti-Semitic events during those 11 days. “It moved from the politically driven groups, both from the left and from the right, to Islamic groups. I think it is very worrying, keeping in mind the growing Islamic communities, mostly in Europe, but also in other places.”

One of those countries who recently experienced a large increase in antisemitism was Chile, which has a Jewish community of about 18-20,000 Jews. Singer said antisemitism in Chile came as a surprise to many people. “This is the largest Palestinian community outside of the Middle East. There are about 300,000 Palestinians. The situation is that almost all of them are ‘Christians’, and nobody expected they would go extreme.”

But, they did go extreme, supporting anti-Israel activities, and even developing closer relations with Hamas. According to Singer, in future years, this is going to be a major challenge in Chile. Relations between the Palestinian/Lebanese communities living there — and the Jewish community — has always been very good, over many years. “Yet, what is happening now is not positive and I think that the Jewish community, Israel, and the people who care about the future of Chile, should look into this issue more closely… It’s a new situation of incitement that needs to be handled in a very delicate way, by the government, and by the leaders of the communities.”

On Thursday, July 29, 2021, the Center for Jewish Impact and CAM are hosting a Central American Forum for Israel on the Internet. Together with the Israel-Guatemala Friendship League and the Congress of Guatemala, they will bring together top leaders to reject Jew-hatred and unite in support of Israel. Jewish communities in Latin America facing antisemitism will be encouraged to attend.

Ruth Cohen-Dar is Director of the Department for Combating Antisemitism and Holocaust Commemoration at Israel’s Foreign Ministry (MFA).  She says that during the Covid crisis in 2020, and in the beginning of 2021, antisemitism was on the rise. By the time the 11 days of the conflict began in Israel, acts of antisemitism had risen dramatically. “The phenomena that we saw, the scope and the danger that it posed, was to Jews as individuals on the one hand, but also to communities and institutions. We saw desecration of synagogues; we saw desecration of the Holocaust monuments in Berlin and in other cities in Europe. We saw targeting of Jews. They could not walk the streets with elements that showed their Judaism.”

The state of Israel was caught off-guard by another phenomena…. far-left extremists partnering with Islamists, who have very different ideologies. But, when it comes to despising Jews and Israel, they work well together.

Singer says, that Israel is seeing these trends, and it’s a losing battle. “I think that we, as the state of Israel, and we as the Jewish communities, still don’t take it too seriously, in the way it should be taken. We need to invest much more effort in a more coordinated way.”

The rise in global hate groups, using the Internet and social media as a springboard to highlight their efforts, has been effective in the fight for public opinion. They target young activists who often become extremists, sometimes overnight.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Oryan, Director of the Balkan Department at the MFA, explains that social media has created a situation where every person has the opportunity to share their opinions. “But, the moment you have that, you also have people who show no restraint, and do not understand that what they write has certain deeper meanings.  In the case of war in Israel, and every time we have any kind of incident in our region, there is fiery rhetoric.”

Oryan acknowledges that personal attachment can drive someone to go beyond opinion. “People who have no clue about the region get so emotional about the Middle East.”

Traditional media is now only a part of the equation. In this recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, there was a lot of action on social networks, especially Tik Tok, which had a great impact. In some instances there were photographs posted on social or traditional media that had inaccurate information, which was later corrected, but the damage had already been done to Israel’s image. When there is any loss of life among the Palestinians, Israel is blamed, even if it is Hamas that killed its own people. “It’s taking something out of the bigger context,” Oryan says. “This is, no doubt, one of the biggest problems.”

Fake news, especially when it comes to showing photos of dead Gazan civilians, is misinformation that Hamas will use against the Jewish State. “Even if it is from their own rockets and a child dies, sadly for Hamas it is good propaganda.”

Oryan talks about this asymmetrical war of disinformation. “It is very hard to win it, if at all possible. In every region and every country that I know, there are some people that if you give them the right incentives they will use some anti-Semitic language. You have those who are against Israel and against the Jews, as a religion. For the radical Muslims, the covenant of Hamas is calling for killing Jews wherever they are.”

As the Islamists continue to join forces with leftists, the battle intensifies. Oryan states that all they really have as a common goal is hatred towards the Jewish People and Israel “They don’t agree about anything. There is no reason for them to sit together. Unfortunately, we are the reason.”

Cohen-Dar says that the MFA is putting greater effort into strategies to combat antisemitism, especially in the communications arena. “The call to kill the Jews starts on social media, but people are taking those calls to the streets. They are organizing convoys of hooligans. And, they go out on the streets looking for Jews to beat. Definitely, social media has become a serious negative component of this equation. A lot of that hate, a lot of that poisonous content is generated on the Internet. From the known big platforms that everybody uses, to the smaller and less monitored platforms, it is a problem.”

Israeli diplomats are continuing to dialogue with social media companies. They flag content, and constantly talk to such groups as Facebook about the seriousness of the phenomena and the need to take action. There are some positive developments with Facebook, but not with Twitter or other social media platforms. Part of the problem is that Twitter sees it as a business where they could lose revenue if they push extremists off their platform.

Germany recently published a study showing that in the last year there was an 800% increase in anti-Semitic tweets on Twitter. “Israel and the Jewish People, although we are a Start-up nation, and very high tech oriented, we are losing the war on social media,” Singer admits. “And, we are the kind of people that are educated in this area, so we are pretty worried. We have to do more.”

During the recent 11 day conflict, a group called Fighting On-line Antisemitism (FOA) reported that on the Internet there were 50,000 tweets negative towards Israel. Israel’s fight with Hamas in Gaza was posted in tweets on Twitter every hour.  There were only 2,000 pro-Israel tweets. Generally, tweets and labels with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli content, received an average of 70 million views per hour. This was compared to only 2.5 million views with pro-Israel content.

According to Singer, “One way to deal with the issue is to put the proper legislation in place in countries where it is possible. Another way is to expose what is happening, and then to demand, and to go public, and put the pressure on these companies.”

A significant region of the world is the Balkans, which became an unexpected place of anti-Semitic Islamic demonstrations recently, much to the surprise of Israeli diplomats.

A protest was organized in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, during the time of the 11 days of the Israeli conflict with Hamas. According to A.I., an eye witness in that street demonstration, there were anti-Semitic calls and slogans.

A.I. explained to this writer that various deputies and civil society activists, who took part in that protest, were legitimizing the terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel.

One of the protestors was an MP of the Kosovo political party, “Lëvizja Vetëvendosje.” The party leader was seen holding anti-Semitic signs.

On May 21, the day after the Israeli-Hamas conflict, A.I. organized a pro-Israel march, conveying a message of peace, and supporting the legitimate right of Israel to defend itself from terrorist attacks. As a result, A.I. is now receiving threatening messages on social media, ranging from texts with anti-Semitic content, to death threats by Islamic radicals.

In the midst of this, A.I. has boldly declared, “I will do everything possible so that in my country, Kosovo, there is no antisemitism, because the Kosovar people, in addition to their friendship with Israel, are also strongly connected by history…. I am proud that Kosovo is one of the few countries in the world that has established its embassy in Jerusalem. This best proves that Kosovo remains loyal to the friendship with the state of Israel.”

Israel only recently established full diplomatic ties with Kosovo, which was a major achievement, since most of the Kosovo population is Muslim. Once boasting a community of 3,000 Jews in Kosovo’s history, the Jewish community today only represents 80 Jewish families.

While there are those who would say that it’s more important to focus on anti-Semitic acts being carried out in larger Jewish communities, this incident and several others in the Balkans, is of concern to Israeli leaders. In some cases, certain demonstrations in the Balkans were indicating efforts by Turkey to use money to influence and import Islamic ideas, and to support Hamas.

Another country that recently reported outbreaks of antisemitism is North Macedonia. After nationalistic comments were made by the first female Jewish lawmaker in the government, she received death threats to herself and her daughter. This was followed by greater anti-Semitic backlash later on, and some politicians in that country were involved in demonstrations.

While countries like Albania have a known history of giving refuge to the Jewish People during WWII, even there, the Turks are building thousands of mosques, in an effort to spread radical Islamic ideology to the Albanians. So far, the Albanian government has spearheaded efforts by Israel and global Jewish communities to combat antisemitism. They hosted the first Balkan Forum on Combating Antisemitism, October 2020, and were the first Muslim-majority country to do so.

Overall, the governments of the Balkans are showing support for Israel, calling Hamas a terrorist organization, and acknowledging the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition on antisemitism. But, while most Balkan government leaders are supporting Israel, what’s happening on the streets of these nations is a different story. Israel will have to do more to explain its narrative and win the war of words on social media platforms.

For many years, Oryan, who is also the Israeli Ambassador to North Macedonia, did not think there was antisemitism in that nation. “Two years ago, if you would ask me if there is antisemitism in North Macedonia, I would tell you, ‘maybe there is, I haven’t see any public reflections.’ But, what happened this time was on a wide scale. Hundreds came out with comments which certainly had an anti-Semitic vibe. It is a red light that we should be aware of and see how to tackle it.”

Wherever there are extreme Islamists, Oryan acknowledges that Israel now realizes there will be anti-Semitic actions that follow.  Other countries may have helped fund these actions happening in North Macedonia, which was previously overlooked by Israel.

“We thought it would be on the fringe of society. But, this time, we saw evidence that we had not seen before. In a country that lost 7,144 Jews during the Holocaust, we saw comments, recently, like, ‘we wish that Hitler had done things better.’ Comments which you cannot believe are coming out of North Macedonia!”

North Macedonia has a Holocaust museum, and both the government and opposition members are very supportive. Politicians came out against the Hamas rockets. They said Israel has the right to defend itself, just like the Europeans did. But, Oryan clarifies, “When you go from the government to the people, there were things we should have looked at that we didn’t see before. I don’t remember such comments since I am ambassador there during the last seven years.”

This current backlash of antisemitism is causing the Israeli government to be more attentive. The problem is the slow reaction of other governments. According to Oryan, when there are hundreds of anti-Semitic/anti-Israel comments in the media, leaders are more careful. Rather than condemning the actions, politicians will hold back and analyze the situation. They will consider that if so many people think like this, why should they say something against it?

Therefore, Israel understands the slow pace of how these leaders react to the events. But, it is not acceptable when such governments have diplomatic relations with Israel.

In the case of North Macedonia, the government took action, made declarations, and joined the statements condemning the anti-Semitic acts. However, Oryan admits, “The reaction that we expected would come from the government quickly, took a longer time.”

Oryan suspects that it was because of the many comments in the media that were negative towards the Jews and Israel. This can become a threat to a sitting government in power. Sometimes, the mayors of local cities will publish negative photos or comments, and it will take pressure from Israel to get political leaders to address this, and get the offending materials removed.

The general public, especially the Muslims in the Balkans, see a partial, one-sided picture because of traditional media bias. They watch the Al Jazeera Balkan broadcasts, and see journalists reporting their own opinion of what is happening in Israel. According to Oryan, “What you get at the end of the day is a very complicated picture.”

During the recent conflict in Israel, Oryan spoke on six broadcasts in North Macedonia and Kosovo, clarifying Israel’s position, but he is not sure that it had the expected impact on the activists in the region.

There is a sense in Israel that there is a new “tribal antisemitism” developing, with alliances forming among various activists of foreign governments, who give funds to clans inside nations to stir things up. Whoever are the popular clans, they will, in the end, win the public discourse. Hundreds join them because of the “tribal” connections, resulting in hundreds more negative actions soaring against Israel and global Jewish communities.

As for the Balkan countries, Israel’s embassies will look at actions of local mayors, and listen more attentively to comments made by imams in the mosques. Israel will find more ways to reach locals with a strategic plan in place. Oryan says that one of the answers is developing a network. “You need a net that will get the information to the young and the elderly people that will be relevant to them, and speak to them in their own local language.”

Meanwhile, Singer is encouraging officials in Israel to create a vehicle, which is not political, and that is not belonging to any one particular Jewish group. It needs to expose the increased dangers of antisemitism. Singer is also trying to bring many non-Jews to the table, to join the Jewish People in what they are facing. “The way I see it, the problem of antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem. It starts with the Jews, and never ends up with the Jews. The sense is to educate the diplomatic community to know what is really happening on the ground. Diplomats are dealing with bilateral relations in Israel and their own countries, but they have very little knowledge or information about antisemitism. So, in this specific context I think we have to focus on the decision-makers, the governments, and the diplomatic service. In order to deal with this you really need friends.”

There are three future “wars” that Israel and the Jewish People will need to win. First, is Israel’s military war. Next, is the war to protect the Jewish People worldwide, as still more than half do not live in Israel. Third, is the war for public opinion. According to Singer, “Whoever is taking decisions has to deal with all three wars. Israel as a country cannot do it alone. It has to be in partnership with other countries. It has to be done in close communication with Jewish communities worldwide.”

Singer thinks that there should be a coordinated effort dealt with by the National Security Council in Israel. Bringing it to an independent professional body, the final decisions should be at the level of the prime minister. Only then will Israel be able to tackle the problems of antisemitism, worldwide.

Combating antisemitism will continue to be one of the greatest future challenges Israel and Jewish communities face, especially on the battleground of global public opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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