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Overview – The report on Antisemitism during 2015

The Kantor Center, Tel Aviv University


Executive Summary:

The feeling with which the year 2015 ended was one of fear and concern, among Jews and non-Jews alike, especially in Europe. Waves of immigrants shook the continent, and terror took a terrible toll in human lives and brought up heavy questions and doubts regarding the possibility of democracies to defend themselves and their citizens. The Jewish communities and Jews as individuals feel threatened by the influx of Moslems on the one hand, and the increase in the right wing parties electoral power as a result, on the other. On the one hand, recent developments brought down the number of violent anti-Semitic cases perpetrated against Jews and Jewish installations, and on the other the nature of the violent cases turned more cruel, and the growing  variety of verbal and visual anti-Semitic expressions turned more brutal and insulting. An attempt to explain these seemingly contradicting tendencies is called for.

The number of violent antisemitic incidents worldwide decreased quite dramatically during 2015, especially after the first months of the year, in comparison to 2014:  The Kantor Center team monitored 410 violent cases during 2015, compared to 766 in 2014, a decrease of around 46%.

This is the lowest number in the recent decade, yet it should be taken in consideration that 2014 was a very difficult year, especially due to the Protective Edge operation during the summer, that the number of violent cases in 2015 is more or less equal to that of 2011, and that compared to 2013 the decrease in 2015 is about 26%.

The decrease is most notable in the Modus Operandi in all its varieties, especially the use of weapons and arson, and in the use of weaponless cases, threats and vandalism as well. Regarding targets, the most notable decrease is in cases perpetrated against synagogues, private property and persons, as well as against schools and community centers, and the highest numbers of incidents were registered against cemeteries and memorials.

It should be noted that these numbers are the result of the specific monitoring and analysis system developed by the Kantor Center team that has been working together on these issues for more than twenty years, based on the variety of reports that reach us from the world at large. The specific criteria (anti-Semitic motivation, and no exaggeration or diminishing the severity of the situation) are the basic reason for the differences that might occur between these numbers and those released by other monitoring communities and institutes.

The Reasons for the Decrease in Violent Cases:

Three main reasons for the aforementioned decrease might be the following ones: First, the increase in special security measures taken since the January 2015 events in Paris (in the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper casher supermarket 17 were killed) and the February attack on the great synagogue of Copenhagen (the Danish-Israeli guard killed). These measures were intensified following the bloody events in Paris in November, in which 138 people were murdered and hundreds were wounded, in a number of coordinated attacks.  Both army and police were enlisted, in France and Belgium (especially after the finding the links to the Paris events and certainly after the January 2016 attacks in Brussels), as well as in Germany and other countries. Jewish and non-Jewish installations and institutions are being better and closer safeguarded, and intelligence agencies escalated their level of surveillance and of across  the border and international coordination. Hence the steady decrease in violent cases along the year, parallel to the increase in security, and hence the lower use of weapons  and arson, and the higher numbers of attacks on cemeteries and memorials, which are less protected than communal and private property.

Second, the wave of more than a million immigrants flowing into Europe (mainly Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan), has attracted the attention of the extreme right, on the ground and in the social nets, all along 2015. The main concern of right-wingers is the demographic/social/cultural threat this wave constitutes, as they view the situation, to their respective countries. The fear among the local societies of such consequences is the source of the growing power of the right wing parties, and their achievements in electoral campaigns.

Moreover, the Muslim population that has already immigrated to Europe in former years plus the veteran Muslim communities, numbers, with their families, between 40 to 52 million (estimations vary) by now, feels under attack since the 2015 wave started: local societies pinpoint the newcomers and the former ones as a combined potential source of terror, certainly those trained by ISIS and sent back to Europe, and as a constant potential threat for the future. The result is that attention has been diverted from the Jewish communities to the Muslim-Christian relations. In a few cases, Christians have attacked Muslims, and violated cemeteries and even mosques.

An ISIS publication has recently explained why Jews and Israel are not their immediate target, at least for the time being: Because the Protocols of the Elders of Zion have no basis in reality, the Jews do not control the world and whoever believes they do is an fool. In addition, the Jews are no more heathens and infidels than any other infidels, Shiites included, and the main target should be the Arab regimes that defend Israel, not the Jews in Israel. Hence, the Hamas and Hezbollah are wrong – the Palestinian issue is not the major problem of the Muslim world. Finally, Israel and Jews are, according to ISIS, a religious problem, therefore, according to their reading of the laws of Islam, attacking them is a deed against religion. Overall, it is the West and its values and way of life that is the main target.

Third, the growing  fear in Europe of the terror that originates in Muslim radical circles already residing in Europe and the one imported by ISIS has opened the door for identifying with, or at least expressing sympathy for the Jewish communities and to Israel, and for a different analysis of the violence Jews and Israelis have undergone in recent decades. As a result, the possibility of closer ties and alliances with Jews and Christians, facing together the Muslim threat, has been recently raised, in a number of manners: Leaders and major politicians emphasized the role of the Jews in European culture and history,  expressed solidarity – France without Jews is not France, said prime minister Valls – and advocated the need to take proper measures to defend them and the public order.

Pope Francis published on December 10, 2015, a surprisingly long pro-Jewish  statement, in which he advocated cooperation, sensitivity and mutual understanding between Jews and Catholics: A Christian cannot be an anti-Semite, he said. And the Polish Church followed by labeling Antisemitism a sin. Even some of the right wing parties, such as the French and the Austrian ones, try to shy away from Antisemitism and to attract Jews to their ranks and assure them of their positive stance towards Israel.

Antisemitic Atmosphere and Manifestations.

The aforementioned developments most probably contributed to the decrease in the number of violent cases perpetrated against Jews, yet violence and numbers as such are just one part of the picture: The number of cases indeed went down, but the cruel and severe nature of each case escalated. In former years murderous incidents were rare, while the attacks since January 2015 (and the Toulouse case before that) and a few cases of attacks on individuals, all took the lives of more Jews than had been known for decades. Moreover, the nature of the cases became more brutal, not only against Jews: the level of cruelty introduced by some Muslim extreme movements, and the religious fanaticism that accompanies some of the struggles worldwide, have soared.

Cruelty and brutality have a certain attractive power, and offer a certain taste of risk and of anti-establishment behavior, which is heavily fostered by the social nets: the nets are a virtual reality, and they are a tool, not a reason, yet they have become today’s reality, primarily for youngsters. The net’s discourse is turning more threatening, brutal and violent. Thus, the social nets aggravate an existing real situation, and make it more visible: Visibility is the name of game today.  There is no way the social nets could be fully and closely monitored, and due to anonymity Jewish organizations and communities have almost no legal measures to cope with the insults and stereotypes freely flowing in the cyberspace.

Jews are part of the general society, and share the recently increasing feelings of uncertainty, and the estimation that more terrorist attacks are a matter of time only, just around the corner. The intensive presence of army and police around Jewish installations defends them, but is at the same time a constant reminder that the threat is immanent. The influx of newcomers, mostly from countries with an antisemitic tradition, and with political and cultural anti-Israeli ideologies, adds to the re-consideration of Jewish life in the continent. The use of antisemitic language against Israel and the BDS movements that had turned to be a political anti-Israeli tool par excellence, challenging its very existence, put the Jews between the anvil and the hammer: Harassing Jews has become a tool in the struggle against Israel.

Thus, since the decrease in the violent cases does not compensate for the constant increase in anti-Semitic manifestations and atmosphere, Jews reconsider their future and their sense of belonging in their respective countries.   

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