Annual Kantor Center Press Conference on Antisemitism Worldwide in 2020

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The Kantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide 2020

The significant rise in extremism and the widespread increase in antisemitic conspiracy over the last year could have profound effects on Jewish communities in a post-Pandemic world, Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, said at the release of the Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide 2020, by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University.

“2020 was a year of social disorder, and deep global polarization. The pandemic has created the social conditions where antisemitism, racism and extremism thrive.” Dr. Kantor said.

“In the past year, conspiracy theories have spread about Jews, the Jewish people or the state of Israel, as being behind the pandemic, or profiting from it,” he added. “The constant focus on the role of Jews behind global events shows that antisemitism, as the center of conspiracy theories, has not gone away.”

While fewer physical attacks took place, because of lockdowns and severe restrictions, far more hate against Jews was spread online where accusing Jews and Israel for the Coronavirus was easily spread, resulting in the expansion of extremist groups.

Dr. Kantor also expressed concern at the effect on people, and particular the younger generation, of the spread of online hate.

“Young people have been forced to stay indoors during an important part of their formative years, while being exposed at 24/7 to online antisemitism, manipulation and disinformation. Dr. Kantor said.

“We must do more to engage with young people through the tools that they themselves use as primary sources of information on social media and in the digital world,” he added.

According to the report, in most countries a decrease was observed in violent incidents, attacks on both people and property and threats and arson, but the number of attacks against Jewish sites and communal property increased.

  • The number of violent antisemitic incidents decreased by 18.6%, from 456 incidents in 2019 to 371 in 2020, due to lockdowns.
  • In addition, the number of physical injuries decreased by 37.1%, from 170 in 2019 to 107 in 2020, and damage to private property was also reduced by 35.4%, 130 to 84 incidents, simply because people mostly stayed at home.
  • However, a rise of 24.7% was observed in desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and vandalizing of Holocaust memorials and other Jewish monuments – from 77 to 96 incidents in 2020, because these sites are open and unprotected.
  • The number of vandalized synagogues also increased, by 18.9%, from 53 to 63. Most recently, the synagogue of Norrköping, Sweden, was desecrated by Neo-Nazis, on the first night of Passover.

A rise was registered in Ukraine, and a decline in Australia, the UK and especially in France and Canada.

Worrying trends continued in Germany and the USA. In Germany, a rise was recorded in the total number of incidents, with the opposition to vaccines generating comparisons to the Holocaust, and continued desecration of Jewish memorials and cemeteries.

In the US, antisemitic activities on the internet intensified, conspiracy theories have become more rampant and boosted the activities of white supremacists and QAnon.

The pandemic, and measures taken to stem its spread, live restrictions and the vaccines, have led to inappropriate comparisons with Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

“The use of Holocaust imagery surrounding the Coronavirus has become rampant,” Dr. Kantor said. “Lockdowns are being compared to ghettos and concentration camps; vaccines are being described as wicked medical experiments, and people who refuse these life-saving vaccines are claiming to be persecuted and are wearing yellow stars.”

Dr. Kantor also spoke about the greater attention online hate was receiving, including action taken by some of the social media companies and governments to stem the flow of hate.

The good news is thanks to greater oversight and action by the major social media companies, and stronger national legislation against online hate, the number of antisemitic incidents on the main platforms has decreased,” Dr. Kantor said.

“However, while these responses are welcome and necessary, they will not stop online hatred by themselves. As the report shows, hate will simply move further underground to other platforms.”

The report also shows that in the US a gradual rise in violent incidents has been observed for several years, reaching 119 this year, and Germany also saw a significant escalation, of 24% in the total number of criminal offences motivated by antisemitism, reaching 2,275 (compared to 1,839 in 2019) – the highest number recorded since 2001 – including 59 violent incidents. In both countries, vandalism accounted for most of the incidents.

Most incidents occurred in countries with large Jewish communities: the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, France and Germany. In all other countries, with the exception of Ukraine, less than 10 incidents (per country) occurred in 2020.

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Lockdown with Keyboards:

Antisemitism Worldwide 2020 – the Corona Year

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting reality dictated both the nature and extent of antisemitism in 2020, which was an unusually tense and turbulent year all over the world. Prejudice, superstition, primordial emotions, and bizarre theories surfaced and dominated the scene, and manifestations of antisemitism, both verbal and visual, were vicious and outrageous.

  • Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or ‘Judeovirus’), was the main motif in this year’s antisemitic manifestations. This notion is rooted in a deep fear of the Jew/Israeli as a spreader of disease in both the past and present. Iran contributed to the accusation’s dissemination.
  • Lockdowns reduced encounters between Jews and their ill-wishers, diminishing the number of violent incidents from 456 to 371 – a number typical for 2016-2018. Moreover, no one was murdered this year for being Jewish, although any physical attack might end in a severe or fatal outcome. In most countries a decrease was observed in violent incidents, attacks on both people and property, threats and arson, but the level of vandalism against Jewish property and institutions remained unchanged.

A rise was registered in Ukraine, and a decline in Australia, the UK and especially in France and Canada. Worrying trends continued in Germany and the USA: in Germany a rise was recorded in the total number of incidents, with the opposition to vaccines generating comparisons to the Holocaust, and continued  desecration of Jewish memorials and cemeteries; in the US antisemitic activities on the internet have intensified, and focal events like the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, the emergence of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Antifa movements as well as the Presidential elections have engendered conspiracy theories and boosted the activities of white supremacists and QAnon.

  • Vaccine opponents, both in Israel and abroad, compare the pandemic to the period of the Holocaust, and themselves to the persecuted Jews. This notion peaked with a comparison of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to Josef Mengele.
  • The lockdown enhanced all types of online activity, impacting the extent of antisemitism: the restrictions imposed on large networking services like Twitter and Facebook, and the commitments they took upon themselves – to erase expressions of hatred, racism and antisemitism, started to reduce the number of antisemitic manifestations on the web. At the same time, both antisemitic and anti-Zionist expressions became fiercer and more accusative, as a result of the pandemic’s spread and its dire economic consequences.
  • Extremist groups, especially on the far right, such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, left the open social networks, moving their operations to the clandestine darknet – which is free of any restrictions or supervision. In the darknet, which grew substantially over the past year, they run their own websites, that are very hard to track. Ultimately, the decline that was observed in antisemitic manifestations in the open networks, was accompanied by a rise in antisemitic activities on the darknet.

Another new phenomenon to emerge during the pandemic was zoom-bombing: as zoom became a most common and effective channel of communication, extremist individuals and small groups seized the opportunity and began to break into zoom conferences of synagogues, Jewish community centers and university students, disrupting the meetings and posting their own hate messages instead. The number of such disruptions is hard to quantify.

  • The economic crisis resulting from the pandemic significantly lessened the ability of the BDS to inflict financial damage on Israel and Jewish institutions. Instead, BDS has focused its efforts on Lawfare – warfare in the legal arena, as well as support for the Palestinian struggle against the Abraham Accords and Arab-Israeli cultural collaboration.

The trend of accusing Jews and Israelis for spreading Covid-19 waned somewhat in the summer, but was rekindled in the fall, with the advent of the vaccines. In-between, several other important events occurred, like the killing of George Floyd, the emergence of BLM, and the European Court of Justice’s permitting countries to ban kosher slaughtering, reinforcing antisemitic expressions and attacks.

Several important achievements in the battle against antisemitism should be noted, such as the appointment of more special envoys in various countries and institutions, a growing willingness to adopt the Working Definition of Antisemitism, allocation of funds for ensuring the security of Jewish communities, and increased restrictions on the social media. The Kantor Center is currently mapping the adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism worldwide, alongside the heated debate that surrounds it.