The year 2011 saw a worldwide continuation, and even escalation, of some forms of anti-Semitism, in particular acts of harassment of Jews (including verbal threats, insults and abusive language and behavior) and the dissemination of anti-Semitic messages, occasionally as part of extreme anti-Zionist and anti-Israel incitement. While the level of violent incidents (with or without the use of weapons, vandalism and direct threats) decreased, albeit not uniformly, in countries with larger Jewish communities, such as the UK, France and Canada, in others, e.g. Australia, Belgium, Lithuania and Belarus, it remained almost the same or even increased.
In recent years acts of harassment have increased dramatically in various parts of the world. The most troubling phenomenon is in-your-face harassment, a daily occurrence especially in western Europe and mainly against visible Jews (wearing traditional dress or a skullcaps, or carrying other identifying signs such as the Star of David), in the street, in public places and frequently near synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Many of the victims are children and youth studying in Jewish schools.
It should also be noted that while in some countries such as France, the UK and Canada, reporting and monitoring systems have improved considerably, in many other countries such systems do not even exist and many incidents of harassment remain unreported, so that their actual number might be much higher.
In several countries with relatively large Jewish populations, in particular, France, Britain and Canada, there was a decline, although not a uniform one, in the level of major violent incidents compared to 2010. The fall in these three countries, where 63 percent of all major violent incidents were registered (the UK, 105; France, 114 and Canada, 68), had a considerable impact on the overall statistics of major violent incidents worldwide, which decreased in 2011 by 27 per cent compared to 2010 (446 and 614, respectively).
One noticeable factor that might explain the decline in the level of major violent incidents was the absence of specific trigger events in 2011, notably confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, such as the Marmara flotilla events in 2010 and especially Operation Cast Lead in 2009, which could have sparked extremist action against Jews.
Other possible explanations are the fact that much extreme right violent activity was directed against Muslims, Roma and other migrant minorities; the ‘Arab Spring’ which appeared to attract a considerable amount of attention among Muslim youth in Europe; and a growing number of Jewish communities and individuals that successfully sued perpetrators and inciters to anti-Semitism and filed complaints either directly with the police or through monitoring agencies. In addition, governmental agencies and NGOs have intensified their significant efforts to promote legislation, both national and international, as well as educational and public tools, in order to counter xenophobia and racism, anti-Semitism included.
Despite the fall in major violent incidents, it should be noted that statistical data over recent years shows that physical violence remained at a considerably high level. Moreover, Jews in 2011 were victims of some extremely violent incidents, including a murder in Switzerland. In New York an attempt to perpetrate a terror attack against synagogue was aborted. In France violent incidents were much more severe than in 2010 and led in some cases to the hospitalization of the victims. In Eastern Europe and the Baltic States there was a continuation and even escalation (Lithuania) in desecration of Jewish sites, especially memorial sites, stemming from extreme right activity, antisemitic incitement and the debate over Holocaust reparations to Jewish communities .
Perpetrators of violent antisemitic incidents and acts of harassment can be categorized roughly into two ethnic and ideological groups: young Islamists, mostly from immigrant families, and racists from the extreme right. They are not necessarily members of any specific organization, although they frequently identify with the ideology and goals of one radical movement or another and are influenced by antisemitic messages and by the extreme anti-Israel environment, to which the radical left as well as some individuals associated with the mainstream discourse contribute considerably.
Cyberspace, with its websites, social networks, forums and blogs, has become the major conveyer of bigotry and racism in general, and anti-Semitism in particular. Anti-Semitic incitement and hatred toward Jews, Zionism and Israel have in many cases become interrelated issues. As in the past, in 2011, too, one of the most conspicuous motifs was the allegation of global Jewish power, which was allegedly behind every world event and unconditionally at the service of Israel, as well as conspiracies between the latter and the Jewish world.
An additional motive, noticeable in 2011 particularly among eastern European anti-Semites, but also in other parts of the globe was that Jews allegedly control the world economy, and hence are responsible for the global economic crisis. Such messages were common to various and even conflicting ideological trends: the extreme right, Islamist groups and the anti-Zionist radical left. At the same time they were sometimes integrated indirectly and subtly into speeches and publications of those associated with the mainstream.
The demonization of Israel in extreme anti-Israel propaganda, delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist as a state for the Jewish people, its labeling as a racist entity and attempts to boycott Israeli institutions and organizations are all characterized by Jewish organizations and communities as antisemitic manifestations, and are defined as such in the EU working definition of antisemitism adopted in 2005.
Consequently, there has been a rise in confrontations between Jewish activists and groups and individuals of the radical left, including the Jewish radical left, who reject the link between anti-Zionism or extreme anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. The focal points of radicalization in this regard are the university or college campus, principally in North America and Western Europe and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign directed against associations, firms and businesses associated in one way or another with Israel. The BDS campaign is perceived by many Jewish leaders and activists, regardless of their ideological affiliation, as an attempt, particularly by the radical left, to turn the delegitimization of Israel into a legitimate campaign, as part of the mainstream discourse, and to label supporters of Israel accomplices of an evil entity.
In Europe, in general, there has been a noticeable rise in the strength and activity of the far right, resulting from the economic crisis, the immigration issue, majority-minority relations, and the question of multiculturalism. Extreme right and neo-Nazi groups were involved in serious hate crimes against immigrants, foreign workers and ethnic minorities.
While extreme right-wing parties in eastern Europe such as Jobbik (the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament), and Svoboda (which at the end of 2010 had great success in municipal elections in central cities in western Ukraine), openly incite to anti-Semitism, leaders of other extreme-right parties in western Europe distance themselves from antisemitism and even declare their support for Israel. However, Jewish communities dissociate themselves from the racist discourse of these parties and point to the dangers inherent in it and its opposition to liberal ideas.
Developments in the Arab world during the ‘Arab Spring’ held no signs of positive change or moderation of anti-Zionist incitement. Moreover, the anti-Semitic discourse appears to have become even more radical. The most conspicuous motif, replicated in all states by both supporters and opponents of the uprisings, was accusing Israel, Zionism and the Jews of conspiring against Arabs and Muslims and inflaming domestic and inter-ethnic tensions. Nevertheless, a number of courageous voices among journalists and young Egyptians, Jordanians and others condemned antisemitic phenomena, the incitement in mosques and the attitude of the new forces on the political scene – especially uncompromising Muslim circles and parties – toward minorities, including the Jews.