2016 was a dramatic year, for many around the world, and for the jews, it was a year of contradictions. While the number of antisemitic incidents especially violent ones has decreased worldwide, in 2016 the enemies of Jewish people have found new avenues to express their antisemitism, with significant increase of hate on-line, and against less-protected targets like cemeteries. This means that in fact the motivation has not declined, and the sense of security felt by many Jewish communities remains fragile.
We see from the statistics collected by the Kantor Center a decrease in the number of antisemitic incidents especially violent attacks mostly in countries with large Jewish population. In 2016, incidents and antisemitic violence fell by 15-16%. A significant fall was noted in France where the government outlined a 61% decrease in all forms of antisemitism in 2016.
These positive results, however, are counterbalanced by a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents in English-speaking countries which have historically been more welcoming for Jews. The UK saw an increase of 11% during 2016. In Australia, the rate of increase was 10%. However, most significantly, there was an alarming rise of 45% in antisemitic incidents the United States university campuses where Jewish students are facing hate and intolerance.
We also see an increase in cases of verbal and virtual antisemitism online and on social networks. We note that from our research that recent immigrants to Europe have not led to an increase in antisemitic acts even by those coming from countries in which anti-Jewish propaganda is heavily present.
However, the focus of issues of immigration in several European countries that has strenghthened the far-right and neo-Nazis which led to a more violent behavior towards all minorities including Jews. Targeting Jews is no longer the sole domain of the far-right. The far-left are now using the same messages, tactics, and agenda.
Indeed, some that described themselves as liberal and positive are in league with the most regressive movements, ideologies, and regimes. Some of these coalitions make antisemitism part of their political message. Radicals from all sides remove taboos,and antisemitism becomes trivial, routine, and normal.
And, when we complain, extremists on the right and left tell Jews that we are weaponizing anti-semitism. This is a new form of a very old antisemitism. Jews are aggressors while anti-semites are victims. The uncertainly and polarizing trends felt around us during the past year force us to be vigilant, and call for action.
On the one hand, the global community has never been so interconnected, but at the same time, long-hidden nationalist identities are re-emerging from the early 2000s. There has been a rise of political movements which seek a return of power to the nation state and away from the post-World War II international institutions like NATO and the European Union. These movements fueled by the global recession of the 2008 and rising poverty infuse right-wing nationalism, racism, and anti-semitism.
We, as citizens of the developed world believed that every new generation would live better than previous ones, that children would live better than parents. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t work anymore. The middle class, the pillar of social stability, is also deteriorating. As a result, nearly one in four EU citizens is threatened with poverty.
So, it is not surprising that even well-to-do European societies are dominated by fear rather than values, fear of poverty, fear of migrants, fear for their lives in the face of terrorist attacks.
Another closely related trend I want to highlight is the evolution of globalization which had triggered a rise of neo-Nationalism and isolationism. Brexit is the first sign in the West. “Make America great again” is the second one. One can easily detect similar slogans in the words ofAbe, Modi, Erdogan and other leaders.
It is quite understandable, growing confrontation between leaders and between societies trigger national radicalization and then even militarization. The elections taking place in 2017 in France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Iran, South Korea, and other conutries could continue this trend. In this changing world, Jewish communities are presented with unique and unprecedented challenges.
In general, the post-1989 world has been almost ideal for all Jews, and not only in the Western world. Rights to freedom of expression and movement, and a period of unparralelled peace. However, the prosperous and flourishing Jewish street of that time doesn’t exist anymore. In many parts of the world of the XXI century, the terror threat and violent anti-semitism forces us Jews to isolate ourselves and even to flee from some European countries.
Yet, among the reasons in the decrease in the number of violent anti-semitic incidents is the visibility of improved security measures to protect the European population as well as Jewish areas and institutions. We welcome decisions by governments to devote additional funding to Jewish communities for their special security needs. A positive example of this is UK where the government allocated significant funds for such needs.
It is also important to know that there have been a number of successes in 2016. In May 2016, the International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance, an organization encompassing 31 nations unanimously adopted a working definition of anti-semitism. European Jewish communities were heavily involved in convincing their respective governments to support the adoption of this initiative. Indeed, our dear colleague, the head of Tel Aviv University Kantor Center, Professor Dina Porat was involved in the deliberation of the wording of the new definition.
The movement that seeks to delegitimize the Jewish state and only the Jewish state known as the BDS movement has suffered several defeats in Europe and around the world. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party declared it anti-semitic. In Spain, half of the almost fifty municipalities that supported BDS have reversed their decisions, and in the US 14 states passed a law against BDS. In Italy and the UK, universities cancelled Israel apartheid weeks, and financing for BDS activities was cancelled or blocked in Switzerland, France and Germany.
We have seen improvements in actions by large companies such as Google, Twitter, Youtube, Microsoft and Facebook to regulate and limit hate speech on social networks. Importantly, a number of major world leaders in collaboration with the European Jewish Congress including the Pope, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and the new United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterrez have made clear statements calling for eradication of anti-semitism.
Nevertheless, hate against Jews is not really dropping. It has just moved on-line where enforcement techniques are still less developed, and it is used against less protected targets. Hate speech against Jews and Israel remains high, and I would like to end by quoting the English philosopher John Gray who underlined the following contradiction in the words that are still accurate today: Intellectual and scientific values accumulate in the world meaning that they pass on from generation to generation unlike ethical values that unfortunately do not have such cumulative effect. That is why, a generation should learn these values on its own, and if it does not, there is a possibility of a new catastrophe. This is true for the explosive nature of anti-semitism. Everybody knows that the Shoah happened, but new generations are ethically uneducated.