Anti-Semitism Forum Comes at Critical Time for Jews

By Sharon Nazarian | Senior Vice President for International Affairs
  • March 18, 2018

The 6th Global Forum on Combating Anti-Semitism, convening this week in Jerusalem, could not come at a more critical moment for the global Jewish community. The conference, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, brings leading international experts, including representatives from ADL, to participate in panel discussions and conversations on the current state of global anti-Semitism.

This year’s gathering is particularly significant in light of the recent surge in anti-Semitism in the U.S. and elsewhere. Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League released its annual anti-Semitism audit for 2017, which showed a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 from 2016.

This is the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s. The list of incidents included 1,015 incidents of harassment, including 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, 952 incidents of vandalism and 19 cases of physical assaults.

Overseas, the Jewish communities in Great Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands have all recently reported an uptick in violent anti-Semitic incidents targeting their communities as well.

Added to this worrisome trend is the perception the surge in anti-Semitism is being ignored at the highest levels of the U.S. government. We are still waiting for the State Department to appoint a special envoy on anti-Semitism, despite being mandated to do so by Congress.

And it doesn’t help matters when the president repeatedly fails to condemn anti-Semitism and uses terms such as “globalist” – a term accepted in alt-right circles as an anti-Semitic slur – to describe Jewish members of his administration.

Related to this more broadly is the rise of populism and nationalism – both in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

In Austria, the once-maligned Freedom Party, whose founding members were involved in the Nazi party, is now a major government coalition partner.

The recent Italian elections saw the populist parties 5 Star and Lega win a combined 50-plus percent of the vote.

In Germany, the stalwart liberal democracy of Europe, the xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AFD) party won 12 percent of the vote in last year’s elections, making it the third largest party in the German parliament.

And in Poland, the parliament recently passed legislation criminalizing certain forms of Holocaust speech under the guise of protecting Poland’s “national honor.”

While the rise of far-right populist movements, especially those tinged with anti-Semitism, should be of concern to all Jews, some have unfortunately argued in support of engagement with these parties due to their “pro-Israel” views.

This approach is a dangerous one. It is foolish to downplay or ignore the xenophobic and racist views of those movements simply because these groups express support for Israel. Many have their roots in anti-Semitism and Nazism, while others are Islamophobic and promote anti-immigrant policies. Being “pro-Israel” is no excuse for bigotry and intolerance, and we must not succumb to embracing these movements at the expense of compromising our moral compass.

Conversely, we must also be careful not to ignore anti-Semitism when it comes from the far left or minority communities. Whether it’s Louis Farrakhan, elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, intolerance and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, expressed under the guise of liberalism, anti-racism or socialism must be equally condemned.

And of course we must forcefully reject any form of anti-Semitism emanating from dark corners of the Muslim world, including from senior Iranian government officials, textbooks used in Saudi schools and Hamas’s repeated calls for Israel’s violent destruction.

Anti-Semitism has no political monopoly; it is equally concerning coming from the right, as it is from the left, as it is from the Muslim world.

The millennia-old hatred of Jews has seen many resurgences throughout history, often during periods when intolerance of others is presented as acceptable. Anti-Semitism does not live in a vacuum. For that reason, any effort to combat anti-Semitism must be coupled with a broad rejection of racism and bigotry of all kinds. When one kind of hatred is permitted, others will soon follow.

If we are sincere about addressing global anti-Semitism, we must not shy away from criticizing political movements on the far-right that engage in xenophobia and racism, much as we do with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel movements on the far-left. The Global Forum provides an opportunity to do just that.