May 27, 2022

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On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Tel Aviv University researchers maintain that the fight against antisemitism is almost a lost cause. In its Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide, TAU’s 

Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry said that antisemitism peaked globally in 2021l it’s time to admit — the struggle is failing.”


“Despite the extensive efforts and resources invested in combating antisemitism in recent years, the phenomenon is on the rise. More funds, more conferences and more laws won’t necessarily make the difference,” they continued. “We need unsparing examination of the efficacy of existing strategies.”


The team, headed by Prof. Uriya Shavit who heads the center, said: “Something just isn’t working. In recent years the fight identified a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents in almost all countries with large Jewish populations. In most countries, the increase was also substantial compared to 2019, before Covid-19 related restrictions were imposed.


Major causes of the rise in antisemitism in 2021 included the strengthening of the radical Right and Left in different countries and the boom in conspiracy theories generated by the COVID-19 crisis. When Israel defends itself, Jews across the world become the target of incitement and hate crimes. Specifically, the boom in conspiracy theories resulting from the pandemic as well as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in May 2021 generated “acute surges of antisemitism.”


Around the world, some anti-vaxxers accused the Jews of developing the vaccines in order to make a fortune. The vaccines’ success and Israel’s efficient vaccination campaign specifically, only served to reinforce these false accusations. 


Anti-vaxxers also introduced flawed comparisons between government-required vaccination and the situation of Jews in the Holocaust, leading to trivialization of the Holocaust, the report said. In one instance, a photo of Albert Bourla, the chief executive officer of vaccine developer Pfizer and the son of Auschwitz survivors, was published alongside that of infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele, to imply that both experimented on human beings.


Right at the outset of the pandemic in 2020, conspiracy theories began to sprout around the world, blaming the Jews and Israel for spreading the virus. These accusations were reminiscent of centuries-old blood libels, the authors wrote. 


The lockdowns, which glued people to their screens at home, contributed significantly to popularizing toxic antisemitic discourse on social networks. In 2021, when the lockdowns were gradually eased, antisemites returned to the streets, and physical violence against Jews increased. At the same time, activity on social media did not diminish, becoming a definer of identity for some participants. 


The 28th annual report, which covers events in 2021, is based on analysis of dozens of studies from around the globe, together with information from law enforcement authorities, the media and Jewish organizations in various countries. The disturbing findings indicate a sharp increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in many countries, even compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The authors report a dramatic rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia and other countries. They said the increase stems from the strengthening of both the radical Right and Left political movements in different countries and the vast reach of social networks for spreading lies and incitement. 


“Something just isn’t working,” bemoaned Shavit. “In recent years the fight against antisemitism enjoyed extensive resources worldwide, and yet, despite many important programs and initiatives, the number of antisemitic incidents, including violent assaults, is rapidly escalating. The easy thing is to say that more laws and more funding are required. But what we really need is a courageous and unsparing examination of the efficacy of existing strategies.”


“Russian war crimes [in the war with Ukraine], accompanied by the cynical distortion of the memory of the Holocaust, prove that some of those who declared their commitment to the fight against antisemitism, were not really serious about it, and had not truly learned the lessons of World War II,” Shavit continued. “The Jewish world must pull itself together and understand that the fight against antisemitism and the fight for liberal democratic values are one and the same.”


The center’s founder, Prof. Dina Porat, wrote an analysis of the reasons for the increase in antisemitic incidents, underlining the negative impact of social networks in amplifying antisemitism.  Exposure to conspiracy theories that thrive on the Internet increased during pandemic lockdowns, which kept people at home, glued to their screens,” said Porat. “These toxic ideas included claims that the COVID-19 virus had been engineered and spread by Israel and the Jews. Some of those poisoned by such theories for such a long period of time emerged from the lockdowns bitter and aggressive.” 


She also stressed Iran’s efforts to spread antisemitic propaganda through the social media and to fund specific channels, and the need to make these efforts known and denounced throughout.


The extensive, in-depth reviews by the authors reveal disturbing phenomena in a range of countries. Dr. Inna Shtakser discussed the rise of state-sponsored antisemitism under Belarus’ authoritarian leadership; Dr. Carl Yonker and Dr. Lev Topor described how antisemitic white supremacists are penetrating mainstream American conservatism; Dr. Ofir Winter analyzed voices in the Arab world that paint the Abraham Accords with unmistakably antisemitic colors; and lawyer Talia Naamat demonstrated the challenges for French courts to recognize Islamist antisemitism for what it is.    


Among the worrisome incidents in the US last year: The New York Police Department recorded 214 anti-Jewish hate crimes compared to 126 in 2020, and the Los Angeles Police Department recorded 79 such crimes compared to only 40 in 2020. A total of 251 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the US in only three weeks during the riots around the Israel-Hamas conflict in May. 


According to the annual survey of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), 2.6% of American Jews said they had been the victims of antisemitic physical attacks in the past five years. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a 27% increase from 2020 and a 113% increase from 2019 in incidents of white supremacist antisemitic propaganda. These data are particularly disturbing given that there was a slight decrease in the overall number of white supremacist propaganda distributions.


In France, the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive (SPJC), in cooperation with the French Ministry of Interior, recorded 589 antisemitic incidents in 2021 – a 74% increase from 2020 and a 14% decrease from 2019.


In Canada last May, B’nai Brith Canada reported 61 assaults against Jews –  a 40-year record since monitoring began in 1982 in antisemitic physical violence in one month. Altogether, 226 incidents were recorded during May – a 54% increase from the same period in 2020.


In the United Kingdom, the Community Service Trust (CST) recorded 2,255 antisemitic incidents in 2021, an increase of 34% from 2020 and 24% from 2019. A sharp rise of 78% compared to 2020 was recorded in physical assaults against Jews.


In Germany, the German police recorded 3,028 antisemitic incidents during 2021 – an increase of 29% from 2020, and 49% from 2019. Another worrying phenomenon registered in 2021 was that German anti-vaxxers likened their situation to that of the Jews in the Holocaust. The authors of the report argue that this has led to trivialization of the Holocaust.


There were 447 antisemitic incidents in Australia in 2021 – an increase of 35% from 2020 and 21.5% from 2019. The highest monthly total ever  — 88 incidents — was recorded in May.


Operation Guardian of the Walls (the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza), May 2021 led to a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents around the world. “The conflict exposed an unacceptable reality: when Israel defends itself, Jews across the world are attacked.” 


Social networks played a major role in this wave. This raises concerns regarding the utility of legislation and agreements reached with social media companies on banning antisemitic expressions from their platforms, according to the report. “The gravest concern is the ‘dark web’ that shelters extremists of all types and where antisemitic content is freely and openly spread. The report also notes that Iran invests substantial time and funding in spreading antisemitic propaganda online, focusing their campaigns mainly in the US and Latin America.