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Antisemitism “must be combatted immediately and forcefully”

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The military campaign between Israel and Hamas in the summer of May 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant spike in antisemitism over the past year.

So said Dr Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs, during a webinar about antisemitism ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January.

“The spike followed a period of three years in which we witnessed a certain decline,” said Shai. “Suddenly, antisemitism is back, alive and kicking. The rise in antisemitism is disturbing. It calls for action. It cannot remain the same.

“The way antisemitism has taken a new form from COVID-19 is also disturbing. It seems like a lot of antisemitic groups and individuals were waiting for another chance to inject antisemitism into the public discourse.”

Shai said his ministry’s monitoring of several social-media networks had shown that at least 3.5 million antisemitic messages were posted by more than 400 000 users in the past year.

The webinar revealed that Holocaust-related language and words like “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing”, and “genocidal policies” were often used by antisemites when they referred to Israel.

“When you use words like ‘apartheid’, and when you use tactics like BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement], which inspired the notion of apartheid in Israel, you legitimise a certain violent worming against Israel,” said Carol Nuriel, the director of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Israel. “It’s totally unacceptable. We see it a lot on social media. This is why we have to educate [users of] social-media platforms to understand the very hidden antisemitism.”

Dani Dayan, the chairperson of Yad Vashem, said, “Antisemitism must be combatted forcefully, decisively, and immediately because we know what the world didn’t know in the 1930s. Antisemitism can acquire monstrous dimensions. If it happened once, it can happen again. The responsibility of leaders and journalists, if I may say, is to control this immediately.”

The main antisemitic lie, according to new research cited by Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, is that the Jew is a great danger to humanity. “It was said in the 30s again and again,” he said. “People have been brainwashed with this kind of thinking.”

Arun Gandhi, one of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandsons, published an article claiming that Jews have created a culture of violence. “He doesn’t even distinguish between Israel and Jews as the biggest players, and that culture is eventually going to destroy humanity,” said Yemini.

Yemini gave an example of an article written by a Jew in a very prestigious magazine, the London Review of Books, in 2002.

“A paragraph claims that gas chambers aren’t the only way to destroy a nation,” said Yemini. “It’s enough to develop high rates of infant mortality, meaning that’s what we in Israel are doing to the Palestinians – we’re using infant mortality to commit genocide against the Palestinians. In reality, just to set things straight, the infant mortality of Palestinians decreased dramatically from 1967 up to now, which means the writer published a blood libel. Can I define him as antisemite? He is Israeli, he is a Jew.”

The ADL notes that people still hold antisemitic attitudes in many places around the world, and there has been an increase in the intensity and severity of antisemitic incidents.

“We are seeing more targeting of synagogues, but also more targeting of other houses of worship, churches, and mosques all over the world,” said Nuriel. “It shows us that extremists chose their targets carefully and know religious institutions are vulnerable.

“There’s also an increase in the danger antisemitism poses to Jewish communities and individuals. It started 15 years ago with Ilan Halimi [being murdered] in Paris, then the Toulouse massacre, and then Brussels. It leaked to the United States. We had the Charlie Hebdo [shooting]. In the United States, it really took us by surprise because we were all raised on the notion that it was the safest place for Jews worldwide.”

Nuriel said we need to be aware of the potential danger of antisemitism online. “We also have to push the platform to take responsibility to monitor and remove antisemitic content.”

She said media coverage should be balanced and impartial when covering incidents. “It’s okay to be critical of Israel. Make sure not to cross the line to the total delegitimisation of the state of Israel. You can definitely be critical of policies. That’s totally fine.

“It’s important not to create an impression that Jews are too sensitive to antisemitism. It’s also important not to perpetuate stereotypes about the communities you cover, whether they are Jews or non-Jews.”

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