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Why anti-Semitism does not die: how hatred of Jews adapts and acquires new myths

'16.05.2024'

ForumDaily New York

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The sound of air raid sirens is a harbinger of death when the sky falls like fire on people. It’s scary, you can’t control it in any way, all you can do is hide and pray. Living through even one such day is terrible, but Israelis live like this for decades. And it doesn’t matter in which country: there are places where Jews do not hear the sounds of sirens, but hatred and anti-Semitism pursue them everywhere. They build families, raise children, work and constantly think that this day could be their last, since there are those who hate Jews just because they were born.

What's wrong with us?! How can anti-Semitism - hatred of a group of people simply for existing - exist in a society that fights for the rights of unborn children and defends the interests of pets? Worse, after the horrors of the Holocaust and our promises of “never again,” anti-Semitism has not disappeared—it is growing and taking on new forms.

“If you think that anti-Semitism is a problem of a certain ethnic group, then you are mistaken. This is a diagnosis of society as a whole: bias against one group of people is a danger to all,” said New York Bar Association President Susan J. Kohlmann at debate from the “Sounds of Sirens” series, which took place on May 9 at the city Bar Association. These are annual meetings that discuss ways to combat racism and anti-Semitism in New York and the world. In 2024, the topic concerned new forms of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism did not begin with the Nazis and did not go away with them. Today we face hatred on an unacceptable scale, online and in real life,” Kohlmann continued.

Photo: Olesya Vishnevskaya

The following took part in the discussion:

  • Ambassador Jonathan Miller - Deputy Permanent Representative of the Israeli Mission to the UN. He drew attention to the fact that the international community often reacts to the suffering and blood of Jews with silence, but at the same time rushes to stop Israel when it begins to defend itself and its people.
  • Scott Richman is the director of the Anti-Defamation League's New York and New Jersey regional office.
  • Angel of Angels – Consul General of Bulgaria in New York.
  • Yifat Barak-Cheney - Director of International Affairs and Human Rights at the World Jewish Congress.
  • Stephen Goldberg - Director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center.
  • Dan Carson Member of the New York Bar, author of a report on the history and rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
  • Mark A. Meyer - Chairman of the International Affairs Council of the New York City Bar Association.
  • Trevor Norwitz – Representative of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, LLP, The Times of Israel.
  • Deborah Rosenbloom – Member of the International Union of Jewish Women.
  • Asya Shindelman - UN speaker and Holocaust survivor.
  • Sami Steigmann - motivational speaker from Israel, representative of the Educational Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Human Rights, who survived the Holocaust.

The moderator of the discussion was Sofia Murashkovsky Romma, Doctor of Literature, Member of the United Nations from the New York Bar Association (NYCBA), Member of the NYCBA Committee on European Affairs, Member of the New York Bar Association, Member of the US Bar Association.

Frightening statistics

In 2013, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded 751 acts of anti-Semitism in the United States; in 2023, 10 years later, their was 8 873. After the Hamas attack on Israel, there was a spike in anti-Semitism around the world. Schools and universities have become the epicenters of hatred of Jews, where the number of anti-Semitic attacks has increased several times.

From October 7 (the day of the Hamas attack) to December 7, 2023, the number of anti-Semitic acts increased by a level greater than in any other 2 months in the entire existence of the ADL (since 1979).

Map of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2023. Infographic: Anti-Defamation League

“I have been head of the ADL regional office for three and a half years, and during that time I have seen the level of anti-Semitism increase dramatically. When I started this job in 2020, the biggest shock for me was responding to anti-Semitic incidents. First of all, I didn't realize until now how many anti-Semitic attacks happen every day that people don't know about and have never heard of. Secondly, I did not know that organizations like ADL responded to these incidents... Since October 7 (2023), our employees have responded to more than 4 thousand incidents. And this is just our office. These are volumes we have never seen before. These are volumes that no ADL office has ever seen. Every day, every hour, almost every minute, we hear about a new incident that needs to be responded to,” said Scott Richman, director of the ADL's New York and New Jersey office.

According to him, the ADL has been tracking anti-Semitism in New York since 1979, at which time its level was low and stable. But since 2013, everything has changed - the number of acts of anti-Semitism has increased significantly.

Why anti-Semitism doesn't die

Anti-Semitism appeared long before the Nazis and still exists today. This terrible phenomenon has an incredibly adaptive nature - anti-Semites always find new reasons for hatred of Jews and manage to fit them into current events and the mood of many communities.

It's not about religion

What we call anti-Semitism today has its historical roots in anti-Jewish thought that grew out of early Christianity. The Gospels describe Jews as complicit in the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. For over a thousand years, Jews in Christian Europe were subjected to systematic, institutionalized oppression. Historical anti-Semitism took the form of discrimination, expulsion and massacres.

The problem with being tied to religion is that anti-Semitism today is no longer rooted in Christianity. Although hatred of Jews can still be found among Christians (in the United States and around the world), most modern Christian believers are not anti-Semites. The old theological condemnation of the Jews for killing Christ has been rejected by almost all Christian denominations.

Anti-Semitism among Muslims also does not primarily reflect classic Islamic grievances leveled against Jews, such as accusations that Jews (and Christians) have distorted the Holy Scriptures, resulting in discrepancies between the Bible and the Koran. Many modern Muslims are not anti-Semites. So religion, even if it was the instigator of anti-Semitism, has nothing to do with it now.

On the subject: Vandals vandalize and vandalize Jewish businesses in New York

Race and capital are a fiction of anti-Semites

Anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries preserved the old belief that Jews were unique because they were once God's chosen people and were then punished for rejecting Christ. But he transformed the prejudices according to the problems of the society of that time. Concerned with economic and social upheaval, anti-Semites portrayed Jews as both capitalists and communists. Further, ignoring logic and common sense, anti-Semites argued that Jews, in concert, created a confrontation between the USA and the USSR and secretly control the world. Even the obvious facts - many Jews were poor and oppressed, and not holders of millions and power - did not stop the flight of fancy of the haters.

Fascinated by the pseudoscience of race that flourished after Darwin, anti-Semites declared that Jews were racially inferior. Ultimately, both Nazism and Marxism, in different ways, viewed Jews as enemies deserving of liquidation.

Today, racial pseudoscience is shrouded in shame and the struggle between capitalism and communism is a thing of the past, but old rumors about Jewish power still resonate with certain audiences, especially those on the far right. However, the most pernicious modern anti-Semitic myth originated on the left.

New myths: still unfounded, but still popular

And right now, before our eyes, anti-Semitism is transforming again instead of disappearing as a shameful manifestation of the mistakes of the past.

The core of this new anti-Semitism is based on the idea that Jews are not a historically oppressed people seeking self-preservation, but oppressors: imperialists, colonialists, and even white supremacists. This view retains remnants of the idea that Jews have enormous power, but is updated and adapted to reflect modern circumstances and current societal concerns about racial equality and atonement for blacks.

To emphasize the image of Jews as oppressors, the new anti-Semitism must somehow bypass not only two millennia of Jewish oppression, but also the Holocaust—the largest organized, institutionalized murder of any ethnic group in human history. Right-wing anti-Semites either deny the Holocaust or claim that its scale is exaggerated. The left claims that Jews are weaponizing the Holocaust to legitimize the “genocide of Palestinians.”

Photo: Olesya Vishnevskaya

Yes, in the war between Israel and Hamas, Palestinian civilians are also killed, with whom the terrorists hide. But this does not turn Israel into a perpetrator of genocide comparable to the Nazis. The concept of genocide is all about intent, and Israel is not waging the war in Gaza with the intent to destroy the Palestinian people. The stated goals of the war are to hold Hamas accountable for the October 7, 2023 attack on Israel and to return Israelis still held captive by the terrorists. These goals are legitimate in themselves, and Israel's approach is consistent with international law on warfare. There is no single, definitive answer in international law to the extent to which collateral damage (destruction of civilian infrastructure and civilian deaths) makes a strike disproportionate to its specific military purpose. Israel's approach is reminiscent of the campaigns waged by the United States and its partners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new view of Jews as oppressors (like older forms of anti-Semitism) is not about Jews and their actions, but about the cruel and stupid human desire to assign a scapegoat - to place the burden of responsibility for our social ills on someone else. This is unfair, real people suffer and even die from this. We are in the 21st century, we will soon fly to conquer Mars, it’s time for us to learn to distinguish myths and fiction from real life, especially when the fate and well-being of millions of people is at stake.

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