Israel’s 2015 report on anti-Semitism paints dismal picture
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Israel’s 2015 report on anti-Semitism paints dismal picture

A surge in Islamic extremism, blurring borders between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and the European far-right cited as main causes for rise in Jew-hatred

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Illustrative: screenshot from the documentary 'Crossing the Line 2,' which depicts rising anti-Semitic activity on North American campuses. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: screenshot from the documentary 'Crossing the Line 2,' which depicts rising anti-Semitic activity on North American campuses. (Courtesy)

The world is an awful place and everybody hates the Jews.

That, at least, would be a fair assumption to make after reading a report put out by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry this week on international anti-Semitism. Painting a pretty bleak picture, the 26-page compendium of incidents and trends appears to strive for an almost “real-time” look at what occurred the world over in 2015.

But bleak or not, “the picture is the picture,” said its author, Yogev Karasenty, the ministry’s director for combating anti-Semitism, in a conversation with The Times of Israel.

Karasenty said the findings are based on dozens of reports from agencies such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Tel Aviv-based Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism, and Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

The report pinpoints three overriding trends — a surge in radical Islam, a blurring of borders between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and the European extremist political right — as the main causes for a rise in anti-Semitic incidents this year.

Yogev Karasenty, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry's Director for Combating Anti-Semitism (courtesy)
Yogev Karasenty, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s Director for Combating Anti-Semitism (courtesy)

January 2015 opened with the high-profile terror attacks at the kosher Paris Hypercacher market. After widespread denouncement of anti-Semitism in France by its governing officials, just weeks later, in neighboring Copenhagen, a synagogue was the target of a terrorist shooting.

Those attacks, and “nearly 100 percent of violent attacks against Jews” in Western Europe, were conducted by radicalized Muslim European-born citizens, said Karasenty.

The report devotes several pages to the European intersection of radical Islam and Jewish communities.

“It is important to say these are not the newcomers — not the immigrants and refugees. These are Muslim European citizens attacking Jewish European citizens,” said Karasenty, noting that such terrorists are products of the European education system.

“We are definitely worried about the immigrants that came from countries with prejudices about Israel and the Jews,” Karasenty clarified. “This is a source of worry, but for now their concern is their daily survival. What happens in the future — that’s a different story.”

Carole Nuriel, the acting director of ADL Israel, told The Times of Israel that she cannot comment directly on the conclusions of the Diaspora Ministry’s report, but that according to a 2014 ADL survey of 102 countries, 55% of Muslims in Western Europe hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

“We know that anti-Semitism among Muslims in Europe is at a higher rate than among the general population,” Nuriel said, noting that there is as yet no solid data regarding the new migrants and refugees flooding its shores.

Carole Nuriel, the Acting Director of ADL Israel (courtesy)
Carole Nuriel, acting director of ADL Israel (courtesy)

As far as what the future holds, she said, “I cannot tell you, I’m not a prophet. We understand that there’s fear among European Jews about being identified as Jews… We know the future is not that promising and hope the measures taken by European governments will help.”

She held up the government of France as a good example of what measures countries should aim for.

“I really feel the French authorities understand the importance of the French Jewish communities. The success of the French Republic is the success of the French Jewish communities,” she said.

Nuriel endorsed a multi-level approach in combating anti-Semitism, including anti-bias education, legislation and law enforcement, public awareness — along with condemnations such as those made by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and President Francois Hollande — and the addressing of online anti-Semitism. She said she felt France had been implementing those approaches.

Karasenty, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry official, also applauded the sincerity of the French government, but cautioned that “it is impossible to protect every single Jew.” The French must push for tolerance education in line with the republic’s values, he said. “They have neglected the Muslim community for many years. Even [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel says there needs to be an intensive action in educating Germany’s longtime immigrants,” he said.

And although 2015 saw an unprecedented 8,000 French Jews immigrating to Israel, Karasenty said the community as a whole feels the solidarity of other French citizens. He cited the the #jesuisjuif movement following the Hypercacher and Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the recent wave of French who said that if Jews were to remove their kippas, that would be comparable to giving in to terror.

Governor Bruce Rauner signs landmark anti-BDS legislation for the state of Illinois on July 23, 2015. (Bob Kusel)
Governor Bruce Rauner signs landmark anti-BDS legislation for the state of Illinois on July 23, 2015. (Bob Kusel)

The report also included several optimistic efforts conducted in cooperation with governments and institutions, especially in proactive protections against petitions brought by the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement.

Controversy still surrounds the basic definition of anti-Semitism, however. The ministry’s definition, as well as that of most Diaspora Jewish organizations, includes criticism of Israel that they say crosses a line into racist rhetoric.

“Today we’re understanding more and more that anti-Israelism is a refuge for the wicked, for those who are using Israel as an excuse for their anti-Semitism,” said Karasenty.

‘Today we’re understanding more and more that anti-Israelism is a refuge for the wicked, for those who are using Israel as an excuse for their anti-Semitism’

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We see anti-Semitism directed against individual Jews, and we also see this hatred directed against the collective Jew, against the Jewish state… The obsession with the Jews — the fixation on the Jewish state — defies any other rational explanation.”

The ADL’s Nuriel emphasized, however, that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

“I want to make it clear that criticism of Israel and its government is legitimate — unless it wears the guise of anti-Semitism. The moment the critic’s attitude is anti-Semitic, there is a problem,” said Nuriel.

It seems, perhaps, a case for subjective evaluation.

“It is a fine line and there’s this kind of gray area between both of them
when there’s not a classical anti-Semitic statement… That’s something that we discuss a lot in our organization, about what’s anti-Semitic and what’s not,” said Nuriel.

But with the advent of rampant access to the Internet and social media, statements are becoming increasingly toxic.

A pro-Palestinian protester displays a burning Israeli flag during a demonstration at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, Saturday, July 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Benjamin Girette)
A pro-Palestinian protester displays a burning Israeli flag during a demonstration at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, Saturday, July 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Benjamin Girette)

Citing the Palestinian Authority as an example, where according to the 2014 ADL report some 93% hold anti-Semitic views, there has been an evolution from classical anti-Semitic tropes to “more sophisticated” anti-Israelism, she said.

“We know that social networks have an important role in disseminating anti-Semitism. And in a world in which everything can become viral, in order for people to listen to you, you have to amplify your message,” said Nuriel.

‘In a world in which everything can become viral, in order for people to listen to you, you have to amplify your message’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also the diaspora affairs minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, wrote in the prologue to the report: “As the representatives of the State of Israel, the center of the Jewish People, we cannot allow and accept this reality, and we must not allow the countries of the world to accept a situation in which their Jews are under attack and must lower their Jewish profile.”

And so, Karasenty said, the Diaspora Ministry is working on a cross-ministry action plan, which will include among its initiatives tools that track global anti-Semitic incidents for purposes of fact-finding and diplomatic leverage.

“The trends are alarming,” he said, “and something needs to be done.”

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