'Jewish racism is as deplorable as other forms of racism'

Ben Gvir, ADL trade barbs over ‘Jewish racism’ section in latest antisemitism report

Published annually ahead of Holocaust day, document’s foreword features implicit comparison between far-right national security minister and European fascists

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir takes part in a march to the Evyatar outpost, near the West Bank city of Nablus, during the Passover holiday, on April 10, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir takes part in a march to the Evyatar outpost, near the West Bank city of Nablus, during the Passover holiday, on April 10, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

A report on antisemitism coauthored by the Anti-Defamation League and Tel Aviv University has triggered an acrimonious exchange of allegations between the ADL and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The minister, a right-wing extremist, accused the ADL of politicizing the fight against antisemitism and the Holocaust after the ADL implicitly compared Ben Gvir to European fascists in the new report.

Ben Gvir’s advisor told The Times of Israel that the ADL was abusing the “sacrosanct” memory of the Holocaust and the fight against antisemitism for partisan score-settling.

The Antisemitism Worldwide Report for 2022 provides an overview of antisemitic trends last year. It is the first time that the ADL, a New York-based anti-racism watchdog that focuses on antisemitism in the United States and internationally, has cooperated in writing the annual report with Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

Published Monday ahead of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, the report documented a sharp rise in 2022 in the number of antisemitic incidents in the United States and other Western countries, alongside a decline in several other countries, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. It also found that Haredi Jews are the main victims of antisemitic assaults in the West.

The exchange of allegations around the report is occurring amid a dramatic rift between left and right-leaning Jews in Israel and beyond over key issues relating to the future of the Jewish state, including its judiciary’s independence. The acrimony underlines the narrowing of common ground even on issues that have been widely seen as transcending politics, such as the fight against antisemitism and the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Unusually, the report’s foreword features a thinly veiled comparison between Ben Gvir, leader of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, and European “fascists.”

“This year saw the former disciples of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who introduced Nazi-like legislation to the Knesset, enter government,” reads the report.

MK Meir Kahane, center with beard, votes in the Knesset in Jerusalem, August 13, 1984. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)

“In an earlier report, we wrote that Israeli governments were always reserved in their engagements with European parties with fascist roots and that Israeli political parties with similar roots cannot be expected to be treated differently by other governments. Since then, members of the Jewish Strength party have polluted Israeli public discourse with chilling racist expressions that would have led to the immediate termination of their political careers in other democracies.

“The obvious must be stated: Racism is racism, and Jewish racism is as deplorable as other forms of racism, and should never be excused or tolerated,” reads the report.

Ben Gvir, who heads Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Strength, is an admirer of the late Kahane, who had advocated transferring Israel’s Arabs out of the country, although Ben Gvir has said in recent years he no longer supports doing so. A former activist in Kahane’s Kach movement — which was outlawed for terrorism in Israel and the United States — Ben Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for holding a sign at a protest reading “Expel the Arab enemy.” Ben Gvir has since declared he seeks to expel “only” those Arab Israeli citizens he deems “disloyal.”

Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks at a press conference announcing the Jewish Security Alliance at the ADL’s investigative research lab. Behind him is Scott Richman, the regional director of ADL’s New York-New Jersey Office, CSS CEO Evan Bernstein and CSI Executive Director Mitch Silber. (Jacob Henry via JTA)

Yishai Fleisher, an advisor of Ben Gvir, responded to the ADL’s criticism of Ben Gvir by saying that under CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, an ex-staffer of former United States president Barack Obama, the ADL “has for a long time now used its remaining influence to attack Jewish nationalism — which means attacking the Israeli voter — instead of fighting the real enemy of the Jewish people and Israel which is the Progressive-Jihad axis.”

“There are things that should be kept out of the political fray — the Israel Defense Forces is one and the Shoah is another,” Fleisher added, using the Hebrew-language word for the Holocaust. “The latter is sacrosanct and should not be used cynically to sow hate and divide Jews against one another.”

The ADL did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the claims made by Ben Gvir’s office.

Abdulla Almasmari, otherwise known as YouTuber Dulla Mulla, left, interviewing Orthodox men in Brooklyn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a video deemed antisemitic. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The 2022 report did not offer a statistical breakdown of victims of antisemitic hate crimes according to their religious affiliation and observance level, but it contained anecdotal evidence that Haredi Jews and others who are identifiably Jewish are likelier to be targeted.

Haredi Jews are the main victims of physical attacks on Jews outside Israel not only because they are easily identifiable as Jews, but also because they are perceived as vulnerable and unlikely to fight back, the report said.

The report featured data published last month by the ADL, which in 2022 had recorded 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the United States, the highest-ever tally since the ADL began collecting incident data in 1979. The previous year was also a record year with 2,717 incidents.

The spreading of what the ADL termed “antisemitic propaganda by white supremacists” in the United States almost tripled in 2022 compared to 2021, reaching a total of 852 incidents.

Members of the European Union of Jewish Students stand outside the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, as they announce a lawsuit against Twitter over antisemitism on the platform, January 25, 2023. (Courtesy EUJS via JTA)

The report also noted the decrease in antisemitic hate crimes in Germany from 3,028 such incidents in 2021 to 2,649 last year. In France, 436 incidents were documented compared to 589 in 2021.

“To more effectively fight antisemitic physical attacks, governments and law enforcement agencies must ensure that even so-called minor racially-motivated incidents, such as throwing eggs or spitting at Jews, will carry severe consequences,” wrote the 2022 report’s authors.

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