Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that denial of Israel’s right to exist is the “ultimate” form of anti-Semitism.
Asked in an interview with the CNN to react to a poll from the network indicating over 20 percent of Europeans believe Jews have “too much influence” across the world, Netanyahu accused the extreme left and radical Islam of perpetuating the world’s oldest hatred, while refraining from criticizing right-wing leaders accused of using anti-Semitic tropes.
“I’m concerned because I think anti-Semitism is an ancient disease that rears its ugly head. It first attacks the Jews, but it never stops with them. It then sweeps entire societies,” he said.
Despite this concern, Netanyahu commended “most of the European countries’ governments” for working to combat anti-Semitism, specifically naming German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Netanyahu focused much of his criticism of European anti-Semitism from what he dubbed “new anti-Semitism,” which he differentiated from the “old anti-Semitism in Europe that came from the extreme right.”
“There’s also new anti-Semitism that comes from the extreme left and also the radical Islamic pockets in Europe that spew forth these slanders and lies about Israel, the only democracy in this entire region, the only one that has the courts, human rights, rights for all religions, gays, everything, I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” he said.
Asked about Hungary and Poland, whose right-wing leaders have been accused of employing anti-Semitic imagery, Netanyahu said he did not believe the two countries’ governments were doing so and said the real problem is calls for Israel’s destruction.
“I don’t think they do and I think that ultimately the real issue is can we tolerate the idea that people say that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, which I think is the ultimate anti-Semitic statement,” he said.
“Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli policies, the idea that the Jewish people don’t have the right to a state, that’s the ultimate anti-Semitism of today,” Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu’s focus on denial of Israel’s right to exist was notable in comparison to other reactions to the CNN survey, which focused on the historical persistence of anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest diseases – racism being another such disease – for which there is no vaccine,” Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said in statement. “This disease must be fought before it spreads, and becomes a pandemic. History teaches that if anti-Semitism isn’t dealt with at an early stage, it will threaten people’s lives, as we saw in Pittsburgh.”
“The teaching of the most horrific mass murder in history — the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe during the Second World War — must be taught as part of any curriculum in schools throughout Europe. Especially its lessons and conclusions.”
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center, said in statement it was “troubled by the lack of Holocaust awareness and the state of anti-Semitism in Europe” revealed in the CNN survey.
“The survey highlights the troubling fact that many entrenched hateful anti-Semitic tropes persist in European civilization, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem said in a statement. “While anti-Semitism does not necessarily lead to genocide, anti-Semitism was central to the Nazis’ worldview and the basis for their ‘Final Solution’ to eradicate all Jews and their culture from the face of the earth.”
Yad Vashem said the survey shows the need to “intensify broad-based efforts in the area of Holocaust education and awareness, which is essential to any effort to contend with anti-Semitism.”
Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told CNN that “there will always be people who have anti-Semitic feelings and I don’t know if the number has grown, but this new situation today is they feel that it’s more acceptable socially that they can express these opinions out loud.
“The feeling beforehand was, ‘This is what I believe but don’t tell anyone,’” he added. “It was not perfect but at least there was a social taboo against anti-Semitism.”
Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also minister for Diaspora Affairs, struck a similar note to Netanyahu.
“We have always known that for many, being anti-Israel is a natural extension of their anti-Semitic beliefs. This has an impact both on their attitudes to history and to the present,” he said.