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'It's time to admit: The struggle is failing'

Tel Aviv U reports record-high global antisemitism, linked to COVID and Gaza

Echoing recent ADL study on antisemitism in US, investigators find worldwide increase in Jew-hatred over the past year

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Tombs tagged with swastikas are pictured in a Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, eastern France, December 3, 2019. (AP Photo)
Tombs tagged with swastikas are pictured in a Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, eastern France, December 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

A new Tel Aviv University study found a record-high number of reports of antisemitic activity throughout the world in 2021, much of it tied to the bloody conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip in May of that year and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The report found that the number of antisemitic attacks nearly doubled in the United Kingdom, from 97 assaults in 2020 to 173 last year; that the number rose in France by more than a third in 2021 compared to the year before, from 44 to 60; and that the total number of antisemitic incidents in Germany rose to its highest level in recent years, to 3,028 in 2021, compared to 2,351 in 2020 and 2,032 in 2019.

“The annual report on antisemitism worldwide for 2021, published on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, does not convey good news,” the study’s authors wrote.

The annual report, produced by the university’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, called for major introspection as decades of efforts to curb antisemitism following the Holocaust appear to have come up short.

“Something just isn’t working. In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has enjoyed extensive resources worldwide, and yet, despite many important programs and initiatives, the number of antisemitic incidents, including violent assaults, is rapidly escalating,” said Uriya Shavit, the head of the center.

The report’s authors were blunter still, writing in a statement: “It’s time to admit: The struggle is failing.”

The investigation, “Antisemitism Worldwide Report 2021,” echoed a report released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League, which looked specifically at antisemitism in the United States. That investigation too found the highest levels of reported antisemitic events since the organization started tracking the issue in the 1970s.

Neo-Nazi demonstrators with swastikas and ‘National Socialist Movement’ banners, stomping on an Israeli flag, in Orlando, Florida, on January 29, 2022. (screen capture: Twitter/Luke Denton)

The Tel Aviv University report looked at the largest Jewish communities around the world, outside of Israel, finding increases in antisemitic incidents in nearly all of them from 2020 and 2019, with the exception of Italy and Argentina, which saw a moderate decrease and no change, respectively. However, the study was unable to calculate the levels of antisemitism in two countries with some of the largest Jewish populations — Russia and Brazil — as their governments’ official tallies of antisemitic events were more than likely false.

“For example, Russia’s SOVA Center for Information and Analysis recorded one antisemitic act of violence and three acts of vandalism in 2021 (the same as in 2020), a questionable figure, to say the least,” the report’s authors wrote.

To some degree, the rise in reported antisemitic events around the world can be traced to improved data collection methods, but this is unlikely to account for all of it, given the rise in specific numbers that would not be affected by them. For instance, in 2021, the Los Angeles Police Department recorded nearly double the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2021 — 79 — than the 40 that were documented the year before or the 42 in 2019.

The study’s authors, who worked on the report over the course of six months, identified two specific catalysts for antisemitic acts over the past year: Israel’s conflict with Gaza in May, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also noted a broader trend around the world driving the rise in antisemitism — the strengthening of the “radical populist right and the anti-Zionist radical left.”

According to the study’s authors, the populist right has increasingly adopted classic antisemitic tropes of cadres of wealthy Jews directly controlling global events, while the left has begun to exclude Jews from the list of groups deserving protection.

“Another factor contributing to the negative trend of a rise in antisemitic attacks is that some human-right activists began to exclude Jews and Israel from their struggles consciously,” according to the report. “Racism, they argue, concerns African-Americans and African-Europeans, Roma, LBGTQs, indigenous minorities, asylum seekers, and foreign workers, but not Jews.”

The report noted a major surge in attacks on Jews during the conflict last May. In Canada, the 61 physical attacks carried out that month represented the largest number ever recorded in a single month in at least the last 40 years, nearly seven times higher than in May 2020, when nine attacks were committed, and more than four times higher than in 2019, when 14 attacks were carried out.

Similar surges in the number of antisemitic attacks, acts of vandalism and harassment were reported elsewhere around the world that month in the fallout of Israel’s battle with Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, as well as domestic strife between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens that took place at the same time.

The other specific catalyst of antisemitic events in 2021 was the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has both prompted claims of Jewish involvement in the spread of the disease and seen activists opposed to vaccinations and other safety measures comparing themselves to victims of the Holocaust.

In the report, Tel Aviv University professor Dina Porat said the latter phenomenon trivialized the Holocaust and represented a “complete distortion of the meaning of Nazi crimes and the lessons humanity should have learned from those crimes.”

Porat added that Holocaust comparisons should also not be considered innocent as they frequently come alongside more overtly antisemitic content.

People stage a protest against the ‘green pass’ in Milan, Italy, on July 24, 2021. Protesters in Italy and in France have been wearing yellow Stars of David, like the ones Nazis required Jews to wear to identify themselves during the Holocaust. Some carry signs likening vaccine passes to dictatorships. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, File)

“The comparisons were often accompanied by accusations against Jews for allegedly being the wind in the virus’ sails. For example, a Greek newspaper published a photo of Albert Bourla, the Pfizer CEO and son of Auschwitz survivors from Greece, alongside that of Joseph Mengele, as if to say that both experiment on human beings,” she said.

In addition to looking at broader trends, the researchers investigated several case studies of antisemitism around the world.

In France, researcher Talia Naamat looked into the case of Sarah Halimi, a French Jewish woman who was murdered in a blatantly antisemitic attack, but whose killer was sent to a mental institution, not prison, as he had smoked marijuana before committing the crime, which the courts found made him not criminally culpable.

According to Naamat, this comes in part from tension in French society over the issue of antisemitism by Muslim citizens. As the phenomenon is used to justify anti-Muslim policies, those who oppose such measures tend to downplay its existence.

“Islamist antisemitism is indeed used as a cudgel by the far-right in France, a pretext for a sweeping Islamophobia that, in turn, causes the left to spurn any such rhetoric,” Naamat wrote.

Protesters march with a banner of killed Jewish woman Sarah Halimi, during a demonstration in Marseille, southern France, April 25, 2021 (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Researchers Carl Yonker and Lev Topor looked into the United States and the attack on the US Capitol building that occurred there in January 2021, in which a number of noted antisemites and white supremacists took part.

Yonker and Topor found that increasing partisanship in the US and a growing extremist movement within the Republican party both contributed to the attack itself and prevented more full-throated criticism of it after the fact.

“In a highly polarized political atmosphere, as exists in the United States today, even a violent assault on democracy joined by demonstrable antisemites becomes a partisan matter,” they wrote.

Inna Shtakser, who researches social and political movements in the former Russian empire, investigated the antisemitic rhetoric that was used repeatedly in Belarus over the past year, as strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko violently quelled protests over what was overwhelmingly seen as his fraudulent election the year before.

Shtakser identified multiple cases of state authorities referencing antisemitic tropes to justify the arrest and torture of dissidents.

Demonstrators carry an opposition flag at a protest at Independence square in Minsk, Belarus, August 23, 2020. (AP Photo/File)

“In its propaganda against the massive opposition, the Belarusian regime insisted that foreigners stood behind the movement and, among other accusations, alleged that Jewish outsiders were supporting the protest movement to advance various nefarious agendas,” she wrote.

“The depiction of world Jewry as hostile to Lukashenko’s regime also extended to the entertainment industry. In the film Killing the President, broadcast on Belarus state television, a ‘circle of Jews’ is behind a fictitious assassination plot against Lukashenko and his family,” according to Shtakser.

She noted that such rhetoric is accompanied by a Belarusian law passed by Lukashenko that makes it illegal to claim that the Holocaust in Belarus was directed specifically against Jews or any other minority group, but rather against the Belarusian people. At the time, Lukashenko claimed that the reason the law was necessary was that Jews had “succeeded in causing the entire world to kneel to them and no one will dare raise a voice and deny the Holocaust.”

“Demanding recognition of Belarusian victimhood is, of course, hardly antisemitic, but the claim that the Jews managed to bully and manipulate the world into recognizing the Holocaust is,” Shtakser wrote.

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