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US Jews failed to anticipate antisemitic violence during Gaza conflict – study

Tel Aviv think tank finds that community organizations struggled to enlist traditional allies in fight against Jew-hatred

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Activists protest Israel’s military actions in Gaza outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC on May 18, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)
Activists protest Israel’s military actions in Gaza outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC on May 18, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

A study of antisemitism in the US during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May found that Jewish communal organizations and leaders were taken by surprise by violence against Jews that took place during the conflict.

“This time the Jewish community was doubly surprised by the rapid transformation of protests by the American extreme left, especially the pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli groups, into outbreaks of violent antisemitic acts that had broad geographic distribution, and by the increased criticism of Israel among larger circles within the Democratic Party than in the past as well as among several civil social organizations,” wrote Shahar Eilam and Tom Eshed of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

The report, titled “Increased Antisemitism in the United States Following Operation Guardian of the Walls: Permanent or Short-Lived?” also found that American Jews were surprised by the difficulty they experienced “in enlisting their natural allies and partners” in the fight against antisemitism.

“The main question that occupied me was how it was possible that the US Jewish establishment was surprised, despite its deep experience in dealing with similar previous incidents of escalation as part of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, in which there also was a similar dynamic in the US theater,” Eilam told The Times of Israel. “Deep changes in American society are not supposed to surprise the Jewish community.”

Eilam said he was worried by the “delay in the identification and in the deep understanding of the trends, and the hesitance in absorbing their implications and in building appropriate responses by the Jewish community along with its different partners.”

The report argued that the issue of antisemitism is becoming politicized in the US, rendering it “more difficult to form a broad and united front to condemn and combat antisemitism of any type.”

The report is slated for publication on Wednesday.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, whose data was used in the report, there were 193 antisemitic incidents in the US during the operation, 11 of which were violent attacks on Jews. The violent incidents included an assault by pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Jewish diners in Los Angeles; an attack on a Jewish man in New York City near a demonstration; repeated harassment of Jews in Florida; and assaults on Jewish teenagers in Brooklyn, leading to enhanced security at Jewish institutions.

Part of the difficulty faced by the Jewish community in enlisting allies, the authors argue, stems from the increasingly close affiliation between anti-Israel groups and minority groups in the US, in a phenomenon known as intersectionality.

Pro-Palestinian protesters attack Jewish restaurant goers in Manhattan on May 20, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

“Anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups in the US have expanded in recent years by riding the developing platform of the progressive wave, mainly by comparing between the conflict and the various injustices on which the American progressive discourse focuses, such as the Black struggle in the US against discrimination and racism and the Palestinian struggle against Israel and by likening the situation in Israel to apartheid in South Africa,” the authors wrote.

Operation Guardian of the Walls was an 11-day operation in May between the IDF and Gaza-based terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. During the operation, mixed Arab-Jewish cities saw shocking outbreaks of intercommunal violence.

Eilam and Eshed also found that criticism of Israel, often combined with the use of antisemitic images, is becoming increasingly legitimate, and is gradually penetrating mainstream media.

At the same time, there were some positive signs. The US political establishment roundly condemned the violent attacks against Jews, and congressional leaders from both parties organized a “virtual march” against antisemitism. The Senate passed a bipartisan resolution condemning antisemitic events both in the US and abroad.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a virtual rally to combat antisemitism on May 27, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube via JTA)

Looking forward, the authors warned that increased political pressure from both the right and left on the Biden administration could bring Washington to restrict Israel’s freedom of action in a future conflict.

“Israel’s biggest challenge in this respect has been and still is to preserve and increase bipartisan American support for it — the most important anchor in the special relationship between the two countries,” according to the report. “Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party and its voters should therefore be made the focus of attention and effort by decision makers and the relevant professional personnel in Israel in the coming years.”

According to the authors, the steady rise in US antisemitism during which the May spike took place is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions after the killing of George Floyd, and the 2020 presidential campaign.

All of those crises were exacerbated by vitriolic discourse on social media.

The report was part of an ongoing INSS series on antisemitism in the US.

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