From Brooklyn to Burma; from east to west; among intellectuals and illiterates; among the remnants of old Christianity and the strongholds of radical Islam; on the political right and left: There is no place on the planet where anti-Semitism is not surging or percolating, says a new United Nations report on global anti-Semitism.
The first U.N. report dedicated wholly to anti-Semitism was submitted to the General Assembly last week by U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed, who was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016 to look into the matter.
The day before he was at American Jewish Committee headquarters in Manhattan, along with Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian, to talk about it. Felice Gaer, director of the AJC’s Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, which hosted the event, said Shaheed’s report is “historic.”
The report found, worldwide, a “significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 and 2018, and reports of violent manifestations of anti-Semitism (physical attacks, with and without weapons) increased 13 percent globally in 2018.”
Shaheed noted that anti-Semitic incidents and attitudes “appear to be increasing in magnitude,” both in countries where there is a Jewish presence and in “countries with little or no Jewish population.” Jews are the canary in the mine: Anti-Semitism, wrote Shaheed, “poses risks not only to Jews but also to members of other minority communities. Anti-Semitism is toxic to democracy … and threatens all societies in which it goes unchallenged.”
Said Shaheed: “Anti-Semitism has received scant attention as a human rights issue.” Worldwide data “is limited,” and in many areas “anti-Semitic harassment is significantly underreported.”
Lipstadt, professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and the author of numerous books on anti-Semitism, praised the report as a “call-out to the world, to governments, to civil society, to the U.N., to take this seriously. The fact of the matter is that in so much of the world it’s really not taken seriously — unless there is a tragedy.”
In the European Union, 85 percent of Jewish respondents felt anti-Semitism was a serious problem; 34 percent feared going to Jewish events or sites; 38 percent considered emigrating because “they did not feel safe as a Jew.”
In France, anti-Semitic acts, 15 percent of which were violent, increased by 74 percent from 2017 to 2018; in Germany there was a 70 percent increase in violent anti-Semitism. The report did not take one side or the other in a political split in Germany between those who blame Muslim migrants for the trend and those who blame white supremacists.
Aside from physical violence, wrote Shaheed, anti-Semitism also has resulted in “social exclusion and harassment of Jews.”
The report’s data and testimony were mostly gleaned from 19 countries, both with major Jewish populations (such as United States, France, Argentina, Canada, Hungary, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands) and almost no Jewish populations (Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar and Tunisia).
Shaheed found it “striking” that synagogue shootings were happening in democracies, where there was a high awareness of hate crimes and government condemnation of anti-Semitism. And yet, “these attacks keep coming.”
And in states with few Jews there was still “pervasive anti-Semitic rhetoric.” In Indonesia, for example, 57 percent of teachers and lecturers agreed that “Jews are the enemies of Islam.”
Hate from all sides
The special rapporteur noted that Jews are being speared by a multi-pronged pitchfork from left, right and radical Islam. Shaheed was “alarmed” by the right’s white supremacists. On the left, Shaheed noted “an increase in many countries” of those “claiming to hold anti-racist and anti-imperialist views” but who employ “anti-Semitic narratives or tropes in the course of expressing anger at … the government of Israel.”
In radical Islam, writes Shaheed, the anti-Israel factor has bled into “slogans, images, stereotypes … meant to incite and justify hostility, discrimination and violence against Jews.” In the Middle East and North Africa, “literature demonizing Jews is prevalent in the media.” Saudi school textbooks contained anti-Semitic passages, “even urging violence against Jews.” Shaheed added that anti-Semitism was “common” in media and textbooks controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, where the content went beyond political or historical differences with Israel and into the realm of “hate speech against Israelis.”
The report warned that “it is never acceptable to render Jews as proxies for the government of Israel,” and was unequivocal in determining that “the objectives, activities and effects of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are fundamentally anti-Semitic.”
Lipstadt noted anti-Semitism on all sides.
“On the extremist right we see ‘white Christian replacement’ theory,” noting that the gunman in the 2018 massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue yelled “Jews will not destroy the white race.’”
Meanwhile, she added, “There are those on the progressive left… who look upon the Jew and see a white person. This is what [is happening] on many campuses — [Jews are seen as] white, people of privilege, even though we know that many Jews are not privileged. They say, ‘you have power. And ipso facto, if you have power you can’t be a victim. … There is a failure to comprehend that the Jew could be a victim.”
Lipstadt went on, “Generally, when a minority group comes to someone on the progressive left, the default position is to say, ‘You were wronged and we are going to defend you… It’s only in the case of the Jews where that is not the [progressive] default position.”
The campus challenge
Shaheed, a former foreign minister for the Maldives and professor in England, found that Jewish students in American, Canadian and Western European colleges “are experiencing increased expressions of antipathy and hostility… that seriously impact their freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and their rights to manifest their religious beliefs.”
His report walked a tightrope, saying, on the one hand, Jewish college students were “being condemned” on campus “as complicit in the actions of the Israeli government by fellow students and organizations aligned with the political left.” On the other hand, the report was careful to say that it did not want to restrict “legitimate political expression” on the left. For example, wrote Shaheed, criticisms of Israel’s existence as “racist” or requiring of Israel “a behavior not demanded of other democratic states,” are not “ipso facto anti-Semitic,” and “contextual assessment is required… to determine if they are anti-Semitic.”
Lipstadt agreed. “We have to be very careful when it comes to labeling things as ‘anti-Semitic,’” she said. “When I say something or someone is anti-Semitic, I want it to be the kiss of death, in terms of an accusation. There’s a concept in the Talmud, if you try to grab too much you grab nothing at all… [To say] Israel is a racist entity, that is anti-Semitic; that there are policies that could be seen as racist is a debate that goes on in Israel.”
However, Lipstadt said the problem of punishing American Jewish students for Israeli policies was exacerbated on campus by “intersectionality,” an academic theory that connects various forms of oppression. What it has turned into, said Lipstadt, “is essentially a guise for anti-Semitism. I call it McCarthyism of the left. … Now, on campus, if a Jew wants to be part of a coalition of minorities, they’re told they can’t because they support Israel. On the campus you see that for a Jew to be involved in anti-prejudice activity [the Jewish students have] to declare their bona fides by taking a stand against Israel, or Israeli policies.”
Shaheed said, there is a danger in “criminalizing” speech, or “what goes on in the classroom. … One has to be very careful” and scrutinize the context.”