The third wave of anti-Semitism is upon us

The coronavirus pandemic has rebooted the classic medieval Jew-hatred seen during the Black Plague. Today, in the age of a sovereign Jewish state, it has been redirected to demonize Israel.

Anti-Semitic graffiti. Credit: Yonderboy/Wikimedia Commons.
Anti-Semitic graffiti. Credit: Yonderboy/Wikimedia Commons.
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

Imagine that a prestigious international research institute concludes that the new wave of anti-Semitism is fueled and perpetuated chiefly by the physical characteristics of the Jews–their noses, for example—or by their insularity in relation to general society. You would surely be surprised if, in this case, the media and politicians would adopt the conclusion and persistently refer to the noses of their country’s Jews or blame Jewish family customs, which are notably very close-knit, for the spread of the coronavirus.

Would that be legitimate? Maybe, but I would claim it as remiss or malicious, especially if it emanates from the media sources and institutions that pretend to fight and condemn anti-Semitism. Because negligence and malice aimed at the state of Israel, or ignorance and obsession about its supposed mistakes, are precisely what induces the exponential growth of worldwide anti-Semitism today.

In recent days, we heard excellent and serious discussions from well-meaning ambassadors, academics and advisers on anti-Semitism in the European Union, the United States and international organizations. The foremost academic centers that deal with anti-Semitism have held webinar conferences because they are rightly disturbed by its upsurge during the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has rebooted the classic medieval anti-Semitism seen long ago during the Black Plague. Today, in the age of a sovereign Jewish state, anti-Semitism has been redirected to demonizing Israel. It delegitimizes Israel as a racist, genocidal, apartheid state.

Shocking Palestinian cartoons flooded social media with caricatures depicting Israeli soldiers shooting COVID-19 bullets at Palestinians, or poor and scared Palestinians locked up in cages surrounded by tanks and corona monsters with the Star of David. Joining these images were the choruses of hate-filled mobs chanting in Paris, Brussels, New York and Washington, D.C. that Israel should be destroyed.

“Israelophobic” anti-Semitism reverberated during the days of the mass protests in the United States in the summer of 2020 when furious crowds marched to protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a criminal police officer. We heard that Israel and Jews were responsible for the murder because they train American police officers.

“It’s the occupation, brother, we’re all in the same boat,” ranted the left-wing political activist and BDS supporter, Linda Sarsour, who went on to portray Israel as the common enemy. In Washington, D.C., protesters marched to the Capitol building chanting, “Black Lives Matter, Palestinian lives matter,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

Now we have entered into the third wave of the most recent anti-Semitism. “Massacre the Jews” [Israel] as “Mohammed massacred the yahud in Khaybar,” was the slogan chanted on June 28, 2020, in the Belgian capital, and the threat has been repeated in city squares around the world.

The international criticism of Israel is blind to the issue of the so-called “annexation;” the critics abstractly accuse Israel of being opposed to peace, while the opposite is true. And yet, sanctions are threatened by the United Nations, the European Union and all its institutions. Letters from hundreds of European intellectuals and parliamentarians from all over the world promise to cut relations and sanction Israel if it dares to apply its sovereignty to 30 percent of the disputed territories. Disputed territories, not “illegal,” and not “occupied.” All the while, seventy percent of the territory is reserved for the Palestinians.

The repetitive and continuous threats and condemnations by the U.N., the E.U. and many European states have the tone and angry timbre of an anti-Semitic obsession; all the while, they pretend that they are earnestly fighting the obsessions of the oldest hatred, anti-Semitism.

The basis for the threats against Israel is the Jewish state’s support for the American peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump. Ignored is the critical component providing “two states for two peoples.” All of the peace-loving institutions should make an effort to invite the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate with Israel, to come to the table to find a solution.

The international rejection of a plan comes with a claim that the component of Israel controlling 30 percent of the territory was an attempt to impose apartheid, which is false. The implication of their accusation is malicious–that Israel has malevolent colonial aspirations to occupy the Palestinian people. This is a demonizing and delegitimizing accusation, using the term “occupation” as a curse to advance anti-Israel hatred.

The magnitude of the protests would make sense if the Palestinians were willing to come to the negotiating table while Israel moved ahead in an arrogant, unilateral gesture. But anyone who knows anything about the history of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations knows that this is not the case, neither yesterday nor today.

What is currently being promoted by the international community is not a discourse of criticism, which would be legitimate, but instead a storm of prejudices.

Research and polls carried out in dozens of countries testify that virus-inspired anti-Semitism has gone viral on social media, and it is the continuation of the ancient conspiracy theories of blood libels that have always painted the Jews as the source and spreaders of disease. Public opinion will surf again on this deadly anti-Semitic wave.

The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, personally promoted the coronavirus blood libel by stating that Israeli soldiers and settlers knowingly spread the coronavirus widely among Palestinians. His spokesperson went so far as to state that the occupation itself was the virus and that the Jews had inflicted the pandemic on the Palestinians. The phenomenon of the anti-Semitism plague converged with the coronavirus, which then intertwined with subsequent waves.

Responsible national and international leaders who have taken a stance to combat anti-Semitism in this period have mobilized to fight the idea that the Jews are responsible for COVID-19. In addition, some leaders seek to quash the conspiracy theories that imperialist Jews and their wealth are attempting to dominate the world. Some combat those who want to obliterate the Shoah’s memory. Others confront neo-Nazi hatred. And others focus on their societies’ bias against the Jews because of their hatred, prejudice and ignorance about Judaism.

The political, diplomatic and academic spokespersons who care deeply about the adoption and the promotion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) upheld the connection between hatred for Israel and anti-Semitic hatred during a webinar conference in June 2020. Katharina Von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, alluded to a 2019 survey in which 85 percent of Jews declared that they feel they are perceived through the Israeli lens. Jews are synonymous with Israel.

The question that arises is the following: If, as the IHRA suggests, anti-Israel hatred is the engine of anti-Semitism, its twin, why are there no measures to deal with this dual threat? Why not be more cautious when dealing with issues relating to Israel? Why not challenge both hatreds by delving deeper into Israel’s history, its democratic nature, humane inspiration and the heroic story of the country itself?

Institutions and states that have implemented measures against anti-Semitism and have adopted the IHRA should monitor how they and their institutions influence public opinion and the spread of prejudice against Israel. Political actors must be more cautious before putting labels on Israeli-Jewish consumer products, or bandying about apartheid or legitimizing BDS.

The examples are endless, and the many condemnations and institutional threats today push anti-Semitic crowds into the streets with a “moral cloak.” These political actors and institutions are committed to fighting against anti-Semitism, but they are also responsible for creating it. This has been the case since the 1975 U.N. Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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