January 27 has been designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a day the world vowed never to allow anti-Semitism and hate to occur again. Yet, it’s been 75 years since the liberation from the Shoah, and one would think that the world would have learned a lesson or two in how to keep hate from raising its ugly head. But that is not the case. Hate and anti-Semitism have spiked all over the world. There was a time when those who harbored negative feelings against Jews understood to keep them to themselves. Now things have changed, unfortunately, for the worse. People seem free to spout their ugly venom publicly without any conscience or remorse. Attacking Jews is now socially acceptable across every ideological spectrum.
There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society, and all of us should be aware as to how rapidly anti-Semitism is rising across North America, Europe, and the Middle East. After what we experienced in World War II, one would think that the world would never want to go there again, and yet it is happening. Millions upon millions of people deeply hate the Jews just because they are Jewish.
Anti-Semitism is as old as the hills, and Jews have been blamed for every ill imaginable since the beginning of time. I recently heard that there are factions now that are trying to blame the coronavirus on Jews.
There are several reasons why anti-Semitism is so rampant these days. One is due to the fact that knowledge of what happened in the Shoah has greatly diminished. With the passing of the survivors who experienced the horrors firsthand and were able to testify to it, the denial and minimization of the Holocaust has steadily increased. In a recent survey, British adults, for example, don’t know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and believe the number killed was much less. Britons are supposed to be sophisticated and cultured. That poll shows how ignorant they truly are.
Social media has played a significant role in publicizing dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric. Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, recently commented, “The role social media has played in spreading racist, anti-Semitic conspiratorial content has exploded in recent years… Hate group leaders can use these digital spaces as megaphones for their poisonous ideologies.”
There has always been a need to condemn a minority whose members refuse to accept the majority’s religion, so they deem the minority‘s faith as evil. Human nature is such that one distrusts people who act differently from oneself and don’t assimilate fully into the society with their own customs and practices.
Many equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is current in Europe and the United States partially due to anti-Jewish hatred amongst Muslims. Delegitimizing the Jewish state can serve as a means to reverse the degradation and oppression Muslims have always felt towards Israel.
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement is another serious reason for the rise in anti-Semitism. For many years, the Jewish establishment ignored and downplayed its significance. They used to say that BDS was not anti-Semitism. But it definitely is and it sways people to erroneous conclusions that are to the detriment of Israel. We must counteract the rhetoric, especially on the college campuses where the Palestinian movements have so much influence.
It takes something especially egregious for the world to take notice. For example, threats of rising anti-Semitism caught the world’s attention after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018, where a gunman murdered 12 people and injured seven during a Shabbat morning service, and when a woman was killed during Yizkor on Pesach in Poway, California. Whenever we have attacks such as these, our consciousness is raised. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement at the time of the Poway attack: “I condemn the abhorrent attack on the synagogue in California; this is an attack on the heart of the Jewish people… The international community must step up the struggle against anti-Semitism.”
Anti-Semitic stereotypes are alive and well in Europe. I have never understood how Jews can live in Europe today. Every street is stained with Jewish blood. Hatred of Jews is in their water. A recent survey conducted by CNN reveals more than a quarter of Europeans polled believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance and have too much say in conflict and wars across the world. Then there is the usual canard that Jews have too much influence in the media and in politics.
After a man rushed into a rabbi’s home on Chanukah in Monsey, New York, hacking at people with a machete, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) blamed inflammatory rhetoric on social media for the rising threat of anti-Semitic violence.
We cannot allow this trend to continue without doing something about it. The rise in Jew-hatred is analogous to a rip in one’s pants. If it is repaired right away, the garment is salvable; but if the tear is allowed to be unattended, the rip will get larger and larger, and the pants will be ultimately unusable. We can’t permit any example of Jew-hatred, no matter how minor, to go ignored. Any swastika or racial slur has to be addressed. The 25,000-person march against hate over the Brooklyn Bridge was very effective, but that cannot be all.
Every time we see a swastika spray-painted on a wall or hear a racial slur against Jews, we must react. We must protest to anything and everything. Only when we respond to all acts of prejudice can we hope that it may stop. Anti-Semitism grows when the haters feel emboldened and assume that their rhetoric is accepted and not negatively viewed upon. We must be ready to shame people who express Jew-hatred. We must criticize anyone who crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Acts of terror never begin with actions; they begin with words. We must stop it then and there, before anything leads to violence. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, recently said, “We are living in a moment where anti-Semitism is almost becoming normalized, and that should shock and move all of us to act… Anti-Semitism has moved from the margins into the mainstream.”
We don’t have adequate information on how insidious anti-Semitism truly is. Hate crime data is underreported. The FBI relies on local law enforcement for that data, but many agencies do not provide reports. We cannot let anything go. We need not be afraid of what the world would think. They think the worst anyway.
Anti-Semitism will never totally go away, but we can do something to prevent it from getting even stronger. Our previous silence is how Jews have suffered all through history. Enough pain and enough suffering! As my father said at my engagement party, “We suffered enough for four generations” (My parents were both Holocaust survivors). Let’s make sure it’s at least that much.
Cynthia Zalisky is a community activist. She is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills.