“What we really need is a courageous and unsparing examination of the efficacy of existing strategies.”
A new Israeli report has identified a “dramatic increase” in antisemitic incidents in almost all countries with large Jewish populations in 2021, as the authors warn that “despite the extensive efforts and resources invested in combating antisemitism in recent years, the phenomenon is on the rise.”
On the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities publishes its 28th Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide, which covers events in 2021.
The disturbing findings indicate a sharp increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in many countries, even compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when the pandemic-related social distancing and lockdowns was not a factor.
The authors report a dramatic rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, and Australia.
The increase stems from the strengthening of both the radical Right and Left political movements in different countries and the vast reach of social networks for spreading lies and incitement, the report found.
Specifically, an explosion of conspiracy theories resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as from the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in May 2021, generated “acute surges of antisemitism.”
Jewish world must ‘pull itself together’
Prof. Uriya Shavit, head of the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, underscored that “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.”
“The easy thing is to say that more laws and more funding are required,” he added. “But what we really need is a courageous and unsparing examination of the efficacy of existing strategies.”
Relating to current events, Shavit said that “Russian war crimes, accompanied by the cynical distortion of the memory of the Holocaust, prove that some of those who declared their commitment to the fight against antisemitism, were not really serious about it, and had not truly learned the lessons of World War II.”
He called on the Jewish world to “pull itself together and understand that the fight against antisemitism and the fight for liberal democratic values are one and the same.”
Prof. Dina Porat, the Center’s founder, wrote an analysis of the reasons for the increase in antisemitic incidents, underlining the negative impact of social networks in amplifying antisemitism.
“Exposure to conspiracy theories that thrive on the internet increased during pandemic lockdowns, which kept people at home, glued to their screens. These toxic ideas included claims that the Covid-19 virus had been engineered and spread by Israel and the Jews,” she explained. “Some of those poisoned by such theories for such a long period of time emerged from the lockdowns bitter and aggressive.”
Porat also emphasized Iran’s efforts to spread antisemitic propaganda through social media and to fund specific channels, and “the need to make these efforts known and denounced”.
Dr. Inna Shtakser wrote about the rise of state-sponsored antisemitism under Belarus’ authoritarian leadership; Dr. Carl Yonker and Dr. Lev Topor described how antisemitic white supremacists are penetrating mainstream American conservatism; Dr. Ofir Winter analyzed voices in the Arab world that paint the Abraham Accords with antisemitic colors; and Adv. Talia Naamat demonstrated the challenges for French courts to recognize Islamist antisemitism.
Direct impact of two major events
The report suggests that the number of antisemitic incidents in the world was directly impacted by two major events: Operation Guardian of the Walls, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Operation Guardian of the Walls “exposed an unacceptable reality: when Israel defends itself, Jews across the world are attacked,” the report states.
Social networks played a major role in this wave. “This raises concerns regarding the utility of legislation and agreements reached with social media companies on banning antisemitic expressions from their platforms. The gravest concern is the dark web, which shelters extremists of all types, and where antisemitic content is freely and openly spread.”
The report also notes that Iran invests “substantial time and funding” in spreading antisemitic propaganda online, focusing its campaigns mainly on the U.S. and Latin America.
As for the pandemic, after absorbing antisemitic accusations reminiscent of centuries-old blood libels for almost two years on social networks, in 2021, when the lockdowns were gradually eased, “antisemites returned to the streets, and physical violence against Jews increased. At the same time, activity on social media did not diminish, becoming a definer of identity for some participants.”
“Despite the extensive efforts and resources invested in combating antisemitism in recent years, the phenomenon is on the rise. More funds, more conferences, and more laws won’t necessarily make the difference. We need an unsparing examination of the efficacy of existing strategies,” the report states.