People hold swastika flags as the neo-Nazi groups Blood Tribe and Goyim Defense League hold a rally on Sept. 2, 2023 in Orlando, Fla., that attracted about 100 participants.Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
This article originally appeared in The Messenger on September 6, 2020
Antisemitism never seems to take a holiday. Just last week, Elon Musk amplified a post on X/Twitter by a self-described “raging anti-Semite” and received condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights antisemitism. Instead of expressing remorse, Musk lashed out. His tweet implied that Jews are to blame for the dramatic rise of antisemitism on his platform: “The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of antisemitism on this platform!”
But an alarming rise in antisemitism isn’t confined to the social media platform that Musk acquired in 2022. An ADL audit this year found antisemitic incidents in the U.S. hit their highest level ever. Worldwide, the organization says, 1.09 billion people harbor antisemitic attitudes.
Just this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the West had a hand in Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rise to the Ukrainian presidency because he is Jewish. In Orlando, Fla., Neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched outside Disney World to spread their extremist messages. Earlier this year, antisemitic flyers were left outside homes in several Florida neighborhoods, including Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
How is it that Jewish Americans represent only 2.4% of the population but, according to the FBI, they are the victims of 63% of reported hate crimes that are religiously motivated? Another analysis of the occurrence of hate crimes per 100,000 of a group population found Jews at the top of the list, surpassing hate crimes against Asian, Black, Hispanic, white, LGBTQ and Muslim Americans.
It is no wonder that the Biden administration released a National Strategy for Countering Antisemitism this summer, with President Biden declaring that “the venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”
But how do we define antisemitism?
The American Embassy in Oman asked me to answer that question this summer in an address to their staff. Since I was speaking to State Department employees, I used the State Department definition of antisemitism and the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition prioritized by the Biden administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “enthusiastically embraces” the IHRA definition, as do 33 nations. Among the antisemitic acts the IHRA lists:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology;
- Propagating the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or the theory that Jews control the media, economy and governments;
- Denying the Holocaust or accusing Jews of inventing the Holocaust;
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations;
- Applying a double standard to Israel that is not demanded of other nations; and
- Denying the Jewish people the right to national self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- This begs the question, is there a difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, which the ADL defines as opposition to “the self-determination and statehood of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland”?
Criticism of Israeli policies is not antisemitism. However, demonizing, delegitimizing or denying Israel a right to exist among the family of nations is most definitely antisemitism. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres — who leads an organization that too often crosses the line into antisemitism by using double standards against the Jewish State — has said, “Denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”
According to the ADL, “There is a nearly 40% correlation between belief in anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel belief. … Over three-quarters of Americans (85%) believe at least one anti-Jewish trope [while] 20% believe six or more tropes.”
In its most recent audit of antisemitic incidents, the ADL found evidence of antisemitism on many American college campuses, with “antisemitic acts of harassment, vandalism and assault on college campuses up by 41% in 2022.” And a 2021 Alums for Campus Fairness report found, “Ninety-five percent of Jewish college students and recent graduates feel that antisemitism is a problem on their campuses, with at least 80% having experienced it personally.”
Physical attacks by far right-wing and radical Islamists are easily identifiable as acts of antisemitism. When neo-Nazis commit violent crimes against Jews, as in the case of the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, it gets the attention and the prosecution it deserves. The gunman who killed 11 worshipers there was recently sentenced to death.
But when a politically favored group is a victimizer of Jews, the mainstream media and many politicians prefer to hide rather than confront a long-term problem. For example, attacks by Black Americans on their ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors who wear distinctive dress have been tolerated for years. A 2021 YouGov survey found that “Black and Latino respondents were more likely to believe antisemitic stereotypes than white respondents.”
Hate is hate, and there never should be any rationalizations of hate — nor should anyone be given a pass when they speak or act on their antisemitism. We should condemn all forms of bias.
But as Jonathan Tobin, editor in chief of Jewish News Syndicate, has pointed out, our society is quick to point out incidents of racism, or suspected racism, but doesn’t necessarily act against those who perpetuate antisemitism. Tobin wrote in 2020: “Why does engaging in antisemitism not bring about the same moral opprobrium from the media and the cultural forces taking down people for dissenting from the Black Lives Matter catechism?”
Some people use antisemitism as a political weapon. Conduct a simple Google search, as I did, and you will realize that the political left sees only the antisemitism of the right, and the right highlights only the antisemitism of the left.
For example, one article in Newsweek asked, “Why won’t Joe Biden repudiate antisemitic Democrats?” and another, an op-ed in the Washington Post, was titled: “199 House Republicans have embraced antisemitism and violence.” An NPR report on rising antisemitism didn’t mention left-wing antisemitism, evidently to avoid making the liberals in its audience uncomfortable.
Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred. It mutates based on time and circumstances, from the blood libels of the Middle Ages to the second-class status of Jews in the Muslim world to the quota system that discriminated against high-achieving Jewish students applying to American universities for much of the 20th century. Over the millennia, antisemitism has manifested in the Inquisition, pogroms, the Crusades, jihads, and the Holocaust.
America is an exceptional place. Antisemitism is a minority view among Americans, but unless we address it honestly, in all its forms — educating proactively, prosecuting hate-filled violence and not dismissing allegations of antisemitism as an overreaction by a privileged group — it will fester and allow hate-filled people to scapegoat Jewish Americans with impunity.
Biden’s strategy on antisemitism is a good start, but it got mired in a political debate and was watered down. Antisemitism must be condemned in all its forms: far-right, far-left, Islamic. And when the world’s richest man dabbles in antisemitic tropes, he is fair game for criticism.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm for business and government officials in the Middle East. He is the senior security editor and the Jerusalem Report.