The American Jewish Press Association held an interactive webinar on May 2, to educate journalists and the public on the new and insidious ways anti-Semitism is manifesting in today’s divisive climate.
Held on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and less than a week after the Poway shootings, the webinar offered “a frank discussion about what this threat may portend for the nation’s Jews and proposed ways to combat it,” as well as addressing whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
Moderated by Alan Mason, vice president of the American Jewish Press Association, speakers were Aaron Ahlquist, the Anti-
Defamation League’s south central region director; Charles Asher Small, founding director and president of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP); and Susan Heller Pinto, associate director of the ADL’s International Affairs Division and director of its Department of Middle Eastern Affairs.
The talk began with Ahlquist running through recently released ADL statistics on the rise of anti-Semitic incidents since 2016, including a spike in physical assaults.
“We saw a 105 percent increase in the number of assaults is between 2017 and 2018 … that shows a manifestation of physicality that’s of great concern,” Ahlquist said. “Some of the other things that we saw was an increased linkage between some of the anti-Semitic incidents and known extremist organizations, with 13 percent of reported anti-Semitic incidents being connected with extremist organizations. And if you look, and you compare 2018 to 2016, there’s a 99 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents. So we are at a time where we are seeing a massive increase in what’s being reported to us. And that’s of great concern to us.”
Susan Heller Pinto said there are a number of issues that may be impacting this increase, including “Islamist perpetrators,” as well as right-wing and left-wing sources of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Europe.
“For the right, we see it certainly in the United States… with these two perpetrators of the synagogue attacks. We see it with an elevated rhetoric globally, nationalist, that makes Jewish communities around the globe feel more vulnerable, feel more isolated, feel more targeted in Hungary, and Poland, et cetera,” she said. “The kind of classical example of what we’re seeing now [with] anti-Semitism on the left, is the nexus with discussion over Israel. And let me be clear, the criticism of Israel, legitimate criticism, common criticism of Israeli policy is perfectly legitimate. I’m talking about when criticism of Israel crosses the line, uses anti-Semitic tropes, calls for Israel’s destruction. And we’re seeing that again, more and more in the mainstream.”
Pinto noted that the difference between anti-Semitism on the left and on the right is that anti-Semitism on the right is more violent, but that anti-Semitism on the left is becoming more mainstream.
She cited the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK over the last couple of years, and speech about Israel and Jews that is “blatantly
Pinto also discussed the public debate over the cartoon that appeared in a recent international edition of The New York Times depicting a yarmulked President Trump being led blindly by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a seeing-eye dog.
“The editorial that appeared yesterday in the New York Times talked about there being a profound danger, and I’m quoting from them, ‘not only of anti-Semitism but of numbness to its creep, to the insidious way this ancient, enduring prejudice is once again working itself into public view and common conversation,’” Pinto said. “So we’re seeing Islamist anti-Semitism, right-wing anti-Semitism, left-wing anti-Semitism, growing vibrant… expressing itself in the public discourse. And we’re also seeing more people either unable to recognize when they see anti-Semitism, or willing to justify it.”
The historic origins of anti-Semitic myths and tropes were also discussed, including those fomented and forwarded by the Nazis that were adopted by Islamic fundamentalists and others. The speakers also discussed recent controversial statements made by Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ihan Omar and the loss of first-hand accounts and eye witnesses to the Holocaust, as survivors and liberators age and die.
“As we lose our living links to history and to the great tragedy and losses of the Holocaust, it’s so important to have meaningful education that our young people and students are being exposed to that continues to educate around history, so that they are aware when those living voices are no longer as available or as accessible; that they continue to learn and be taught based on fact, and based on history,” Ahlquist said.
Ahlquist said he sees the biggest threats today as the role of social media in proliferating hate, and less meaningful discussion between those that disagree.
“As the push is towards the margins, rather than towards the center, the ability to ostracize, or to marginalize vulnerable communities is increased,” he added. “And that never goes well for the Jewish community.”
Charles Asher Small ended the conversation calling for speaking out “against all forms of discrimination, racism, attacks on religious communities and gendered communities and the like. There is discrimination against Muslims in the society and you should speak out. And there are people, Christians, Jews and Muslims coming together in the wake of the rise of hatred in this country. Also against migrants and refugees. This is also very important and timely,” he said. “So I think there is a coming together.”
For more information and educational resources on anti-Semitism, visit adl.org.