Home inFocus Anti-Semitism: The Oldest Hate Renewed (Spring 2020) Key Lessons from Recent Anti-Semitic Incidents

Key Lessons from Recent Anti-Semitic Incidents

Rabbi Abraham Cooper Spring 2020
Anti-Israel students at Columbia University erected a mock “apartheid wall” in front of the iconic Low Library steps during Israel Apartheid Week, March 3, 2016. (Photo: Uriel Heilman/JTA)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2019 Top 10 Worst Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel Incidents confirms that history’s oldest hate continues its pernicious and deadly metastasis into the mainstream of Western democracies.

Gone are the days when we in the United States would wag an accusing finger at the other side of the Atlantic. The 2019 list is evenly divided between North America and Europe. It is not just Paris, London, Berlin, or Stockholm anymore; the targeting of Jews has manifested itself coast-to-coast from San Diego County to Jersey City to the New York City subway system. And just days after the release of the Wiesenthal Center’s Top 10 Worst in December came the horrific machete attack at a Chanukah celebration at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York.

Editor’s Note: In a criminal federal hate crimes complaint filed against Thomas Grafton – charged with the stabbing attack at the home Hasidic Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey – federal prosecutors said they found handwritten journals at Thomas’ home that contained anti-Semitic views. These included mentions of “Nazi culture” and Adolf Hitler, along with drawings of a swastika and a Star of David.

Authorities said an examination of Thomas’ phone revealed had he searched the Internet for phrases connected to Hitler, Jews and the location of “Jewish Temples” and “Zionist Temples.” Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. Psychiatrists hired by the defense told the judge that their client is “not competent to stand trial.”

At nearly the same time, the institution of so-called “bail reform” in New York saw the release of an anti-Semitic hate crime perpetrator without bail. The day of her release, she violently attacked three Jewish women. Only on the perpetrator’s third offense was a $10,000 bail set.

The Role of Social Media

During a meeting with three top New York City Police Department officials, this writer asked what had changed in the last five years. Where did all this anti-Semitic hate come from? “Social media” was their simultaneous response. In fact, social media represent the most powerful marketing and recruitment tool for anti-Semites, racists and other bigots in history.

It emerges as the key marketing platform for anti-Semitic incitement, empowerment and recruitment of so-called lone wolf domestic terrorists who violently target Jews at prayer and at work. Social media giants have a spotty record at best in interdicting anti-Jewish incitement, which continues unabated 24/7. Facebook and other social media companies have failed to make changes to their live-streaming services even after they have been used to disseminate deadly attacks in real-time to millions of people around the world.

Until the recent wave of violent attacks in the New York City area, most of the mainstream news media had shown little interest in the roots and manifestations of today’s anti-Semitism—unless and until Jewish blood is spilt and unless it can be linked to white supremacists. Many of the recent attacks in the New York area did not fit that narrative, as the alleged perpetrators were black. Much of the media and political leadership were slow to acknowledge that tragic fact.

Lip Service is What we Get

Too many leaders–from the United States to France, the United Kingdom, Germany, to Scandinavia — give lip service to the problem of anti-Semitism but have failed to come up with a comprehensive approach that includes increased funding for law enforcement, tougher sentences for anti-Semitic hate crimes and education for a generation born in the 21st century and that has little or no understanding of anti-Semitism or the Nazi Holocaust.

While “Sieg Heil”-ing neo-Nazis and other extreme far-right Jew-haters remain headline-grabbers and generate media analysis, interfaith protests and the attention of organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there is scant acknowledgment or action when anti-Semitism is inspired and promoted by extremists—including imams cursing Jews from their pulpits in the name of Islam or the Palestinian cause.

For example, in Sweden, over the last decade, authorities in Malmo, the country’s third largest city, still have not arrested or prosecuted a single person for countless anti-Semitic hate crimes apparently committed by members of the city’s Muslim community or for ongoing intimidation of the leading rabbi.

In France, authorities have shown yet again that they view anti-Jewish hate crimes committed in the name of Islam through a different prism. Shockingly, a French court released the convicted murderer of a Jewish woman. The killer had beaten his victim to death in her apartment and then threw her body off a balcony while he chanted Quranic texts. They blamed his smoking marijuana.

In Germany, politicians wonder why an Israeli student is beaten on the streets of Berlin for speaking Hebrew, even as the same politicians, welcome Iranian delegations dispatched by the “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranians come bearing sweetheart economic deals for Germany. German leaders permit terrorist Hezbollah (the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist movement), to operate openly and directly in among Muslims in major cities, including Berlin.

In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn) allowed—some say encouraged—”progressive” elements of the Labour Party he led to purge Jewish Labourites, to openly express anti-Semitic and extreme anti-Israel sentiments and even deny the Holocaust. Only the overwhelming defeat handed to Corbyn by British voters on election day in December put an end – at least temporarily – to the injection of vile Jew-hatred into the mainstream of the political and social fabric of the United Kingdom. To date, though, anti-Semitic crimes in the UK continue.

North American Colleges and Universities

The situation for Jewish students on leading American and Canadian universities remains dire. The Wiesenthal Center could have created a Top 10 or even a Top 100 worst incidents list just focusing on elite campuses from NYU, Columbia, to York and McGill Universities and University of Toronto, to UCLA, UC Berkeley and scores of campuses in America’s heartland. Israel is cast by “boycott, disinvest, sanction” (BDS) campaigns as an apartheid regime, racist and therefore illegitimate, and Israelis are slandered as latter-day Nazis. Woe to the pro-Israel speaker slated to speak on campus, or to a Jewish student leader who travels to the Jewish state.

Universities pride themselves on nurturing “safe zones” for students who are upset about issues of the day. In the case of Israel and its supporters, safe zones, that is, for everyone who is upset by the existence of Zionists and their friends. As Jewish students seek ways to fight back, there are increasing calls for Jewish alumni to protest the pernicious double standards by closing their checkbooks to their alma maters until Jewish students receive equal treatment afforded to every other minority.

Title VI

The only real game-changer and one of the few rays of light piercing the politically correct darkness enveloping academia was President Donald Trump’s surprise signing of an executive order at a White House Chanukah party in 2019. With a stroke of a pen, Jewish students were at last afforded the same protections and redress guaranteed to other minorities in the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VI of the US Department of Education.

Students victimized by anti-Israel or anti-Jewish hatred on campus and rebuffed by non-responsive administrators can now turn to the US Department of Education to investigate. If charges of anti-Semitism are verified, the department can withhold federal funds from schools that fail to act. Finally, the executive order erased one other key excuse deployed by diffident bureaucrats. President Trump adopted the so-called IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism. Adopted by more than 20 nations, the IHRA definition lists among its examples the labeling of Israel as Nazi-like, thus robbing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activists of a favorite insidious big-lie.

Where Do We Go From Here?

First, we Jews will have to spend more in order to better secure the safety of our communities, synagogues and schools. We also should provide additional moral and financial support along with training for disrespected law enforcement, whose brave members are the first and last line of defense. Along with that, we need a commitment by law enforcement to work with Jewish communities to better secure their safety, and, of course, that of synagogues and schools. And we need a commitment by all Americans to support the country’s law enforcement officers, whose often difficult work sometimes goes unappreciated.

Second, we need a more robust FBI-led response to the violent targeting of Jews.

Third, we need people of all faiths and faith leaders to denounce anti-Semitism. Just as Jews have played an important role in fighting white racism directed against black Americans, we now need partners in the African-American community to join with us in fighting against those who hate Jews, regardless of their color. Oftentimes, white anti-Semites are also white racists, and blacks who hate whites may despise Jews in particular.

Fourth, we need to overcome anti-Semites in Congress and rebuild bipartisan coalitions against Jew-hatred and other forms of religious, ethnic or racial bigotry. We will have to strive to recast the struggle against anti-Semitism as a non-partisan campaign and not just another political football in the unending toxic Left-Right wars.

Fifth, we must demand accountability from university administrators and news media; we also must demand that the social media giants do much more to cripple online recruitment and marketing of bigots and terrorists.

Most of all, American Jews will need the help and understanding of our neighbors, blessed like us to live in the world’s greatest democracy. Like millions of other people, Jews immigrated to the United States from around the world to escape persecution. We have joined with others in this nation of immigrants to take part in the American Dream – enjoying a level of freedom and acceptance our ancestors in foreign lands never knew. Anti-Semitism has not been part of the American character – it is, at its heart, anti-American. All Americans must unite to fight this evil.

Moving forward, the greatest collective challenge for American Jews is to overcome growing internal debates and differences and to unite to fight this new/old 21st century war against our people – together.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean, director Global Social Action Agenda, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.