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Who's an anti-Semite? In 2019, It's Not So Easy to Tell

Netanyahu claims that radical Islam and the radical left are the face of modern anti-Semitism. But Bennett’s anti-Semitism report shows that a majority of Jews murdered in 2018 were killed by the far right. Who’s right?

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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People paying their respects at a makeshift memorial for the 11 people killed while worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, November 1, 2018.
People paying their respects at a makeshift memorial for the 11 people killed while worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, November 1, 2018.Credit: Gene J. Puskar,AP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day was being marked Sunday around the world, a question arose at the Israeli cabinet meeting: Who is the leading perpetrator of anti-Semitism? Is it the extreme right, Jihadist Islam, the extreme left, or perhaps a combination of all three?

The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, which is headed by Naftali Bennett, published its annual anti-Semitism report today. The report’s bottom line was clear: The far right is more dangerous to Jews than the far left and radical Islam.

“Unlike previous years, in which Islamist anti-Semitism was the primary and most dangerous threat to Jewish communities, in 2018 there was a shift and currently anti-Semitic incidents originating in the extreme right are the primary and most dangerous factor for Jewish communities, particularly in the United States and Europe,” the report says.

>> Right-wing extremists murdered 50 Americans in 2018, report finds - and one-third of them were Jews

This conclusion is based on dry statistical analysis. The report found that 12 of 13 Jews killed in anti-Semitic acts in 2018 were killed in attacks committed by far-right extremists. Eleven were killed in the shooting massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October, which was carried out by a white supremacist opposed to refugees and immigrants. Another Jew, a gay student named Blaze Bernstein, was murdered in January 2018 in California by an avowed neo-Nazi. The exception on the list is Mireille Knoll, the Holocaust survivor from Paris who was stabbed and burned to death in March last year by two youths, one of them a Muslim from North Africa.

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor found murdered in her Paris apartment on March 23, 2018.Credit: No credit

These figures clearly show that far-right anti-Semitism was responsible for the vast majority of Jews killed in anti-Semitic attacks in 2018.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to focus in his brief remarks on the subject on the second-largest source of anti-Semitism – radical Islam. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting he said, “Anti-Semitism from the right is nothing new. What is new in Europe is this combination of Islamist anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the far left that cloaks itself as anti-Zionism, as recently occurred in Britain and Ireland. Shame.”

Is there a contradiction between the anti-Semitism report issued by Bennett’s ministry, which places the emphasis on the far right, and Netanyahu’s comments, which place the emphasis on radical Islamists and the far left? Not necessarily, says Professor Dina Porat, a historian who heads the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, which publishes a yearly report on the state of anti-Semitism worldwide.

“There isn’t much of a contradiction here. In previous years, we saw that radical Islamists were the main cause of the violent anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda but in a review of 2018, we saw a significant increase coming from the far right – in America and Europe,” she says. “This increase on the right is indeed significant, but it is not coming instead of the anti-Semitism of radical Islam and the far left.” She says the combination of the three is the key to understanding modern anti-Semitism.

Bennett noted the same thing in his preface to the report. “What causes anti-Semitism? What is it about anti-Semitism that unites the radical left, which purports to promote humanism, with fundamentalist radical Islam and with right-wing white supremacists?” he asks and then offers this answer: “The explanations for anti-Semitism are always temporary – an economic crisis, a political movement, a religious faith... And yet, even when all of these pass, anti-Semitism remains – it is timeless. For anti-Semites, the Jews will always be the scapegoat, the source of all their troubles.”

Besides the question of whether the far right or far left is more anti-Semitic, there is also the difficulty of distinguishing between various trends within the far right. “Up to a generation ago, it was quite easy to define the far right, because its supporters adhered to various neo-Nazi and neo-fascist dogmas and spouted hatred of Jews and foreigners,” says the new report. But today, in the wake of the Muslim immigration to Europe and the formation of the European Union, there is a wider range of groups within the far right. Some are anti-Semitic, seeing Judaism as a foreign influence that must be neutralized, and emphasizing the threat to national identity. Other groups, though, are actually philo-Semitic with an ideology that is anti-Islamic at its core.

“Some of these movements froze their Jew-hatred in order to replace it with Islamophobia,” says the report. The best example is the Austrian Freedom Party led by Heinz-Christian Strache, a neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic party at its base that in recent years claims to support Israel. Its opponents point out that it is not clearly disassociating itself from its past, and they monitor with concern incidents with a whiff of anti-Semitism that continue to accompany its activists.

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report makes a simple distinction: The anti-Semitic right is more common in countries from the former Communist bloc, while extremist parties that declare themselves to be free of anti-Semitism operate in Western Europe – “either out of genuine change, or for tactical reasons,” the report says.

And what about the anti-Semitism originating in the far left? The report cites “a growing alliance between the far left and radical Islam – two groups with ostensibly different worldviews that still find common cause against Israel and Jews.” This “strange alliance” is explained by the theory of “intersectional oppression,” which calls for unity among all oppressed groups.

“Figures from radical Islam have managed to link their hatred for Israel, which is portrayed as sincere concern for Palestinian rights, to this idea, while they paint Israel as a ‘demon’ that all progressives must fight,” the report says. “This discourse paints Israeli Jews as white oppressors (contrary to the far-right anti-Semites, who see Jews as an inferior race) of Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular, who are portrayed as part of the worldwide circle of the oppressed.”

Far-left Westerners who are not Muslims can identify with this message. “Israel is portrayed as colonialist, nationalist and backward, the antithesis of the liberal and humanist philosophies (liberalism, feminism, LGBT rights and human rights).”

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