Opinion |

ADL VP: Why Is the White House Still Ignoring the anti-Semitism Surge, but Adopting the Language of anti-Semites?

Being 'pro-Israel' is no excuse for bigotry and intolerance. But that's the free pass too many Jews are giving racist far-right movements throughout Europe and the U.S.

Sharon Nazarian
Sharon Nazarian
Bulgarian far-rightists take part in the annual Lukov March, Sofia, February 12, 2011.
Bulgarian far-rightists take part in the annual Lukov March, Sofia, February 12, 2011. Credit: Valentina Petrova / AP
Sharon Nazarian
Sharon Nazarian

The 6th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, convening this week in Jerusalem, could not come at a more critical moment for the global Jewish community. The conference, sponsored by Israel's Foreign Ministry, brings leading international experts, including representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, to participate in panel discussions and conversations on the current state of global anti-Semitism.

This year’s gathering is particularly significant in light of the recent surge in anti-Semitism in the United States and elsewhere. This month the ADL released its annual anti-Semitism audit for 2017, which showed a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016.

It was the largest one-year increase on record and the second-highest number reported since ADL began tracking incident data, in the 1970s. The list of incidents included 1,015 incidents of harassment, including 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, 952 incidents of vandalism and 19 cases of physical assaults.

Chairman of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache (L) and his wife Philippa Beck (R) celebrate after the results of the general elections in Vienna on October 15, 2017Credit: AFP PHOTO / APA / HANS KLAUS TECHT / Austria OUT

The Jewish communities of Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands have all reported recent upticks in violence targeting their communities.

Added to this worrisome trend is a perception that the surge in anti-Semitism is being ignored at the highest levels of the U.S. government. We are still waiting for the State Department to appoint a special envoy on anti-Semitism, as mandated by Congress.

It doesn’t help when the president repeatedly fails to condemn anti-Semitism and uses terms such as "globalist" — accepted in alt-right circles as an anti-Semitic slur — to describe Jewish members of his administration.

Related to this more broadly is the rise of populism and nationalism in the United States and in other countries, especially in Europe.

In Austria, the once-maligned Freedom Party, whose founding members were involved in the Nazi party, is now a major government coalition partner.

In Italy’s recent election, the populist Five-Star Movement and Lega party combined won over 50 percent of votes.

In Germany, the stalwart liberal democracy of Europe, the xenophobic Alternative for Germany party won 12 percent of votes in last year’s election, making it the third largest party in parliament.

And Poland’s parliament recently passed legislation criminalizing certain forms of Holocaust speech under the guise of protecting Poland’s "national honor."

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS

While the rise of far-right populist movements, especially those tinged with anti-Semitism, should be of concern to all Jews, some have unfortunately argued in support of engagement with these parties due to their "pro-Israel" views.

This approach is a dangerous one. It is foolish to downplay or ignore the xenophobic and racist views of those movements simply because these groups express support for Israel. Many have their roots in anti-Semitism and Nazism, while others are Islamophobic and promote anti-immigrant policies.

Being "pro-Israel" is no excuse for bigotry and intolerance, and we must not succumb to embracing these movements at the expense of compromising our moral compass.

Conversely, we must also be careful not to ignore anti-Semitism when it comes from the far left or minority communities. Whether it’s Louis Farrakhan, elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or Britain’s Labour Party, intolerance and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, expressed under the guise of liberalism, anti-racism or socialism must be equally condemned.

Louis Farrakhan displays his book "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews" during a speech at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. in 2011.Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP

And of course we must forcefully reject any form of anti-Semitism emanating from dark corners of parts of the Muslim world, including from senior Iranian government officials, textbooks used in Saudi schools and Hamas’s repeated calls for Israel’s violent destruction.

Anti-Semitism has no political monopoly; it is equally concerning coming from the right, the left or the Muslim world.

The millennia-old hatred of Jews has seen many resurgences throughout history, often during periods when intolerance of others is presented as acceptable. Anti-Semitism does not live in a vacuum. For that reason, any effort to combat anti-Semitism must be coupled with a broad rejection of racism and bigotry of all kinds.

When one kind of hatred is permitted, others will soon follow.

If we are sincere about addressing global anti-Semitism, we must not shy away from criticizing political movements on the far right that engage in xenophobia and racism, much as we do with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel movements on the far left. The Global Forum provides an opportunity to do just that.

Sharon Nazarian is senior vice president of international affairs at the ADL. Twitter: @sharon_nazarian

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