By Matija Šerić
After Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on October 7 this year and after Israel’s fierce counterattack in the Gaza Strip, where the number of dead Palestinians far exceeded the number of dead Jews in the Hamas attack, anti-Semitism throughout the world experienced a drastic rise. The old evil is back at the big door again. Current trends – the flare-up of the war in the Gaza Strip and the mass suffering of Palestinians – are the driving fuel of anti-Semitism, the rise of which favors the deepening or revival of social conflicts in many communities.
The situation in the United States, where the largest Jewish community in the world lives – 7.3 million, is particularly worrying. Many Jewish schools canceled classes. Synagogues are locked. Social networks were filled with hatred for Jews, leaving a vulnerable minority community in the lurch. The growth of hatred is more than palpable. The Jewish non-governmental and lobbying organization Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported at the end of October that anti-Semitic incidents in the US after October 7 increased by about 400% compared to the previous year.
And the data was not good last year either – the FBI registered 1,124 reported hate crimes against the Jewish people or Jewish institutions in the US. This is the highest number of anti-Jewish crimes since 1993. Now the situation has worsened. Americans of Jewish origin studying at the prestigious Cornell University are so afraid for their lives on campus that they are not allowed to eat with other classmates after receiving death threats on the Internet. Pro-Palestinian protests at some universities have crossed the line into anti-Semitism, prompting some Republicans and Democrats to warn that universities are in the hands of left-wing radicals. In essence, radical left and right groups have the upper hand in anti-Semitic outbursts.
In late October, President Biden unveiled new measures to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses, and senior officials emphasized the need to prevent hatred against Jews. US government officials met with American Jewish leaders to discuss steps to combat what a White House official described as an “alarming increase in reported cases of anti-Semitism on college campuses.” There are a handful of incidents. After a man shouted “Free Palestine” and “Kill the Jews” and then tried to break into a Jewish family’s home in Los Angeles on Oct. 25, Mayor Karen Bass said police would continue to increase patrols in neighborhoods across the city. On October 31, the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center in New York was covered in pro-Palestinian graffiti near the front door. It is about the Yiddish Cultural Center in the Bronx, which also rents space to the Montefiore Medical Center, whose staff discovered the graffiti. In late October, a wall outside a high school in the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh was graffitied with the words “Free Palestine from Pittsburgh to Gaza.” The situation does not bode well.
The growth of anti-Semitism also affects Canada, where 394,000 Jews live. On October 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of a “frightening rise” in anti-Semitism, citing incidents at a Jewish high school in Toronto, as well as an escalation of warmongering online. Anti-Jewish violence has been reported in cities with large Jewish and Muslim populations such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. In Toronto, anti-Semitic attacks experienced a 100% increase compared to 2022. Specifically, 15 attacks against Jews were recorded. On the other hand, in five cases the targets were Muslims.
Examples include an attack on a rabbi’s house in British Columbia that was pelted with eggs and vandalized with a Nazi swastika. In Toronto, stars of David are painted on the walls, dripping with red paint. These are hate crimes. According to data released by the Canadian government, the Jewish minority community in Canada is the most exposed to hate attacks in the long run. Reported anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. In 2019, there were 306 attacks, and in 2020, 331 attacks. The following 2021 saw a big jump to 492 attacks and an additional jump to 502 incidents in 2022.
After the USA and Israel, France has the third largest Jewish population in the world – 442 thousand people. Anti-Semitism, which has deep historical roots in French society, has experienced a resurgence in recent years and is embodied in violent acts. Over the past fifteen years, France has experienced at least around 400 anti-Semitic attacks each year, including the brutal murder of French-Moroccan Jew Ilan Halimi by a gang of Muslims called the “Barbarian Gang” in 2006 and the armed massacre at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by Muslim Mohammed Mer. In 2014, another French Muslim, Mehdi Nemmouche, killed four people in Brussels, Belgium. Anti-Semitic speeches are unfortunately becoming more frequent in public, as the Dieudonné affair revealed.
The comedian of the same name, a friend of the French rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen and the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been spreading anti-Semitic theses for years, such as portraying Jews as Nazis and making fun of the Holocaust. The anti-Semitic feelings that prevail among some parts of French society and that French Jews feel very much on their own skin only intensified after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. The French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, recently stated that since October 7, 819 anti-Semitic crimes have occurred. That’s double the figure of 436 for all of 2022. Darmanin said 414 anti-Semites were arrested.
Anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Germany and it is causing great problems and an existential threat to German Jews. The World Jewish Congress estimates that around 118,000 Jews currently live in the Federal Republic of Germany. Although some statistics show that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has the same intensity over the years, it is clear that the number of riots has recently increased in many cities, especially in the capital Berlin. Research by the civil society observatory, RIAS, showed a 240% increase in anti-Semitic incidents compared to the previous year in the period from October 7 to 15. It goes without saying that not all attacks are reported due to the fear of the victims. Analysts do not want to attribute the growth of anti-Semitism in Germany only to the arrival of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Right-wing extremists are responsible for many anti-Semitic attacks, and immigrants from Muslim countries who have arrived in recent years are to blame.
The situation is similar in Austria, where the growth of anti-Jewish attacks experienced a 300% increase after October 7, even though there are only slightly more than 10,000 Jews. A wall at the Jewish cemetery in Vienna was defaced with a swastika and the word “Hitler”, and someone set fire to the ceremony hall at the cemetery. Firefighters extinguished the flames. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in response to the incident: “Anti-Semitism has no place in our society and we will fight against it with all necessary political and legal means.”
Great Britain is home to 292 thousand Jews. The London police released data that 218 anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported from October 1 to 18, 13 times more than in the same period last year. More than a thousand anti-Jewish attacks were reported across Britain by the beginning of November, including attacks on Jewish schools, universities and the Wiener Holocaust Library in London. “Gaza” graffiti and other pro-Palestinian slogans are written on the facade of the library. The Foundation for Community Safety, which collects reports on anti-Semitism in Britain, said the number of incidents in the three weeks following the Hamas attack was the highest of any three-week period since it began collecting data in 1984. This was a 537% increase on last year. More than 60 incidents affected schools and students.
Although there are no official figures, Eddo Verdoner, the national coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, said that a sharp increase in anti-Semitism has been observed and that there is great concern in the Jewish community. He said parents had reported their children being bullied at school, with vile comments such as “Hamas was right” and “they should have done it earlier”. Hans Wallage, an anti-Semitism researcher and policy adviser at CIDI (Center for Documentation and Information on Israel), said in an interview that he “calls the municipalities several times a week” to remove the swastikas from the windows. A Dutch Jew anonymously told reporters that he and his community experience a “constant feeling of insecurity.” He experienced anti-Semitism before the war, hiding his yarmulke under his cap when he went out or hearing insults when he spoke to his father in Hebrew. But he never felt insecure until the war started. Now he worries about going to the synagogue because something could happen. “Through the attacks, Hamas not only wanted to set fire to things there (in the Holy Land) but also to increase contradictions in Western Europe,” Verdoner said of the war that began on October 7. “The effects in society are direct and great.”
Anti-Semitism remains entrenched in Europe
Undoubtedly, anti-Semitism remains firmly rooted on the Old Continent. Experts estimate that the Jewish population within the European Union is 781,200, although many more people have Jewish ancestry – at least one parent who identifies as Jewish. The number of Jews immediately after the Second World War and the Holocaust was about 3.8 million, and it decreased over time. In some countries, including Great Britain and Austria, Jewish minority communities are growing, albeit gradually as immigration offsets mortality that is high due to a predominantly elderly population. In countries like Germany, Jewish populations are stable. According to ADL research, in Western Europe, Spain is the country with the highest percentage of anti-Semitic attitudes – as many as 26% of respondents hold anti-Semitic beliefs. It is followed by Belgium (24%), France (17%), Germany (12%), Great Britain (10%) and the Netherlands (6%).
On the other hand, in Eastern Europe, anti-Semitic attitudes are even stronger, although they are weakening over time. A high percentage of anti-Semitic beliefs is found in Hungary (37%) and Poland (35%). About one in four people in the EU hold anti-Semitic beliefs based on erroneous stereotypical beliefs about Jews and money and Jews controlling foreign governments. This is precisely why an increasing number of Jews are thinking about leaving Europe because of prejudice and discrimination. However, research by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has shown that most emigration of European Jews is motivated by factors that encourage the movement of other communities: the search for stability, security and prosperity.
In Argentina, the situation for the Jewish minority is not great, even though 173 thousand Jews live there. During the 1990s, there were two attacks on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish center in which over 100 people were killed in total. Argentine Jewish leaders are advising members of their community to be more vigilant. A prominent Jewish school in Buenos Aires asked students not to wear their usual uniforms, while some sports teams pulled out of a table tennis competition held at a Jewish club for fear they could be targeted by terrorists. Local media reported that an Argentine was arrested after he called for attacks on Jewish children in schools on the social media platform 4chan. In Brazil (91,000 members of the Jewish community), Jewish representatives have noted an increase in anti-Semitic discourse on the Internet and incidents such as graffiti defacing a synagogue in Rio de Janeiro, as well as anti-Semitic leaflets posted in Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz in the Rio district of Ipanemi. No cases of physical attacks were recorded. “We are very worried. We have increased the security of our institutions,” said Ricardo Berkiensztat, executive president of the Jewish Federation of the State of Sao Paulo. He said he had seen comments on the Internet like “Hitler wasn’t done, he should have finished killing the Jews.”
In South Africa, which is home to 51,000 Jews, according to David Saks, assistant director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in October was nine times higher than the average for the past decade. In one incident, a woman who shared a link to a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza suffered online abuse, including a post that read “we will come for her children next”.
The African National Congress (ANC) government has de facto institutionalized anti-Semitism because the ANC openly collaborates with Hamas. South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, has been criticized for having a telephone conversation with the leader of Hamas just 10 days after the Palestinian militant group launched an attack on Israel. While the South African government has long expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, a South African Jewish organization says the phone call shows the minister supports Hamas.
After an angry mob stormed the airport in Makhachkala, Republic of Dagestan, looking for Jews to attack after the plane arrived from Tel Aviv, the president of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities called on Russian authorities to severely punish the attackers. Rabbi Alexander Boroda said the riot at the airport “undermined the basic foundations of our multicultural and multinational state.” Ovadia Isakov, a prominent Jewish rabbi from Dagestan and spokesman for the Dagestan Jewish community, told the Russian news site Podyom that 700 to 800 families of the last Dagestan mountain Jewish community, which traces its origins back to the 7th century, may have to go to other parts of Russia.
There are no official data on anti-Semitic incidents in China. However, on October 13, a staff member of the Israeli embassy in Beijing was attacked, and the suspect was arrested. Chinese social media has been flooded with anti-Semitic content, including posts suggesting the Nazi Holocaust was justified and comparing Jews to parasites, vampires or snakes. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said the law prohibits the use of the Internet to spread hate speech, but there have been no concrete efforts by the authorities to crack down on anti-Semitic activity online.
Prejudices against entire nations exist deep into the 21st century, despite enormous human progress. Unfortunately, in 2023, anti-Semitism is still alive. It is illogical that someone can hate all members of a nation, but it is a reality. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are very similar phenomena. Many experts interpret hate attacks against Jews and their property as deep-rooted negative stereotypes that, although always present, come to the surface in moments of social circumstances such as the current war in the Holy Land. From all this, it can be concluded that anti-Semitism never disappeared or was eradicated in many parts of the world. Anti-Semitism has been silenced and hidden over the years, but it has not evaporated. It is obvious that as time passes, the memories of the Holocaust fade, especially among the young generations who do not care about history, while prejudice and hatred persist.