An explosion of antisemitism in the wake of the Gaza conflict
May 29, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
The past few weeks have witnessed an explosion of antisemitic attacks and events around the world, which started during the Israeli-Hamas conflict, but has not abated even after the ceasefire on May 21. Incidents have been up an estimated 75% in the US, while in Britain, they are said to be up nearly 500% over an 11 day period.
US President Joe Biden has publicly called the surge of attacks “despicable” and has convened a White House meeting with Jewish groups on how to counter it.
This Update describes this explosion in antisemitism and what is being done about it, and what more can be done.
We lead with Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the US’s leading body tasked with fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate, the Anti-Defamation League. He details how this wave of antisemitism has broken out across the US, its deep roots in social media, and how it relates to extreme forms of anti-Zionism. He also discusses the ADL’s solution, a “Day of Action Against Antisemitism” which took place on May 27, US time – meaning yesterday in Australia. For all of Greenblatt’s analysis of the situation, CLICK HERE. More on one element of that “Day of Action” – an online zoom rally including 23,000 participants – is here.
Next up is Somali-born author and intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali exploring how social media has brought antisemitism from the fringe to the mainstream. She looks at some major celebrity “social media influencers”, with huge followings who helped begin that trend by posting extremist pro-Palestinian slogans and claims, largely out of ignorance. Hirsi Ali draws on her own experience of being under threat of violence because of her criticism of mistreatment of women in Muslim societies to explain the mindset behind both the explosion of hate and the antisemitic violence it sparked. For her moving and informative piece in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, US intellectual and Middle East expert Steven Cook takes to task the many intellectuals he has worked with who have failed to speak out against this wave of antisemitism. He is particularly scathing of the tendency of many of them to lecture Jews that they are over-reacting to the antisemitic violence and speech. He blasts these colleagues for “a betrayal not just of Jews, but of every other value you claim to represent.” For Cook’s scathing yet penetrating comments, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- More on the social media roots of the wave of antisemitism from American columnist Bethany Mandel – who notes the widespread Twitter meme “Hitler was right” – and Israeli expert Emily Schrader.
- Music writer Eve Barlow tells a horrifying story of how massive social media bullying over her efforts to defend Israel online effectively caused her to lose her ability to work at her job.
- A Los Angeles Times editorial on the wave of antisemitism.
- A report that China is using social media trolling over Gaza as a way to undermine the Biden Administration.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC NSW Chairman Paul Rubenstein in the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out what those who chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are really saying.
- Naomi Levin reports on the ABC and SBS apparently telling staff members who signed a petition essentially calling for journalists to openly support the Palestinians in their reporting that they need to be impartial.
- AIJAC research associate Dr. Ran Porat on Israeli politics and the recent Israel-Hamas war, at the Conversation.
- An AIJAC submission to a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee urging Australia to tighten its terrorism listing for Hizballah.
- AIJAC’s response to the decision by Israel’s Attorney-General to indict former Deputy Health Minister Yaacov Litzman for obstruction of justice and breach of trust over his alleged efforts to block the extradition of accused child sex abuser Malka Leifer back to Australia.
We’re witnessing a new wave of antisemitic hate crimes. Here’s how we stop it.
Forward, May 26, 2021
New York has been the site of numerous attacks on visibly Jewish people – apparently by pro-Palestinian attackers (Photo: Anna Kristiana Dave / Shutterstock.com)
In May, there’s been a terrifying surge in antisemitic hate crimes across the country. This is not just anecdotal, nor is it just a few isolated but well-publicized incidents in places like Los Angeles and New York. Rather, we have seen a torrent of incidents across the country in both small towns and major urban areas, from Jews being physically attacked and harassed in scenes coast to coast, to synagogues being desecrated in the Midwest, to antisemitic graffiti being scrawled in places as far flung as New Hampshire and Utah to Jewish stores being vandalized on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
At ADL, we have been tracking this type of data for decades and monitoring incidents since the outbreak of the conflict on May 10. Our preliminary data show that during the past two weeks, reports of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. increased by 75 percent, compared to the two weeks before the fighting began, from 127 to 222. Our staff has been scrambling to keep up with the influx of additional reports.
In “normal” times when there is no conflict or moment in time triggering such an increase in hate, it is hard for us to identify the impetus of such incidents of antisemitic harassment, assaults and vandalism. Often, we do not know or are unable to divine the motives of the perpetrators. Not this time.
Many of these incidents have taken place at or around the approximately 200 anti-Israel rallies held across the U.S. since May 16. Although many of the rallies remained peaceful and did not include antisemitic language, some speakers, signs and chants included messages that attacked Zionists or trafficked in hateful antisemitic tropes.
In the most striking example of this, on the evening of May 19, a number of men dressed in black and waving Palestinian flags drove up to a restaurant to carry out a premeditated attack on a group of Jewish diners on La Cienaga Boulevard, at the heart of Jewish Los Angeles.
These have also included brazen and brutal attacks in broad daylight in a number of major American cities. Aside from the attack in L.A., there were similar ones on the streets of South Florida, synagogues vandalized in Tucson, Arizona, and Skokie, Illinois, and we have seen repeated attacks in New York including a widely seen video of a Jewish man beaten by a gang in broad daylight — in Times Square. In Brooklyn over the weekend three men allegedly drove around Borough Park harassing and assaulting Jewish individuals, including teenagers. They yelled antisemitic slurs as well as “free Palestine,” and kicked a synagogue’s doors.
It should not even need to be said that there is ample space in public life for legitimate forms of criticism of the Jewish state as is the case with any other country. At ADL, we engage in such fact-based critiques on a regular basis.
But you cross the line when you demonize Israelis and Zionism; delegitimize the Jewish state and its very existence; and hold Israel to double standards in comparison to other countries. This happens far too often, particularly in recent weeks as many people in positions of authority made exaggerated claims, levelled unhinged charges and spread conspiracies about Israel.
In light of such irresponsible behaviour and reckless slander, should anyone be surprised when assaults and violence follows? When you blame, scapegoat, target and attack Jews or Jewish institutions to air your grievances, that is not protesting. That is not activism. That is antisemitism.
This is part of two disturbing patterns that we will highlight and seek to combat in our national Antisemitism Day of Action on Thursday, May 27. First is the immediate blaming of American Jews for the actions of Israel: when Jewish individuals and institutions are attacked or targeted for no other reason than their religion.
The second pattern is the increasing demonization of Jews through social media. The tsunami of online abuse has been staggering. Each subsequent wave of trouble in the Middle East seems to spawn an ever greater wave of antisemitism. This is happening across mainstream platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. We are also seeing a spike in antisemitism on fringe hate-filled platforms like 4chan. This hatred will not likely cease just because the rockets stop.
Middle schoolers trawling TikTok for dance videos are being told that Jews are criminals. Irresponsible influencers are tweeting that the recognition of Israel’s right to exist is “inherently evil.” Our analysis of Twitter in the days following the recent outbreak of violence showed that at least 17,000 tweets used variations of the genocidal phrase, “Hitler was right” during the first week of rockets.
There should be no place for antisemitism online and there needs to be a cost to hate-posters and the platforms that facilitate it — these online actions have real-world consequences where Jews are getting harmed.
Just as January 6 showed how social media conspiracy theories can explode into physical danger, this episode shows how online antisemitism translates into real-world attacks on Jews. And just as the past four years demonstrated how extremists exploit the silence of others, we now have a new breed of extremists who feel emboldened and whose hate must be confronted without equivocation or hesitation. Finally, just as we have asked partisans on the political right to speak out unequivocally against right-wing extremists who sought to harm Jews and other minorities, we now want to see partisans on the political left speak out unequivocally against left-wing extremists seeking to harm Jews and spread hate.
The Anti-Defamation League declared yesterday a “Day of Action Against Antisemitism” in the US.
To prevent these attacks and turn the tide, we have called upon President Biden to oppose antisemitism through his words and his actions. He has a long history of speaking out on these issues; it has been a hallmark of his career in public life. But today this means not only using his office to denounce this racism, but also taking additional steps.
We want to see the President fill the vacant office of the White House Jewish liaison. We hope the Administration will work with Congress to increase the non-profit security grants program so we effectively can protect houses of worship. And we implore Secretary Blinken to appoint a Special Envoy at the State Department to monitor and combat global antisemitism.
But this is not an issue only for elected officials. We call on community activists, faith leaders, business executives, social media influencers, public figures and Americans across the board to speak out against antisemitism. Everyone must do their part to fight because, as others have said, antisemitism may start with the Jews but it never ends with them. Before this hatred spreads any further, let’s stop it in its tracks.
On Thursday as we hold our Day of Action Against Antisemitism, we ask you to stand alongside the Jewish community. Your participation matters as Jews face this wave of hate. America depends on you.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
How influencers have legitimised anti-Semitism
Instagram activists have turned false narratives into deadly fantasies
BY AYAAN HIRSI ALI
Unherd, May 25, 2021
In July 2005, Mohammed Bouyeri stood trial for the murder of Theo van Gogh. A year earlier, in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam, he shot Theo eight times, and then attempted to decapitate him. Theo’s crime, for which Bouyeri meted out a death sentence, was a simple one: he had chosen to direct a film, Submission, that addressed the mistreatment of women under Islam.
I wrote the script for that film — so Bouyeri pinned a note to Theo’s chest when he killed him, declaring that I would be next.
During his trial, Bouyeri said very little. But what he did say chilled everyone present. He declared he was not sorry for Theo’s murder; that he would do it again. As Geraldine Coughlan, who covered the trial for the BBC, recalled: “There was total shock in the courtroom. Some people were actually standing up because they couldn’t believe what he was saying. It was really without emotion.”
Bouyeri was a pure, cold-hearted killer, radicalised to believe a narrative that anyone who disparages Islam or the Prophet must die. Over the past week, I have repeatedly thought back to that trial, and Bouyeri’s unswerving belief in his Islamist worldview. For it seems to me that, sixteen years later, his need to shape the world within a narrative has found an unlikely new following here in the West.
Of all the narratives competing for our attention, there is none as volatile as the one that tells the story of Israel-Palestine. Indeed, there is no other conflict in the world that manages to combine all the highly charged story-lines of our time: the narrative of the oppressor versus the oppressed, of the coloniser versus the colonised, of the genocide perpetrator and system of supremacy.
It is a subject on which everyone seems to have a strong opinion. It is overloaded with emotion; with people desperate to tell their side’s “truth”. Instead of a thoughtful, conscientious approach, people rush to defend their “side” — and, in doing so, swiftly drift away from facts, and closer and closer to narratives that dismiss and overshadow objective truths.
It was a false narrative that led Mohammed Bouyeri to kill Theo, and express his intent to kill me. So I don’t say this lightly: the narratives circulating today regarding Israel and the Jewish people are equally dangerous, and are already wreaking havoc around the world. How else are we to explain the fact that, since the most recent conflict erupted between Israel and Gaza, acts of anti-Semitism have spiked in many corners of the Western world?
Of course, for several decades, there have been clandestine pockets of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and the US. This is not a new phenomenon. Despite the horrors that culminated at Auschwitz, anti-Semitism has been haunting our societies for years, continuing to be taught in far-Left, far-Right and Islamic circles. I first encountered these teachings as a child in Africa; as a teenager I joined the Muslim Brotherhood, where I was taught to believe that Jews were not even human, but descendants of pigs and monkeys.
Today, however, anti-Semitism is no longer confined to the fringes of society, but instead has started to leak into the mainstream. Social media has turned it into a contagion, normalising anti-Semitic tropes and attacks. Following the recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found “17,000 tweets which used variations of the phrase, ‘Hitler was right’” in just one week. Likewise, anti-Semitism has ferociously spread across Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. This is in large part due to a group of popular “influencers” who — along with their thousands of young, impressionable followers — use their platforms to highlight the Palestinians’ plight. No doubt they think they are fighting a just cause. What they may not realise, however, is that they are inadvertently harming Jews, including those living in the West.
I say “inadvertently” because I believe the majority of users posting infographics and memes about Israel-Palestine are simply under-educated and ill-informed. After all, one cannot explain thousands of years of history between Arabs and Israelis in a few screenshots, let alone 280 characters.
Take supermodel Bella Hadid, who, as Daniella Greenbaum Davis has pointed out, has almost four-times as many Instagram followers as there are Jews in the entire world. In response to the conflict, she joined a pro-Palestinian protest in Brooklyn, chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — an anti-Semitic slogan coined by the Palestine Liberation Organization to call for the elimination of Israel.
Until recently, it was a chant frequently associated with the likes of Hamas, a terrorist organisation whose 1988 charter explicitly called for genocide of the Jewish people. But in today’s hysterical climate, one of the West’s most famous celebrities can use it and expect applause. Indeed, when the Israeli government accused Hadid of advocating for the elimination of the Jewish state, many of her fans attempted a semantic defence, claiming that Hadid was innocently advocating for a free Palestine, without any harm to the Jews.
But this is where the role of false narratives becomes increasingly alarming. It is my opinion that Ms. Hadid was unaware of the context and history of the chant; I do not believe she understood she was calling for the elimination of Israel, or the expulsion or genocide of the Jewish people. Similarly, I do not believe that she, nor her niece’s father, singer Zayn Malik, understood the implications of describing Israel as a “colonizer”.
Yet we must not ignore the fact that such descriptions have a pernicious impact on society at large. For whether they realise it or not, sinister actors and adversaries — look no further than China — have started to capitalise on the ignorance of our progressive elites, using their narratives to harness and spread more anti-Semitism.
Indeed, Jewish communities across the world are already experiencing the fall-out from a new wave of anti-Semitism that has been legitimised by celebrity activists. This month, for example, has also seen the rise of a second frequently misunderstood slogan: a version of “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Mohammed will return”, which dates back to the massacre of the Jews by Muhammad and his army in Khaybar, northern Arabia, in the 7th century.
Today, it remains a battle-cry used by Muslims when attacking Jews or Israelis; in the past month alone, it has been used not only in Istanbul, Casablanca, Kuwait City, Doha and Karachi, but in western Europe, too: in Utrecht, Warsaw, Vienna, Rome, Munster, London, Brussels, Berlin and Amsterdam.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Antisemitism has been simmering under the surface in Europe for over a decade
The resurgence of anti-Semitism Europe, in many ways, is unsurprising; it has been simmering under the surface for over a decade. Yet despite a number of terrible anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, America, by comparison, has felt relatively immune — immune, that is, until now. Indeed, I have friends who moved to the US from Europe a decade ago to escape anti-Semitism. This month, for the first time, they are now questioning whether it is safe to walk to synagogue or wear their kippahs.
And is it really so hard to see why? Last Saturday, a man was arrested for attacking Jewish diners outside a restaurant in Los Angeles “on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon”. Two days earlier, a Jewish man, Joseph Borgen, was attacked by a group of pro-Palestinian activists in New York City’s Times Square. They reportedly beat him with a crutch, sprayed him with mace, called him a “dirty Jew” and explained that “Hamas is going to kill all of you”. Remarkably, a photo of one of the men accused of assaulting Borgen, Waseem Awawdeh, recently appeared in a now-deleted Instagram photo posted by Bella Hadid from a pro-Palestinian protest.
Yet what I found most disturbing was how Awawdeh’s comments following the attack mirrored those of Mohammed Bouyeri’s after he killed Theo van Gogh. Just as Bouyeri refused to apologise, Awawdeh reportedly proclaimed from his jail cell: “If I could do it again, I would do it again.” A video has since been released, purporting to show Awawdeh leaving prison on bail; his friends welcome him outside, put him on their shoulders and proclaim that he was a “hero”.
And herein lies the problem: when such odious acts as Awawdeh’s can be represented as heroism, you suddenly see how easy it is for false narratives to turn into deadly fantasies.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Founder of the AHA Foundation, and host of The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Podcast. Her new book is Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights.
The Intelligentsia’s Craven Silence in the Face of Anti-Semitism Is Unforgivable
If you are an intellectual who is not calling out and fighting the latest wave of antisemitism, you have shown you “have no character”, argues Steven Cook. (Photo: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com)
Where have you been? Yes, you?
You know who you are: The academics who have sat on panels with me. The Twitterati, journalists, and staffers who haunt the same D.C. spots as me. The analysts and advocates and activists who share my professional environment. We’ve broken bread, or at least had coffee.
Where have you been?
I know everyone was really busy the last couple of weeks with the latest violence in Gaza. Lots of writing, curating, and brand burnishing had to be done.
But there have been almost 200 anti-Semitic attacks in the last two weeks and you, you the righteous, have been silent.
Where have you been?
I know you’ve been silent because I checked your Twitter and Instagram feeds. Your Facebook posts, too, where you never forget to post about the things that are important to you.
Where have you been? For the past two weeks, as Jews have been watching our safety in this country go up in smoke, you haven’t posted once. It’s been just crickets.
What is up with that?
A 20-something kid from Long Island got his butt kicked in Times Square the other day because he was wearing a yarmulke. He happened to be going to a pro-Israel rally, but his attackers didn’t know that. He could have been going to a million other places. They beat him up because he is Jewish. Because he was exercising his freedom of religion and wearing a yarmulke.
And… crickets from you.
Last week, a caravan drove through the Diamond District hunting Jews and throwing fireworks. A woman was scalded. They screamed obscenities at Jews.
Crickets from you.
Another caravan drove through the Jewish parts of London promising to rape Jewish daughters. Synagogues across the nation have been vandalized. A Jewish man wearing a Star of David around his neck was punched by a man shouting, “What is that around your neck? Does that make you a fucking Zionist?” Three men drove around Borough Park yelling anti-Semitic slurs. They kicked in a synagogue’s doors and harassed children. A mob surrounded Orthodox teens in Crown Heights, wielding baseball bats and demanding the teenagers say “Free Palestine” before beating them.
And from you? Crickets.
It’s tough, I get it. You wouldn’t want anyone to question your solidarity with the Free Palestine movement, if you call out anti-Semitism. After all, many of these Jews are Zionists! I guess you agree that this makes them legitimate targets.
Steven A. Cook, Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the US Council on Foreign Relations.
Because if you knew the truth, that this is anti-Semitic logic, if you knew that attacking Jews as a sign of solidarity with Palestinians was just anti-Semitism with a new excuse, surely you would have posted about it, or said something, condemned it loudly or even at all.
You did not, though. It’s been just… crickets.
So here is my question to you well-credentialed influencers of thought, you shapers of opinion: What do I do? What do I tell my kids? My bookish almost 16 year old is exploring her Jewish identity. She attends her grandparents’ synagogue on Friday evenings via Zoom because it gives her peace and comfort. Sometimes she wears a Star of David necklace. Should I tell her not to wear it?
Because judging from your silence, it seems like the answer is yes.
I can almost hear you thinking, What an overreaction! How ridiculous! But that is part of the problem. You would never tell an African-American what is racism, or a Muslim what is Islamophobia. You enlightened members of the intelligentsia would never dare tell a woman what is misogyny. But so many of you feel it is important to lecture Jews what we should and should not fear.
It must be OK, you tell yourselves, because there are Jews—the “good Jews”—who tell you it’s all our fault. Not in so many words, but that is what they mean. After all, we’re Zionists. So we must deserve what’s been coming to us.
You betray your fundamental misunderstanding of how many Jews think of our place in this world, our very lives. Our place is fraught. Our lives can be taken. We can be erased.
You’re proving that right now with your silence.
We are hemmed in and up at night over people braying for our blood and their cultural enablers. They exist on both the Right and the Left, but you would prefer to focus on the former.
You have turned your eyes from a monster and chosen to remain silent because it’s off-brand to assail those who attack us. This is a betrayal not just of Jews, but of every other value you claim to represent.
I am not going to call you out by name, but I know who you are and if I now know one thing it is this: You have no character. It’s something I’ll never be able to forget.
See you around town.
Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.