COVID-19 and Antisemitism/ COVID-19 and Arab Israelis
May 1, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update deals with the widely reported uptick in antisemitism that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes a piece suggesting the pandemic may be improving relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority – many of whom work in healthcare.
We lead with Brigadier General (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser who canvasses the rise of antisemitic discourse over recent weeks, and especially where it intersects with anti-Israel and anti-Zionist activism. He particularly looks at antisemitic claims from the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership which fly in the face of good pandemic cooperation between Israel and the PA, as well as the related efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. He also discusses how these current efforts link into traditional antisemitic beliefs that Jews are “condescending, greedy, sly, xenophobic, plot against those who surround them, and are warmongers.” For Kuperwasser’s interesting discussion, CLICK HERE.
Kuperwasser will also be speaking at an AIJAC webinar this Sunday evening on the topic of “The New Antisemitism and the Threat to Israel’s National Security”.
Next up is American columnist Ben Cohen reporting on how this latest explosion in antisemitism coincides with the findings in the latest annual report on antisemitism from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Centre for the Study of European Jewry. Cohen discusses antisemitic “zoombombing” and other growing manifestations of Jew-hatred online and in social media. He notes that these events showcase how “pre-modern beliefs about Jews as carriers of disease and as poisoners of the general welfare… sit comfortably alongside more recent fixations with Zionism and Israel.” For all the details, CLICK HERE.
Finally, we offer an important piece by leading Israeli intellectual and activist for Arab-Jewish coexistence Yossi Klein Halevi on how the pandemic crisis is affecting Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. He notes the strong positive evidence that COVID-19 is helping bring Israeli Jews and Arabs together both as patients and as medical workers. He then uses this news to canvass the overall situation between Arab and Jewish Israelis, what is keeping them apart, and what needs to be done to overcome the deep wounds and mistrust afflicting both populations of Israelis. For Halevi’s very nuanced discussion of a complex but important issue, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Also writing about antisemitism and the pandemic recently was American academic pundit Walter Russell Mead, the guest at AIJAC’s most recent webinar.
- Other good stories on improving Arab-Jewish relations in Israel during the pandemic are here, here and here.
- More comment on the global antisemitism surge comes from Israeli researcher Emily Schrader, the New York Forward, and French philosopher Michael Benhamou.
- Controversy in the US over remarks by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appearing to blame the “Jewish community” as a whole for violations of social distancing rules at an ultra-Orthodox funeral. Comment on why this happened comes from American columnists Jonathan Tobin and Liel Leibowitz.
- Germany has banned Hezbollah overnight, and German police have raided sites linked to the group’s extensive presence in that country.
- An analysis of the significance of the Iranian military satellite launch last week from Iran policy expert and recent AIJAC guest Behnam Ben Taleblu, together with colleague Bradley Bowman.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro’s ABC radio interview on Israel’s new Netanyahu-Gantz government, as well as its coronavirus response.
- Naomi Levin on the controversial claim by International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that “Palestine” is a state and the court is therefore free to probe alleged war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.
- Video of AIJAC’s webinar with former Israeli Parliamentarian turned author Dr. Einat Wilf on “Pandemic, the Palestinians and peace prospects”. Also available is a short video. of her discussion of the prospects of the new Israeli government.
- Veteran Israeli commentator and AIJAC fellow Ehud Yaari discussed the formation of Israel’s new National Emergency Government with Bev O’Connor on ABC News 24.
- As noted above, AIJAC held a webinar with noted American foreign policy expert Walter Russel Mead yesterday. A short excerpt of Mead discussing the likely global situation post-pandemic is here.
- AIJAC calls for Australia to follow Germany’s lead and ban all of Hezbollah.
Antisemitism and the Coronavirus
- Since the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, we are witness to anti-Semitic expressions that denote the Jews, in general, and Israel, specifically, as those who have developed the virus and are responsible for its propagation. The anti-Israel BDS community and the Palestinian establishment have been leveraging the coronavirus to defame Israel.
- The facts are, of course, unimportant to them. In practice, Israel cooperates with the Palestinians in treating the coronavirus, transfers large amounts of medical equipment for their use, and advises medical teams in Gaza and the West Bank on how to treat the disease.
- Israel has further encouraged international medical aid to the Palestinians, gave a loan to the PA, and has delayed the execution of the law that offsets money used to pay salaries to terrorists. Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians has been praised by the international community. Israel also follows the same medical treatment policy among all sectors of its population including the Israeli Arab population.
- The Israel-haters see this as an appropriate time to harness events to advance their permanent policy aims, such as the removal of the Israeli security blockade on Gaza and the release of imprisoned terrorists. They also use anti-Semitic tropes as a tool to prevent internal criticism of their corruption, their lack of concern for a proper medical system for their citizens, and their decision to use their resources to promote terror instead.
- But more than the dissemination of vilifications, anti-Semitism reflects the beliefs of those who stand behind these slanders that their accusations are real, and their target audiences tend to believe these fabrications. Anti-Semitic brainwashing throughout history has brought a large public to believe in the responsibility of Jews for plagues.
- The new attempt to disseminate Israel-hatred cannot be taken lightly. While continuing cooperation with the Palestinians, we must denounce the brainwashing, the libels, and their disseminators. And we must demand from the international community to condemn them, loud and clear.
Since the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, we are witness to anti-Semitic expressions that denote the Jews, in general, and Israel, specifically, as those who have developed the virus and are responsible for its propagation, in order to tighten their control of the world, and to utilize their resources to harm the populations that resist them, above all, the Palestinians.
Along with smears by known anti-Semites in Turkey, in Iran, and in the West, the anti-Israel BDS community and the Palestinian establishment have been leveraging the coronavirus to defame Israel. BDS activists are holding an unrelenting succession of Zoom webinars that are meant to present the vile character of Israel, and are distributing caricatures of the propagation of the virus by Israel, or presenting Israel itself as an even more terrible “virus” than Covid-19.
Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh accused IDF soldiers of spitting on Palestinian cars in order to spread the virus, and noted that “without a doubt Israel wants its economy to keep running at the expense of the health of the Palestinians.” PA spokespersons blamed Israel for trying to contaminate Palestinians with the virus by way of Palestinian workers employed in Israel. They also claim that the “occupation” prevents the Palestinians from supplying themselves with the necessities to deal with the pandemic. The Palestinians further warn that Israel will be responsible for any disaster that is caused if the virus spreads in Gaza, the PA territories, and east Jerusalem. They claimed that Israel infects Palestinian prisoners with the virus, and prevents adequate treatment for Israeli Arabs.
Additional cartoons from official Palestinian media linking or analogising the Israeli military to coronavirus. (Source: Palestinian Media Watch)
The facts are, of course, unimportant to them. In practice, Israel cooperates with the Palestinians in treating the coronavirus, transfers large amounts of medical equipment for their use, and advises medical teams in Gaza and the West Bank on how to treat the disease. Israel has further encouraged international medical aid to the Palestinians, gave a loan to the PA, and has delayed the execution of the law that offsets money used to pay salaries to terrorists. Israel also follows the same medical treatment policy among all sectors of its population including the Israeli Arab population.
Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians has been praised by the international community, but this does not interest those who hate Israel and the Jews. They have their own narrative.
The most visible figure in the BDS machine is Omar Barghouti, who said in a Zoom webinar that the Palestinians should continue their muqawama – that is, their struggle, against Israel and all its components – even during the period of the coronavirus, in parallel with the struggle against the virus. Yet, he explains that if Israel discovers a vaccine for the coronavirus, it would be permissible for those who struggle against Israel to use it. It is worth noting that Barghouti is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, which he calls to boycott within the framework of the academic boycott against Israel. At least he is consistent in his cynicism.
What stands behind the fervor of those who hate us today is, of course, not new. It has characterized many generations of anti-Semites, especially whenever the world must deal with adversity and fear. Firstly, it seems that they identify the virus as an opportunity to promote their familiar messages regarding the awful character of the Jews, in order to hurt them and mainly to deepen Israel’s negative image for the audiences to whom they are directing their messages. These include the Palestinian public, the Islamic world, and Western extremists – either on the far right or the progressive left – that have turned hatred of Israel into a central issue to which they have become committed since the fall of the Soviet Union and the bankruptcy of communism.
They certainly try to convince liberal Westerners to adopt their approach, though their success in the coronavirus context should have been limited and made them look absurd. Their achievements so far include growing anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitism in the British Labour party, as well as circles in the Democratic party in the U.S. which embraced Senator Bernie Sanders and his entourage of Israel haters. So far, it seems that liberals have refrained from condemning them and some even adopt their agenda. For example, the International Crisis Group, a liberal think tank headed by Rob Malley, who served as head of the Middle East desk in the National Security Council under President Obama, issued a paper about Gaza and the coronavirus which adopted some of the Israel-haters’ false claims and demands, which were also supported by some Democratic members of Congress.
Secondly, the Israel-haters see this as an appropriate time to harness events to advance their permanent policy aims, such as the removal of the Israeli security blockade on Gaza and the release of imprisoned terrorists. They also use anti-Semitic tropes as a tool to prevent internal criticism of their corruption, their lack of concern for a proper medical system for their citizens, and their decision to use their resources to promote terror instead.
But more than the dissemination of vilifications, anti-Semitism reflects the beliefs of those who stand behind these slanders that their accusations are real, and their target audiences tend to believe these fabrications. Anti-Semitic brainwashing throughout history has brought a large public to believe in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the blood libels, and the responsibility of Jews for plagues and for all the other troubles in the world.
Hitler, Stalin, and the anti-Semites of our times have made cynical political usage of Jew-hatred, but believed that Jews control the world, and specifically its economics. They believe that Jews are condescending, greedy, sly, xenophobic, plot against those who surround them, and are warmongers. The Palestinian leadership has regularly repeated these claims and they deal in continual incitement of the Palestinian public and forced brainwashing in order to advance the assimilation of these perceptions about Jews in the public’s thought and belief and turn them into acceptable diplomatic rhetoric.
The Hamas charter contains these claims, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas repeats them in the lessons of historical narrative he presents at Palestinian conferences. He even noted them in writing, in his book about cooperation between Zionists and Nazis (based on his doctoral dissertation), and in his book Zionism – Beginning and End, that presents what he calls the (Ashkenazi) Zionist fraud. Whatever the theme, Prime Minister Shtayyeh, BDS activists, and Hamas leaders all repeat the same mantras.
Especially after commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, the new attempt to disseminate Israel-hatred cannot be taken lightly. While continuing cooperation with the Palestinians, we must denounce the brainwashing, the libels, and their disseminators. And we must demand from the international community to condemn them, loud and clear, which has not yet happened. Similarly, we should urge the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which clarifies which manifestations of hatred of the State of Israel are to be considered anti-Semitic.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was formerly Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.
The return of populist anti-Semitism
JNS, April 24, 2020
In these long weeks of quarantining, self-isolation and social distancing, several Jewish organizational events held online have been Zoombombed by anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activists. On March 24, for example, an online session of the National Council of Synagogue Youth in Boston was interrupted by a dishevelled-looking white supremacist, Andrew Alan Escher Auernheime, who pulled off his shirt to reveal a swastika tattoo. When the Israeli embassy in Berlin held an online commemoration event to mark Yom Hashoah on April 21, neo-Nazi activists broke in during a talk by Zvi Herschel, a Holocaust survivor, bombarding participants with images of Adolf Hitler alongside anti-Semitic slogans.
The Federal Association for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) in Germany has recorded six instances of Zoombombing by anti-Semitic agitators since the pandemic broke out. “People who disrupted offline commemorative events before the coronavirus crisis are now doing it online,” said Pia Lamberty, the education officer of RIAS, in an interview with a German Jewish newspaper. Lamberty also noted that there was a striking “overlap” of imagery that glorified the Nazis and messages that vilified the State of Israel. In one videoconference, she said, a Nazi swastika was displayed alongside a flag that declared, “Free Palestine.”
The frequency with which these disruptions occur in future will be entirely determined by the quality of security around online events, since there is clearly no shortage of disruptors out there willing to deliver the message that anti-Semites can attack on the Internet as well as off of it. Technology, then, will probably put these people out of sight sooner or later. But it manifestly won’t put them out of mind.
This brings me to one of the key observations contained in the annual report on global anti-Semitism published last week by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center. With the onset of coronavirus, pre-modern beliefs about Jews as carriers of disease and as poisoners of the general welfare have returned with a vengeance, and sit comfortably alongside more recent fixations with Zionism and Israel. According to the report, so far “these accusations appear to be promoted mainly by extreme rightists, ultra-conservative Christian circles, Islamists, and to a minor extent by the far left, each group according to its narrative and beliefs.”
Image of an anti-Semitic Twitter user advocating for the heavily Jewish town of Lakewood, N.J., to be “nuked.” Source: Screenshot.
In Turkey, long considered a critical meeting point of eastern and Western cultures and beliefs, a website named Avlaremo—Judeo-Spanish for “Let’s talk”—has compiled a list of anti-Semitic incidents connected to the pandemic that synthesize anti-Semitic tropes from down the ages. In one example that was uploaded to Twitter, a video showed passengers on a bus in Turkey conversing with the driver about the coronavirus. Claiming that COVID-19 had been deliberately created by international pharmaceutical companies, the driver then asked, “And who do they belong to?” “The rich,” responded one passenger. “No,” said the driver. “The Jews.”
The conversation continued in much the same vein. “The Jews are doing everything to exterminate the Turks,” another passenger chimed in. “The Turks? No, the whole world!” exclaimed another.
The Internet has also provided an unprecedented opportunity to spread similarly base anti-Semitic beliefs among children and teenagers. TikTok, a video-sharing platform owned by a Chinese Internet company with the full approval of the ruling Communist Party, has become a swamp of anti-Semitic content. Much of the hatred takes the form of humor—jokes about the Holocaust, cartoons featuring Jews with crudely lengthened noses, memes like “Sneaky Jew” and “Mega Jew.” All of this is available not on the dark net, but on a platform described by Vox magazine as the “defining social media app of Generation Z, not only in the U.S. but around the world in places like India and Europe.” And unlike Zoom, which is an American concern, TikTok—whose ties to China’s national security establishment are currently being investigated by the U.S. Congress—has far less of an incentive to prevent racists, anti-Semites and sundry other bigots from using its platform to promote hatred not in totalitarian China, but in democratic societies.
The challenge going forward is daunting. Countering populist anti-Semitism is a matter of education, but not only that. It also touches on regulation of the Internet, global restrictions on hate speech, national security measures and the prospect of tougher legal sanctions against both individual extremists and the platforms that host them. While those issues are debated in all their complexity, the stream of propaganda will continue, finding new arteries when old ones are suddenly cut off.
In that regard, the Tel Aviv University report on anti-Semitism in 2019 made the important observation that there is a “growing discrepancy between on-the-ground reality and governmental efforts.” As anti-Semitism has escalated during the last 20 years, a correspondingly modest governmental infrastructure has evolved in tandem. For example, both the U.S. State Department and the European Union have appointed senior officials to deal with anti-Semitism, while the German government has appointed a commissioner at federal level, as well as local commissioners in nearly all of the German states. All these appointments are welcome and have made a real difference when it comes to the more accurate reporting of anti-Semitic incidents, in addition to the provision of anti-Semitism awareness-training.
But even then, as the Tel Aviv University report remarks, anti-Semitic incidents are still underreported, while their perpetrators go unidentified in many, if not most, cases. On the Internet and off, we have a new, arguably more formidable, mountain to climb.
Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.
Israel’s Arab Moment
In this pandemic, the nation’s citizens face a crisis that is finally bringing us together.
Yossi Klein Halevi
The Atlantic, April 30, 2020
A much-shared image of two Israeli medics pausing before their parked ambulance to pray, one man in a prayer shawl, the other on a prayer rug (MAGEN DAVID ADOM / AFP / GETTY).
During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist militia, I was sitting in a restaurant in the city of Haifa when the siren warning of an incoming rocket interrupted my meal. Arab and Jewish diners found shelter in the narrow kitchen, crowding against one another in awkward silence. “Coexistence,” one woman finally said, with palpable irony.
Today, Israel faces its first national threat that isn’t security related, our first civil emergency that has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the coronavirus, Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens are facing a crisis that is finally bringing us together.
Israeli media regularly feature stories of Arab-Jewish intimacy in the quarantine wards. The newspaper Yediot Aharonot published a four-page photo essay of Arab and Jewish nurses—the first time in memory it featured Arabs as Israeli heroes. A video showing nurses removing their masks to reveal hijabs drew more than 2 million viewers. Images of Arab-Jewish coexistence have gone viral—like the photograph of an Arab doctor bringing a Torah scroll into an isolation ward, or of two medics pausing before their parked ambulance to pray, one man in a prayer shawl, the other on a prayer rug.
It is hardly coincidental that the trigger for this unprecedented focus on Arabs, who form 20 percent of the population, as exemplary citizens is an epidemic.
Our nationalized health-care system is one of the few areas of Israeli society that is fully integrated. Nearly a fifth of Israel’s doctors, a quarter of its nurses, and almost half its pharmacists are Arabs. Arab doctors head hospital departments and emergency rooms; one heads a hospital in the Galilee. Jews and Arabs encounter one another most intimately in maternity and cancer wards.
Israel’s ability to create a shared identity for its Arab and Jewish citizens is complicated by its relentless security challenges. For Jews, military service is central to their national identity, while Arabs are exempt from the draft, deprived of the unifying experience of Israeliness.
For Arabs, a history of government land confiscation and systemic budgetary discrimination, as well as the seemingly endless occupation of the Palestinians, has left deep wounds and mistrust. The implicit message Arabs take from the country’s Jewish identity—from its national symbols and its ethos of “ingathering the exiles,” granting citizenship to any Jew—is that they don’t quite belong.
For both Jews and Arabs, majority-minority status is a fluctuating state of mind. Jews are acutely aware of belonging to a minority state in an overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim region, largely hostile to its existence; most Arabs are at once an uneasy minority in a Jewish state and part of the region’s ethnic and religious majority.
Many Israeli Jews fear that Arabs can’t be loyal citizens, a suspicion aggravated by Arab Knesset representatives who have expressed support for Palestinian violence.
One Arab member of the Knesset, Heba Yazbak, was nearly disqualified from the recent elections by the Supreme Court for a tweet calling Samir Kuntar, convicted of helping murder an Israeli family, including a 4-year-old, a “martyr.” Another Arab politician, Azmi Bishara, fled the country just before being indicted for aiding Hezbollah during wartime. Although Ayman Odeh, head of the United Arab List, the Knesset’s third-largest party, has reached out to Jewish voters, he alienated Jews with his 2017 statement calling Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers legitimate (but he was careful to distinguish between Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian Israelis). The United Arab List rejects the Jewish identity of the state and has opposed every Israeli military action, including acts regarded as self-defense by almost all Jewish Israelis.
The disparity between the Palestinian nationalism of Arab politicians and the integrationist tendencies of Arab voters was revealed in a new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, in which 77 percent of Arabs said they feel they are a part of the state and share with it a common destiny—the highest percentage ever. Call it the coronavirus effect: When Israeli Arabs feel respected as citizens, they tend to respond in kind.
But respect for Arab citizens is hardly the message being conveyed by the Israeli right. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu based his most recent campaign on fear of the United Arab List, warning that his chief rival, Benny Gantz, was planning to subvert Zionism by bringing a fifth column into government. When he failed to win a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu nevertheless declared his right-wing bloc the victor, having won a majority of Jewish votes—though the center-left bloc, including the United Arab List, won the majority of Israeli votes.
Yet even as Netanyahu was shattering the delicate balance between Israel’s democratic and Jewish identities, Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, was challenging another taboo: trying to create a center-left government based on outside support from the United Arab List. And while in the end Gantz joined Netanyahu in a unity government, a precedent had been set. During a recent anti-government demonstration, Odeh and the center-right leader and former Israel Defense Forces commander Moshe Yaalon shared the same platform, an act that would have been inconceivable for either man only weeks before.
The convergence of the coronavirus crisis with those political convulsions has created an unprecedented opportunity for expanding a truly Israeli civic space shared by Arabs and Jews. To exploit this moment will require deep changes on both sides.
Israel’s Jewish majority must finally commit to full equality for the state’s Arab citizens. According to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Jews are to be favored only in determining eligibility for citizenship. Once inside the gates, as former Chief Justice Aharon Barak has put it, all citizens are equal.
A first step would be amending last year’s Nation-State Law, which establishes Israel’s Jewish identity while ignoring its democratic identity. Defenders of the Nation-State Law insist that affirming Israel as a democracy was unnecessary, because the Knesset has already passed laws ensuring the rights of all citizens. Yet those laws refer to individual rights, while the Nation-State Law defines the country’s identity. The Declaration of Independence implicitly defines Israel in two ways: as the state of all Jews, whether or not they are citizens, and as the state of all its citizens, whether or not they are Jews. For Israel to be true to itself, the law must include both definitions.
Members of Knesset from the predominately Arab Joint List, which rejects the Jewish identity of the state and has opposed every Israeli military action, including acts regarded as self-defence by almost all Jewish Israelis.
For their part, Arab citizens need to reconsider the wisdom of electing representatives who allow right-wing demagogues to delegitimize the Arab community. And although no one expects Arab citizens to join the IDF in large numbers, the Arab community needs to embrace alternative national service for its young people. The country is under constant siege, requiring great sacrifice from its young Jewish men and women; Arab citizens need to share the burden of service. Thousands of young Arabs do volunteer for national service, defying the opposition of the Arab political leadership. That opposition must change.
Both sides need to accept the very different ways each relates to being Israeli. For Arabs, Israeliness is necessarily devoid of the mythic elements embodied in the country’s Jewish identity. For Jews, though, the Jewishness of the state is nonnegotiable: Faithfulness to Jewish history and longings has been a primary driver of the Israeli success story, inspiring devotion and sacrifice.
For most Jews, the state’s symbols—from the Star of David on the flag to the national anthem that invokes 2,000 years of Jewish longing for Zion—are expressions of their deepest commitments. Understandably, Arab Israelis are emotionally indifferent to those symbols. But if Israel manages to nurture trust, Arabs and Jews should together consider how to expand the state’s symbols to be more inclusive without forfeiting their Jewish vitality.
This week, Israelis marked the nation’s two secular holy days, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers, followed immediately by Independence Day. In my building in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem, where half the families are Arab Israeli and half Jewish Israeli, only the Jews have hung Israeli flags. The absence of national flags from Arab balconies is a painful reminder of the gaps between us.
Still, these past weeks have provided a glimpse into the possible. Israel must now do what it has always done best: Turn crisis into opportunity.
YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where, together with Imam Abdullah Antepli and Maital Friedman, he co-directs the Muslim Leadership Initiative. He is chairman of “Open House,” an Arab-Jewish coexistence center in the Israeli town of Ramle. He is author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.