International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry released a report surveying antisemitic incidents in the West during 2016.
There were notable increases in Germany and Britain.
In Germany, the Syrian refugee crisis and the strengthening of the extreme Right contributed to a sharp rise in incidents, from 194 between January and September 2015, to 461 during the same period in 2016. Improved reporting methods could have also skewed results.
In Britain, there was a 62% jump in antisemitic incidents in 2016, 75% of them initiated by elements affiliated with the Right. The fact that the British Right managed to outstrip the Left in expressions of antisemitism is no small feat, considering that the Labour Party is headed by Jeremy Corbyn, a man who refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends.”
However, the sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in the US was more shocking.
According to the report, the recent US presidential campaign was a major catalyst for the dissemination of hate speech and enabled the voices of marginal groups to reach far beyond their own communities.
The Israeli government report noted that the common thread among these groups was an opposition to political correctness, an affirmation of racial supremacy, and a resistance to multiculturalism and to immigration. These ideas, the ministry said, lead to antisemitic discourse and Holocaust denial.
Antisemitism is almost always a symptom of broader forms of prejudice and blind hatred.
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry report reinforces the findings of an Anti-Defamation League report released in October that documented the frightening rise of antisemitic tweets targeting Jewish journalists – particularly those critical of US President Donald Trump.
From August 2015, to July 2016, the ADL found 2.6 million tweets that included antisemitic language, as news coverage of the presidential campaign increased. Researchers looked more closely at attacks on the Twitter accounts of some 50,000 journalists and found almost 20,000 antisemitic tweets directed at them, with almost 70% of the invective coming from 1,600 accounts.
“These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives or part of the alt-right, a loosely connected group of extremists, some of whom are white supremacists,” the ADL reported. “The words that appear most frequently in the 1,600 Twitter attackers’ bios are ‘Trump,’ ‘nationalist,’ ‘conservative’ and ‘white.’” Obviously, antisemitism is not the only form of hate speech on social media platforms, which have become veritable cesspools for homophobes, racists and xenophobes.
Still, antisemitic tropes have become prominent and explicit. Jewish journalists are Photoshopped to show them inside gas chambers or among the corpses of Holocaust victims. Tweets about putting Jewish journalists and their family members in ovens or having them made into lampshades are common.
Part of the problem has to do with the unwillingness of Twitter and other platforms to block the accounts of people who disseminate hate speech. These platforms’ terms of service outlaw hateful conduct. But response to complaints is often slow.
People who have been the target of antisemitic hostility are torn. They would like to expose the Tweets and posts by re-tweeting or re-posting them. The hope is that a process of shaming will shut down the antisemitic offenders.
At the same time, victims of antisemitism do not want to give disproportionate attention to a small group of antisemites who constitute a tiny fraction of the people active on social media. Sometimes ignoring antisemites is the best strategy.
There are no easy answers to antisemitism, humanity’s oldest hatred. The government could do more than just release an annual report. Tracking and reporting antisemitic attacks is important, but that needs to be followed up with aggressive diplomatic action. Partnerships need to be forged and legislation needs to be passed. The real antidote to hatred is upholding a positive vision for mutual respect and understanding.