Shortly after the recent terror attack in Brussels that killed four people, Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur noted that “it was no coincidence that the attack took place at Belgium’s Jewish Museum.” Belgian officials were quick to brand the terror attack as “anti-Semitic” and fueled by a “climate of hatred,” as underscored by Joel Rubinfeld, head of Belgium’s League against anti-Semitism. ADL’s Abe Foxman noted, “The rise in Europe of openly anti-Semitic political parties the proliferation of clearly anti-Semitic expressions on social media platforms and the disturbingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in many places in Europe contribute to a witches’ brew of hate.”
These assessments beg a larger question as to what drives these anti-Semitic sentiments. True, Belgium stands out among EU states for the scores of young Muslims who have traveled to Syria to join the ranks of radical Islamic opposition groups. Stevie Weinberg of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism also points out that Arab and radical Islamic groups and individuals have played key roles in many of the nearly 20 major terror events that have taken place in Belgium since the early 1970s.
However, in 2014, demonization and delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel are the “elephants in the room.” The incessant boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns and concomitant incitement against the existence of the nation state of the Jewish people that are fueled by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Gaza’s Hamas leadership, Palestinian NGO groups and their supporters across Europe and the throughout United States have contributed to an atmosphere of revulsion and rejection of both the Jewish state and Jews in the Diaspora.
New York journalist Dan Friedman points out that in 2005 when Britain suffered a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks, then-minister Natan Sharansky reminded us that “years of hostile reporting and commentary about Israel... is now spilling into the streets,” while his adviser on anti-Semitism noted that, “You can’t brainwash people for four years that Israel is an illegitimate country and that Israelis are like the Nazis and that Israelis are monsters and expect that nothing will happen to Jews.”
This culture of hatred is not restricted to Europe. It has also become a force multiplier for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel invective on US University campuses that help pave the path to deadly terror attacks around the globe whether in, Brussels, Burgas , Kansas City , or in Israel’s towns and cities.
In Europe, anti-Israel animus has been driven in no small part by Hamas activists and radical-left allies and supporters via scores of Palestinian and European NGOs. They have spearheaded campaigns to incite for the dissolution of Israel that are well documented on YouTube.
As mentioned previously, former Hamas commander Mohammed Sawalha and Hamas activist Azzam Tamimi, both British citizens, have mobilized thousands of protesters in mass demonstrations across London calling for Israel’s destruction, publicly declaring, “We are all Hamas.” Referring to Israel, Tamimi called on Britons to stand up and eradicate “this cancer from the body of humanity” and publicly thanked Iranian regime founder Ayatollah Khomeini for launching the international campaign to eradicate Israel.
But flagrant incitement against Israel and dissemination of anti-Semitic messages are also the modus operendi of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the United States. Student BDS groups such as the 650 North American chapters of the Muslim Students association and Students for Justice in Palestine to take just two examples, promote the hateful and sometimes violent “Israel apartheid week” crusades.
These groups share similar goals to Hamas and some PLO terror groups regarding Jews and the future of the Jewish state, albeit employing different tactics. SJP has been shown to have connections to Hamas including providing financial support.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), with chapters on universities across the United States, has undertaken widely publicized anti-Semitic campaigns of intimidation, harassment and threats against Jewish students and others expressing any support for Israel. In fact, on Israel’s Independence Day in May, at the esteemed Vassar College SJP members tweeted an anti-Semitic graphic depicting US Jews as bloodthirsty monsters in what was an actual World War II Nazi propaganda poster displayed in the occupied Netherlands.
Makor Rishon’s Amnon Lord reported that SJP’s “reign of terror” at Vassar crossed all red lines and even included physically confronting and threatening Jewish students who intended to fly to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport in order to work with Palestinian “human rights” groups. SJP members at NYU and UCLA placed eviction notices under the doors of Jewish students in recent weeks. At Northeastern University, SJP students have regularly chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a call for the destruction of the Jewish state, and: “Resistance is justified when people are occupied” – a justification of Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.
BDS invective against Israel and the anti-Semitic incitement it exploits lays the infrastructure for the next “Brussels” terror attack – which jihadi websites continue to praise, while encouraging more “ attacks against Jews.”
Fortunately, some leaders and groups are acting forcefully against BDS groups’ hatred, threats, intimidation and anti-Semitic activity. Vassar College president Catherine Hale harshly condemned the SJP’s use of a Nazi replica graphic and launched an official college investigation into the organization. The New York-based Lawfare Project recently led a coalition of six organizations who issued sharply worded letters to the presidents of NYU and UCLA warning the universities that harassment and intimidation of Jewish students exposes the universities to legal action under federal US civil rights law. In March of 2014, Northeastern University expelled members of Students for Justice in Palestine for their years-long campaign of threats, hate speech and anti-Semitic statements.
The nexus of anti-Semitism and terror must be aggressively confronted. Israel, its allies, Jewish organizations and civil rights groups in Europe and the United States should step up the fight against these anti-Semitic delegitimization campaigns and confront BDS groups such as the SJP with the same zero-tolerance approach with which they hunt down the terrorists who just murdered four civilians in the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Dan Diker is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and a Foreign Policy Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.