Jewish communities around the world have begun the process of quantifying the recent upswing in anti-Semitic incidents accompanying the latest round of Israeli-Hamas combat. Organizations such as Britain’s Community Security Trust are cataloging occurrences and attempting to make some sort of sense out of the data.
While it is too soon for anything but the most preliminary findings, given the ongoing crisis and the continuing ratcheting up of tensions, especially in Europe, some characteristics of the Middle East crisis’ attendant foreign clashes have begun to emerge.
The spate of attacks, including physical assaults, fire bombings of synagogues, calls for violence against Israelis and Jews at demonstrations and other manifestations of racial hatred during Operation Protective Edge come on the heels of similar incidents during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
The year following Operation Cast Lead was the “worst since monitoring of anti-Semitic manifestations began two decades ago, in terms of both major anti-Semitic violence and the hostile atmosphere generated worldwide by the mass demonstrations and verbal and visual expressions against Israel and the Jews,” according to experts at Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.
The violence during and after Cast Lead led researchers at the Kantor Center to conclude that such incidents, given their severity and scope, “testified to preplanned mobilization among radicals from the Left and among Muslim immigrant communities, resulting in a well-coordinated onslaught which employed clear anti-Semitic motifs in order to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a single entity.”
Jewish communal leaders and experts observing the current round of violence came to a similar conclusion, with Mark Gardner of the CST telling The Jerusalem Post that there is a “higher percentage of people who seem to be Muslim as perpetrators at the moment.”
The American Agudath Israel organization, linking the violence to the steady rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe over the last years, many of which have been linked to Muslim and Arab immigrants, recently issued a statement encapsulating the view of many Jews.
“The pretense that these attacks are not anti-Semitic, but merely a reaction to current events in the Middle East, is cynical and decidedly false. When a Paris mob besieges and throws bricks at a synagogue with 200 congregants inside, it is anti-Semitism,” the group said.
According to a 2013 study by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, one-third of European Jews polled refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23% avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues. Almost a third of Jews polled in several countries said they were mulling emigration as a response to heightened anti-Jewish sentiment.
The Kantor Center recorded a “wave of anti-Semitic manifestations that swept the world,” following Operation Cast Lead, adding that “the baseline [of violence] remained higher than before the war.” They concluded that there “has been a rising [anti-Semitic] trend since the early 1990s, even in years when there was no significant Middle East trigger,” meaning that the origins of the 2009 escalation “must lie deeper.”
The center said there had been a dramatic increase in verbal threats and abusive language in recent years.
This trend was most assuredly exacerbated during the current conflict, especially in South Africa.
While anti-Semitic violence in that country has been consistently low, South African Jewish Board of Deputies Associate Director David Saks said that 2014’s total is “likely to exceed even the previous highest total – 102 incidents – logged at the end of 2009.”
However, despite enjoying significantly lower levels of violence, he said that “there has indeed been a significant – indeed, unprecedented – upsurge in anti-Semitic rhetoric, particularly in the social media and in online comments in the mainstream media.”
The use of social media for anti-Semitic purposes has caught the attention of the Jewish world and has even been the subject of discussion in Knesset panels.
According to the CST’s Gardner, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in July as of last week was “just over double what we would have expected” during a normal month, and at least two-thirds of these incidents seem to have a direct connection with the conflict.
While the demonstrations in Britain have, for the most part, not featured the extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric exhibited in Germany, nor the violence seen in France, the UK has not been spared the effects of Operation Protective Edge.
A study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research indicated that eighty of British Jews have felt “they have felt blamed by non-Jews, at least occasionally, for the actions of the Israeli government, purely on the basis of their Jewishness.”
A common denominator between the attacks in various countries has been the use of Holocaust rhetoric, which has gotten so severe that Yad Vashem declared last week that it was “gravely concerned by the demagogic abuse of Holocaust imagery and language which distorts the past as well as the current reality for political purposes.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Dr. Shimon Samuels asserted that he had “never seen the coming together of so many anti-Semitic and anti-Israel groups, coupled with one-sided media hostility in effect demonizing Jews, Israel and their supporters.”
“I am seeing an unprecedented explosion across Europe of thousands of young Muslims, turned on by the call to jihad. Many of these young men have been fighting in Syria, and return to their home countries poisoned even further and ready to take out their hostilities on the Jews of Europe,” he said.
The role of young Muslims is a significant one, according to Bar-Ilan University’s Dr. Mordechai Kedar, who said that second-generation Middle Eastern and North African immigrants have become increasingly assertive and confident in their position in Europe.
“They live in the social, economic and political margins, and their grievances against the system is too often conflated with grievances against the Jews,” Kedar said.