Wiesenthal Center’s list on antisemitism suggests history is repeating

From parliaments to campuses, verbal and physical assaults on Jews are increasing globally.

Three people are killed in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City by two members of the anti-Semitic Black Hebrew  Israelites movement on December 10, 2019. (photo credit: SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTRE)
Three people are killed in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City by two members of the anti-Semitic Black Hebrew Israelites movement on December 10, 2019.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center this week released its annual list of Top Ten Worst Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel Incidents at a press conference in New York attended by The Media Line. The index comes amid an upsurge in violent anti-Semitic attacks throughout the globe, including in the United States, long considered the foremost safe haven for Jews. When factoring in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, a trend seemingly emerges: “The Longest Hatred” that for much of the second half of the 20th century was deemed taboo and therefore suppressed, is once again in the process of being mainstreamed and normalized.
"The bottom line is that it was a terrible year, by virtue of the fact that Jewish houses of worship have been targeted with murderous actions," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean, Director Global Social Action Agenda at the Wiesenthal Center, told The Media Line. He added that the situation on campuses for pro-Israel students had become untenable, while highlighting growing antisemitism among politicians in Western countries.
Case in point is No. 1 on the list: British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s failed candidacy for prime minister in the December 12 elections in the United Kingdom. Previously, Corbyn infamously described Hamas and Hizbullah as his “friends” and repeatedly, and falsely, implied that Israel was massacring Palestinians in the terrorist-run Gaza Strip.
Accusations that Corbyn had created a political milieu in which Jew-haters thrive had dogged the politician for months prior to the vote. His perceived refusal to adequately tackle “institutional” antisemitism within Labour led to the defection of numerous party members and prompted Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to launch an investigation into the matter. All of this, in turn, induced many longstanding Jewish Labour supporters to do the once unthinkable – they voted Conservative.
Coming in at No. 2 was the growing incidence of deadly domestic terrorist attacks against Jews. In Halle, Germany, dozens of Jewish worshippers on Yom Kippur – Judaism’s holiest day – escaped probable death when a neo-Nazi failed to penetrate a security barrier outside of their synagogue. Thereafter, the perpetrator went on a nearby shooting spree.
Equally concerning is that following the 2018 killing of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, there were multiple attacks on Jewish sites in the United States. The defining one occurred just weeks ago when two members of the rabidly antisemitic Black Hebrew Israelites murdered three people at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City. According to authorities, had the attackers not been killed by police, they intended to massacre Jewish students at a religious school next door.
“The incident was an absolute tragedy,” Andrew Gross, Executive Director of New Jersey Israel Commission, told The Media Line at the briefing. “Obviously, [our state] does not want to be number two on this list. We aren’t hiding from this reality. [New Jersey] Governor Phil Murphy has said countless times that this administration is totally against the vile hate and antisemitism that occurred and is committed to seeking justice.”
Enter US President Donald Trump, who at the annual White House Hanukkah party this month signed an executive order adopting the internationally recognized definition of antisemitism, which includes provisions against questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – that is, arguing that Israel is illegitimate – in addition to using double standards when judging the Jewish state or accusing it of perpetrating Nazi-like crimes.
Moreover, the executive order defined the Jewish people as a nation, which moving forward will enable the Department of Education and other government bodies to investigate claims of antisemitism in accordance with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This could lead to the federal defunding of universities – which together form today’s hotbed of anti-Zionism, a term widely deemed as the “new antisemitism” – that foster environments in which Jewish students feel threatened, particularly by proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“What President Trump did was what Congress failed to do.… Now you have a definition of antisemitism and that should be able to lead to investigation and redress,” the Weisenthal Center’s Rabbi Cooper explained to The Media Line. “We’re optimistic that this will have an impact – not on freedom of speech because you can say whatever you want, that’s not the issue here at all – but [rather] when students feel a sense of intimidation.… This should give an opportunity for Jewish kids to feel safer, and those who are [harassing] them will have to think twice or three times before doing so.”
In fact, the rising frequency of Jews being targeted on North American campuses came in at No. 8 on the Weisenthal Center’s list. One example cited was a November event featuring former Israeli soldiers organized by Jewish students at Toronto’s York University. In response, anti-Israel groups launched a “no killers on campus” campaign. Protesters that gathered outside the event initiated a confrontation that caused several injuries.
Staying in the US, No. 5 on the list was the slandering of Jews and Israel by first-term congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MINN). The former publicly mocked those in favor of a proposed anti-BDS bill and caused outrage by expressing a “warm feeling” about a discredited claim that Palestinians provided a “homeland” for Holocaust survivors. For her part, Omar suggested that US lawmakers were disloyal for supporting Israel and subsequently attributed this to being “all about the Benjamins baby” – thereby invoking the classical antisemitic stereotype that Jews, through their financial contributions, control Congress.
At Nos. 3 and 4 were incidents involving elderly Jewish women living in Italy and France, respectively. In the former, Italian police were forced to provide around-the-clock protection to an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor, Liliana Segre, who serves as Senator for Life in the country’s’s parliament. This became necessary after she received death threats over social media due to her proposal to form of a national commission to tackle bigotry.
In Paris, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Kobili Traore, who broke into the home of Jewish kindergarten teacher Sarah Halimi, beat her to a pulp and then tossed her from the balcony. Lawyers decided that the killer was not responsible for his actions after suffering a “massive psychotic episode” caused by smoking marijuana.
Placing sixth on the list are ongoing physical attacks in and around New York City where more than half of 309 reported hate crimes were against Jews. "Unfortunately, with what is going on right now we don’t need a reminder of how bad things have gone – it’s all over the news," Daniel Rosenthal, a member of the New York State Assembly, told The Media Line at the press conference.
"We’ve seen Orthodox Jews assaulted and now, only a few miles from here [in Jersey City] there is a body count [because of] antisemitism,” he noted. “[This] is extremely concerning to the Jewish community and should be to all concerned about combating hate in any form of discrimination.”
Rounding out the list was Germany voting in favor of 25 anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations (7); the plastering of yellow stars – which Hitler forced Jews to wear to distinguish themselves – on Jewish sites in Denmark and Sweden on the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues were burnt to the ground in Nazi Germany (9); and a claim by Florida-based pastor Rick Wiles that impeachment proceedings against President Trump were the result of a “Jew coup” (10).
The release of the Weisenthal Center’s list follows the recent publication of the US-based Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 report on global antisemitism. Based on its findings covering 100 countries with just over four billion adults, the ADL extrapolated that at least 1.09 billion people worldwide profess anti-Jewish sentiments. In the Middle East, approximately 75 percent of respondents expressed antisemitic views, compared to 24% in Europe – this, only three generations after the Holocaust – and 19% in the Americas.
The problem has become so acute that the United Nations, considered by supporters of Israel to be unquestionably anti the Jewish state, recently came out with a report warning that the rise in antisemitism risked spiraling out of control.
“I am alarmed by the growing use of antisemitism tropes by white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and members of radical Islamist groups, in slogans, images, stereotypes and conspiracy theories to incite and justify hostility, discrimination and violence against Jews,” Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said in reference to his findings.
“I am also concerned about the increasing expressions of antisemitism emanating from sources in the political Left and about discriminatory state practices towards Jews,” added Shaheed, who has been praised as courageous by many people who believe the UN has for too long been obfuscating the truth about the prevalence and severity of global antisemitism.
To combat the resurgence of antisemitism, in addition to other forms of religious-, race-, or ethnic-based hatred, Rabbi Cooper told The Media Line that "the focus needs to be more about doing than just words... The real action must come from the grassroots up. And it also means that politicians need to fund and empower law enforcement [agencies] to deal seriously with hate crimes, and not only those against Jews,” he said.
"We need a coalition to prioritize both through education but through pro-active measures that every citizen need not be fearful when they go to a house of worship Friday, Saturday or Sunday.”