Bennett warns cabinet of rising anti-Semitism

Diaspora Affairs Ministry report says serious attacks might be down, but Jewish perceptions are worrying.

Bennett in Indonesia 370 (photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
Bennett in Indonesia 370
(photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
Anti-Semitism around the world is getting worse, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett warned during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Despite some trends that have been interpreted as an amelioration of anti-Jewish sentiment, including the lack of high-profile attacks against Jewish targets, such as 2012’s Toulouse school massacre, the situation “has only worsened,” Bennett wrote in the introduction to a report he presented to fellow ministers.
While last year’s Diaspora Affairs report dealt primarily with hard numbers – quantifying levels of violence – this year’s was more concerned with Jewish perceptions of anti-Semitic sentiments, although the report went over much of the same ground.
A 2013 study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), upon which the ministry’s paper was based, was itself built around Jews’ perceptions and not so much according to the actual level of violence directed against Jews, Prof. Dina Porat, head of Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, told The Jerusalem Post.
“While this gave an accurate picture of the general atmosphere, this does not mean that the situation is necessarily worse for Jews in comparison to 2012, when there were attacks in Toulouse and in Burgas,” she said, referring also to a 2012 terror attack on Israeli tourists in Romania.
When it comes to fighting anti-Semitism, Porat said that Israel should “lend a shoulder” to Diaspora communities and make a coalition with other minorities that suffer from discrimination in Europe, such as the Muslims and Roma.
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report noted an oppressive atmosphere that weighs on European Jewry that is caused by “verbal and visual expressions, insults, harassment and threats” directed against them.
Citing the FRA study, the ministry described how European Jews seek to hide their identity for fear of attack.
A third of Jews polled in that study refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23 percent avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
While 66% reported anti-Semitism as having a negative affect on their lives, 77% did not bother reporting abuse or harassment. Almost a third were mulling emigration as a response to heightened anti-Jewish sentiment.
The countries facing the worst anti-Semitism are Hungary, France, Belgium and Sweden, the ministry asserted, quoting the FRA study.
“It is clear that monitoring bodies are aware of but a small part of the picture,” the report stated, adding that the FRA study also showed that anti-Semitism was of concern even to non-Jews.
Jewish leaders have previously expressed concern over this phenomenon, with Anti-Defamation League national chairman Abraham Foxman telling the Post last week that “there is no serious monitoring by continental entities. We [the Jewish community] take the poll, we do the measuring and they’re not doing their job, they’re not monitoring.”
Following up on previous Foreign Ministry comments, the Diaspora Ministry report castigated FRA for recently removing a working definition of anti-Semitism from its website.
The definition, the report stated, “was considered an achievement on an international scale.”
Asserting that FRA’s critics had misunderstood the organization’s move, Ioannis N. Dimitrakopoulos, head of its Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, told the Post in December that the definition was “basically a guide to collectors of primary data.”
“We don’t have a mandate to develop [and] impose, in any way, definitions.
We cannot provide a measure based on which people will assess how one Jewish organization records incidents in one country versus a Jewish organization in another country, versus a police authority in a third country, versus a civil society organization in a fourth country.”
The sentiments expressed by those Jews polled by FRA in October could form the basis for a replacement definition, the ministry said. A new definition would include the delegitimization of Israel as well as enumerating various actions in both the public and private spheres that would constitute anti-Semitism.
Prior to the release of the ministry’s report, Bennett said that “anti-Semitism [has been] gaining momentum at a regular pace over the past few years and has no connection with regional developments or our policies.” This sentiment was expressed in the report as well.
“The simple truth is that anti-Zionism is prevalent worldwide,” but that it is “mostly” seen on the Left, the report said, calling it the most common form of anti-Semitism in the West.
The ministry will “uncompromisingly fight anti-Semitism” and “continue to work in collaboration with national institutions and other organizations for the benefit of eradicating anti-Semitism.”
While a ministry spokesman said that not everything being done could be divulged, the report did cite the 2013 renewal of the International Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism after a two-year lull.
The event, a joint project of the Diaspora and Foreign ministries, brings politicians and Jewish leaders from around the world to discuss methods of undermining hate. It is now being reconstituted on a bi-annual basis and will reconvene in Jerusalem in 2015.
Citing an explosion of hate online and the widespread use of the inverted Nazi salute known as the quenelle, the report called on “governments and parliaments to emphasize the legislation as a tool against the trend of extremism.”
“It is clear that there is a large gap between the effectiveness of legislation and statements by political leaders and the reality on the ground.” It emphasized that the “only” solution was to attack the root of anti-Semitism through education.
The Internet has been an important vector in transmitting conspiracy theories about Jews, the ministry reported.
Citing such theories is common currency in South and Central America, Russia and the Middle East.
The ministry report, citing the Kantor Center, said that attempts to ban circumcision and other religious rituals were not intrinsically anti-Semitic and were also being directed against the Muslim community.
The report seemed to differ from a Saturday evening statement by Bennett, who said that while right-wing anti-Semitism stems from ultra-nationalism, that coming from the Left takes the form of attacks on Jewish traditions such as ritual slaughter and circumcision due to human and animal rights concerns.
All of the aforementioned factors have created a “bleak atmosphere” for Jews in Europe, the report said.
Rabbi Yosef Pevzner, director of the hassidic Sinai school network in Paris, recently told the Post that many French Jews felt trapped between Islamic anti-Semitism on the one hand, and increasing state secularism on the other, leaving them feeling they no longer belonged there.
The rise of ultra-nationalist parties affiliated with neo-Nazi movements in the Ukraine, Hungary and other European nations was also cited, as well as Palestinian and Arab popular anti-Semitism, which is deeply embedded in culture.
“Despite what people might think, anti-Semitism does not strengthen our ties with Jews overseas,” Bennett said in a statement on Saturday evening.
“For every Jew who makes aliya as a result of anti-Semitism, there are many others who cut ties with Judaism and the Jewish way of life. Efforts to increase personal and community security must also be bolstered through the various funds and resources dealing with the matter.”
In response to Bennett’s statements, the Israeli Jewish Congress, which works to represent several European communities to the Israeli government, said it believed that “the various branches of government, including the Diaspora Affairs and Foreign Affairs Ministries, understand the urgency in tackling anti-Semitism, and more specifically, the need to engage Jewish communities in Europe in this regard.”
Mati Wagner contributed to this report