We must crack down on antisemitism - opinion

Perhaps antisemitism will never be eliminated from our world, but these actions can certainly reduce the level of damage and evil it sows.

 DEMONSTRATORS RALLY in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in May. (photo credit: Christian Mang/Reuters)
DEMONSTRATORS RALLY in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in May.
(photo credit: Christian Mang/Reuters)

The year 2021 set a negative tone in relation to antisemitism. There were several reasons for this: the pandemic, Operation Guardian of the Walls, and the continued activity of the BDS movement, which relentlessly promoted their false campaign against the State of Israel, which in their opinion is pursuing an “apartheid policy” in Judea and Samaria.

All these events served to create waves of hatred, and Jews around the world have subsequently witnessed aggressive acts of verbal and physical violence.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report in November stating that, like instances from the plague in the Middle Ages where “conspiracy theories and new myths arose blaming Jews for the plague,” so too with the outbreak of the pandemic.

As mentioned, in May of this year, there was an unprecedented increase in antisemitism in the US and across Europe. This wave of antisemitism gathered pace during Operation Guardian of the Walls and the conflict with Hamas. Throughout the world, from New York to Berlin, there were violent demonstrations against Jews that took place under the pretense of a critique of Israel. These sowed fear and terror among Jewish communities in many cities.

New social networks like TikTok, along with older platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have been used in order to spread hate and incitement. The owners of the various social media platforms for their part have not taken significant steps to combat these dangerous developments. This lack of regard for provoking content makes it possible to fan the flames of hatred with false accusations and encourage hostility toward the State of Israel. There is a direct relationship between the extent of incitement on social networks and the number of violent attacks on Jews, synagogues and businesses in many countries.

An example of antisemitic content spread through TikTok. (credit: screenshot)An example of antisemitic content spread through TikTok. (credit: screenshot)

The FBI reports that antisemitism remains the No. 1 hate crime in the United States. Recent data demonstrates that Jews and Jewish institutions were the most common target against which hate crimes were committed, and they account for 58% of religious hate crime incidents. Earlier this year, antisemitism in the US rose by 80% and in the UK, the number of antisemitic incidents increased by 570%. 

Worldwide, attacks against Jews have increased. Unfortunately in the next calendar year we will have to continue to tackle this growing wave of antisemitism. 

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the measures we are employing to combat antisemitism. Israel and the international community need a clear strategy, both educationally and from an explanatory perspective as well as through legislation that advocates strict enforcement and immediate penalization against those who commit hate crimes. 

We have many friends in the world. We must continue to utilize their skills and request they join us in our efforts to combat antisemitism. One such instance occurred after Ben & Jerry’s made the shameful decision not to sell their products in Judea and Samaria. Many US states, including Texas, New York, Florida, Arizona and New Jersey, began to retract their investment in Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever.

This sent a clear message to Unilever and resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the company. Even if Unilever fails to persuade Ben & Jerry’s to retract its decision, these steps will serve as a warning to other companies before they consider following a similar path. 

The resolution of these states to withdraw their investments from Unilever did not occur in a vacuum. As early as 2015, states like Tennessee, South Carolina and Illinois enacted laws against the BDS movement.

In 2016, 15 more states joined, including New Jersey, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Ohio. Over the years, more countries from the international arena have also united with the US in the battle against the boycott movement of Israel.

In Europe, there is legislation against the BDS movement. The laws themselves are good, but unfortunately they are no longer adequate. As in the case of Ben & Jerry’s, the State of Israel must involve government officials and bring the matter to public awareness so that the countries that are affected can act quickly and effectively. Freedom of expression is a principal value but freedom of incitement and the encouragement of violence on social networks cannot be allowed.

Similar to a newspaper that is responsible for the content it publishes on its pages, so must social media platforms be responsible for their posts. Equivalent laws should be applied in both scenarios when it comes to promoting offensive or racist content.

The situation where antisemites are creating false and harmful propaganda and using social networks to reach ever-growing audiences without the social networks themselves being responsible and accountable for removing this damaging content is very concerning.

In the United States, there is a consensus, both among the Republican and the Democratic parties, that the social networks should no longer be granted immunity from the content published on their platforms and changes must be made to the law.

I believe that, following the US legislation, more countries in Europe will summon their courage and enact laws that will hold social media platforms accountable and thus allow citizens to complain when there is insightful or antisemitic content and if necessary enable them to file a lawsuit against the social network if it does not remove the offensive post.

Perhaps antisemitism will never be eliminated from our world, but these actions can certainly reduce the level of damage and evil it sows.

The writer served as Israel’s 17th permanent representative to the United Nations and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the World Likud.