February 14 marked 126 years since the publication of Theodor Herzl’s book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl firmly believed the creation of a Jewish homeland would eliminate antisemitism; it was his solution to the Jewish question. He wrote, “I think Jews will always have sufficient enemies, such as every nation but, once in their own land, it will no longer be possible for them to scatter all over the world.”
While Herzl was right in recognizing the need for a Jewish state, he was wrong in his assumption that it would end antisemitism or that Jews would no longer be scattered all over the world.
Antisemitism has never halted either before or after the rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948. There appeared a hiatus on antisemitism for a period following World War II primarily due to a sense of, justifiable, guilt felt by many countries which had closed their gates to Jews seeking refuge from Hitler’s Germany.
John, my late husband, and his family were living in Bamberg, Germany in the 1930s when Hitler rose to power. His father was the rabbi of the community; all, except for his grandmother, received visas to enter the US (it is suspected that she was refused a visa because of her age). There was one problem with the visas: the date of entry to the US was November 1940.
The family was fortunate because John’s grandfather, an eminent rabbi in Hungary, was a friend of then-British Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz, who was able to arrange temporary visas for the family to enter the UK and take up residence until November 1940. War broke out shortly after their arrival, which meant they finally made Britain their home.
Tragically, there were far too many unable to find refuge, since numerous countries upheld quota systems. Their lives ended horrifically in the gas chambers. Grandma Katten’s days ended in Theresienstadt.
The Holocaust, a genocide not to be compared to any other in its death toll and ferocity, was responsible for the virtual annihilation of European Jewry. In 1933, just prior to the rise of Hitler, European Jewry numbered approximately 9.4 million, virtually 60% of the world’s Jewish population. In 2021, European Jewry numbered 1.4 million.
TODAY, WE are witnessing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism the like of which we have not seen since the 1930s. No longer solely “hidden” under the guise of anti-Zionism, we are witnessing a world where attacks on synagogues in the US (such as the recent attack by an armed man in Colleyville, Texas) are becoming more common. Social media, reaching every corner of the world, spouts antisemitism on a daily basis to the young, as well as adults of all ages.
A new UK report by the Woolf Institute, a global leader on interfaith relations, estimates almost half a million explicitly antisemitic tweets per year – between 100 and 1,350 every day.
The UK’s Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain, released last week a comprehensive, detailed and alarming report on antisemitism in 2021 when 2,255 anti-Jewish hate incidents nationwide were recorded.
This figure represents the highest annual total CST has ever recorded and is a 34% increase from the 1,684 incidents in 2020. The numbers are particularly disturbing when comparing the Jewish population of the UK, numbering 259,927, with France’s Jewish population of 446,000 where 589 hate crimes against Jews were recorded for the same period.
The CST report states, “The record total of 2,255 antisemitic incidents in 2021 is driven by the huge rise in anti-Jewish hate and extremism during and following the escalation in violence in Israel and Palestine last year.” The report draws a direct link between the Gaza-Israel conflict of May 2021 and the escalation in antisemitic acts taking place in the UK.
It continues, “Trigger events in the Middle East impact Diaspora Jewish communities as the consequent rises in reports of antisemitism in the UK consistently demonstrate.” The report also notes that the sharp rise in antisemitic incidents did not immediately decline as the fighting in the region ended.
In 2021, there were 182 anti-Jewish hate incidents involving UK schools, school children and teachers – more than triple the 54 incidents of 2000. The report again connects the worst period with the events in Israel and Gaza. The same connection is made with the 128 antisemitic occurrences on UK campuses, the highest number of university-related incidents that CST has ever recorded in a calendar year.
THE LINK between antisemitism and the conflict between Israel and Gaza suggests that antisemitism is the result of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. However, antisemitism was around long before the creation of the State of Israel, as history reminds us.
The very UN that passed a resolution in 1947 for the partition of Palestine leading to Israel’s rebirth is the very UN whose General Assembly, since 2015, has passed 115 condemnatory resolutions against Israel, with only 45 against the rest of the world.
Iran’s leaders use the UN as a platform to consistently call for the annihilation of Israel – a statement that appears to have little (if any) impact on the vast majority of member states. We can but wonder how these states would respond if Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi would mount the UN podium and talk about the annihilation of the US or any other country. For sure it would be difficult to imagine that the current talks between Iran, the Europeans and the US (on the side) would actually be happening.
What we do see is that the UN is okay with dead Jews. On January 20, just prior to this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the UN passed a resolution condemning Holocaust denial; that it is possible for Iran to call for the elimination of the one Jewish state, where the number of Jews is not dissimilar to the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, makes a mockery of the resolution.
Two days following International Holocaust Remembrance Day, antisemitic rallies in Orlando saw 24 Nazi gear-wearing individuals waving swastikas and yelling “Heil Hitler.” Epithets such as “The Jew is the devil,” “Jews rape children and drink their blood,” and “Jews brought slaves here,” were shouted at passersby a number of times. This event took place close to the campus of the University of Central Florida, where there is a large number of Jewish students.
Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, research professor at King’s College London, recently wrote an article for the UK’s Jewish Chronicle in which he referred to Dara Horn’s book, People Love Dead Jews. He wrote, “The only real lesson to be drawn from commemorating dead Jews is that live Jews, like everybody else, should live freely and without fear in the countries of their choice.”
Back to Herzl’s Der Judenstadt. While Herzl was wrong in believing a Jewish state would end antisemitism, there are those, like me, who feel fortunate and privileged, after 2,000 years of exile, to be living in our own Jewish state. ■
The writer is chairperson of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. She is also public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes immigrant integration into Israeli society.