Ukraine-Russia war will trigger new wave of antisemitism - opinion

We see Jews blamed for the war and that Israel is controlling its narrative.

A view shows an apartment building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 25, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A view shows an apartment building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 25, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Almost a month into the war between Russia and Ukraine, we continue to see painful and heart-wrenching images of destruction, loss and fleeing women and children. At this point, we can begin to internalize the expected consequences of the war, not only for Europe but for the entire world. In addition to the restoration that the warring countries will require, the economic and social impact of the war is also of utmost concern. However, Israel and the Jewish people have an additional and no less critical concern that must not be ignored – and that is the most certain looming wave of antisemitism.

When it comes to antisemitism, the last two years of COVID-19 have taught us not to be complacent. Just as COVID-19 cases ebb and flow in waves but never disappear completely, so too the waves of antisemitism are forever renewed. Antisemitism has always reared its head throughout the ages and has never completely disappeared. From time immemorial, the Jews have been subjected to hate, slander and violence. Throughout history, many wanted to exterminate the Jews just for being Jews. Antisemites always found a reason for their actions, whether to protect jobs, a country or the world at large. However, we all know that one does not need a specific reason for antisemitism, pure hatred is enough. Antisemitism seeps deep into the language, penetrates the public sphere and sometimes goes unnoticed until it is too late.

According to the World Zionist Organization’s recent annual antisemitism report, the year 2021 was the most antisemitic year in the last decade. Two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, a worsening economic situation, as well as Israel’s military operation in May, subjected Jews to an increase in antisemitism. Throughout 2021, there were ten antisemitic incidents daily and these were only the ones that were recorded. The current war will undoubtedly bring about a new wave of antisemitism that will flood the world and we want to warn about it.

The economic situation has always been fertile ground for antisemitism. While the world is still carrying the economic burden of the pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine is also affecting the world economy and impacting global social stability. We see this in the rise in oil and wheat prices, with Russia and Ukraine being its main exporters, and the fear that Russia will cut off its gas supply. Whenever the economy staggers, Jews get blamed. Even Jewish funding is being scrutinized, with many Russian-Jewish oligarchs threatened with Western sanctions because of the war.

We are not prophets, and most of all, we want to be proven wrong, but history has taught us not to be complacent. The comparison between this war and what happened in the world over 80 years ago must not be made by either side. This too is fertile ground for antisemitism, which is already on the rise. On social media, we already see an increase in antisemitism from both sides of the border. We see Jews blamed for the war and that Israel is controlling its narrative.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

The fact that the president of Ukraine is Jewish also contributes to the dissemination of antisemitic conspiracies. After Zelensky’s speeches, antisemitic posts immediately appeared claiming that “Jews are either very cowardly or very smart and only seek profit,” next to a map of Europe on which an antisemitic figure of a Jew is seen, as well as accusing that “the Jews have already inflicted more grief on other people.”

In order to recruit the world to the fight against antisemitism, we must act on two levels. On the political level, we must continue to encourage countries to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and raise awareness about the present and anticipated fears of Jews on the ground. At the same time, we must speak not only to the leaders of the world but also to the people on the street and those who encounter antisemitism on social media. It is time to wake up and see the writing on the wall!

The writer is head of the Department for Combating Antisemitism & Enhancing Resilience at the World Zionist Organization.