Antisemitism as an ancient, toxic, resilient virus, mutated over millennia, in accordance with guiding social pillars or constructs of each century: from religion to race to nationality, now full cycle back to religion. It is the mainstreaming and normalization of this ancient hatred that is most alarming.
For antisemitism can be seen as a predictive example for other forms of hate and racism, rendering the tracking, understanding and addressing of its unique mutation important not only for Jews or their nation state, Israel – as a proverbial canary in the mineshaft – but for all concerned and committed to identify and combat all forms of hate and racism.
The intersection between religion and universal values of human rights – developed as a secular religion – harbors the opportunity and responsibility for vital collaboration in the 21st century: to identify and combat the appropriation and weaponization of those universal principles for political ends. Such appropriation and weaponization undermine the very commitment of “Never Again” that the international-rules-based order was intended to ensure and secure, even as, instead, we face the devastating reality of “Again and Again” – in Iran, China, Ukraine, etc.
The “mapping project” of the Greater Boston area, recently released by Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists, provides anecdotal evidence demonstrating the viral, insidious mutation of antisemitism, on- and off-line. The interactive “liberation map” is not only an attack threatening Boston’s Jewish community.
Mapping the ties between Jews and the broader community, it invokes antisemitic tropes, suggesting that there is something inherently sinister in Jews wanting to work with non-Jews. It constitutes an attack on foundational democratic principles of justice and freedom that should shock and concern all those cherishing them.
Singling out Jews and those affiliated with them, the map rips open and exposes mutated forms of ancient wounds harkening back to dark times in history, endangering Boston’s Jewish community in the present day, and threatening the very foundations of American democracy. Possibly in an effort to mask outright antisemitism while exposing just how deep it runs, the mapmakers added an absurdly broad web of guilty by association allies. The threshold for inclusion on this list is very low; any organization or public figure with even the slightest connection to Israel is tracked on the map.
An antisemitic hit list
BDS has made no secret about its ultimate agenda: demonizing, delegitimizing and singling out Israel, with the ultimate goal of destroying it. In an Orwellian inversion, it appropriates universal values and rhetoric, weaponizing them against Israel, a lawful and human-rights abiding state. This interactive map is but a recent, escalating and visual manifestation of a “clear and present danger.”
Many in the Boston community view this map for precisely what it is: an antisemitic hit list. This one example is replicated in a plethora of insidious manifestations, on digital platforms and on the streets, echoing toxic antisemitic tropes as defined in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism, the result of a long democratic process, which includes the 3 Ds – the demonization, delegitimization and double standards – towards Israel.
The troubling mainstreaming and ramifications of rising modern-day antisemitism in a digital reality, expose the growing urgency to define ever mutating, new forms of an ancient hatred, if we are to identify and combat its modern-day permeations. The trigger for the creation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, a non-legally binding resource, was the 2001 Durban Conference “Against” Racism, the pretext for what became an antisemitic hate fest, systematically appropriating the language of human rights to conflate Israel with apartheid South Africa. A mutation of the 1975 “Zionism is racism” UN resolution, revoked decades later, it is part of the recognition that where conventional warfare failed, a war for hearts and minds, implementing a systematic strategy, can gain traction.
With this as backdrop, the IHRA working definition has been adopted by hundreds of entities – countries, cities, sports leagues, corporations, universities. It clearly differentiates legitimate criticism of Israel, like any other country, from delegitimization of its very right to exist, in any borders. It is those 3 Ds that enable the tracking of the mutation: from traditional antisemitism that barred the individual Jew from having an equal place within society, to its “modern” form, dedicated to barring the Jewish state from an equal place among the nations.
Overt and direct messages sound alarm bells that must serve as a wake-up call to all who recognize that if a single group, minority or religion cannot be protected, ultimately none can. This opportunity must be recognized by majority moderates – who cherish foundational principles of justice and freedom of which our ancestors could have only dreamed – to ensure the IHRA definition is not only adopted by additional critical entities like social media giants but that it is transparently implemented, taking responsibility to identify and combat rising antisemitism.
The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks instructed and inspired an understanding of the significance and strength of interfaith collaboration – for each religion separately and for our shared values, at a time of blurring morality, identities and belonging. Moderate religious leadership of all faiths too must use their power to influence, ensuring that religion is not hijacked to empower radical extreme voices.
In an echo chamber digital reality of outsourcing individual and collective memory and a struggle to find identity, faith offers a pathway to connection and belonging, recognizing that what makes the difference to our behavior is less what we do than the phenomenon of being reminded – even subconsciously – of what we believe. This requires that faith leaders rise to the challenge and sound voices of moral clarity saying: “Not in God’s Name,” remembering that leadership is not about the leader, it is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else; that the word confidence, in Latin, means “having faith together.”
The toxic mutation of antisemitism, enabled by appropriation and selective application of the “secular religion” of human rights, undermines the international rules-based order they were intended to uphold, promote and protect. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is a critical, comprehensive resource, because to identify and combat rising antisemitism, it is imperative to first define it.
The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks differentiated between optimism and hope, saying that optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things better. In that sense, optimism is quite a passive virtue, whereas hope is a very active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but great courage to hope.
The national anthem of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is “Hatikvah” – The Hope.
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow and policy and strategy adviser on issues of immigration and integration, Israel-Diaspora relations, human rights and the fight against antisemitism. She served as an MK in the 23rd Knesset, founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.