My parents left the USSR in the early 70s when freedom of speech was still a luxury one could not afford. When they arrived in Israel, they were sent to a neighborhood in the southwestern city of Ashdod that was then reminiscent of The Bronx in the 1950s. Amid a heterogeneous mix of Jews from Morocco, Caucasus, Russia, Tunisia and more, there were challenges but no antisemitism and plenty of freedom of speech.
Anyone could criticize the Israeli government as loudly as they wished and everyone most certainly did. Although imperfect from the start, freedom of speech was a given in the newborn country of Israel.
In the USSR, religion was forbidden by the Communist regime in the name of equality. Yet Jews were constantly harassed. Their religion, which oftentimes they themselves knew very little about, was drawn out either by their peers at school or co-workers. Through virulent antisemitism, Jews were often reminded of their religion, which the Communist regime encouraged them to forget.
That was in the decades following the Holocaust and the massive, inhumane butchering of millions of Jews in the most systematic, organized fashion which the civilized world had ever seen. The horror that ensued when dreadful scenes of emaciated bodies were made public obviously did not make a very lasting impression, as antisemitism did not take its leave from the world. Quite the contrary.
Recently, while Russia continues its quest to dominate its neighboring Ukraine, creating yet another wave of refugees, carnage and death, it is antisemitism that raises its ugly head throughout the world. As the Syrian regime continues its years-long carnage of its own citizens, heartlessly bombarding women, children and the elderly, it has also become a hazard for Jews to walk in the streets of New York.
While the Iranian regime has taken a fancy to a new heartless tactic to try and repress the public uprising from within, in the form of taking out an eye of women who are against the regime, the world remains amazingly quiet. There are no United Nations sessions are convened to discuss the heinous crimes against humanity that are carried out in Iran’s notorious prisons on a daily basis; no urgent conferences or reprisals of gross negligence of the Kurdish population in the earthquake-stricken Syria and Turkey as opposed to other areas that are much better tended to by the respective regimes. Afghani women seem to have been forgotten by the civilized world and left to the qualms of the Taliban’s brutal and warped interpretation of Islam.
Antisemitism seems to survive
Yet antisemitism seems to survive and surpass all of the above: war, peace, economic upheavals, energy crises and human rights abuses in a myriad of countries throughout the world. It simply has no competition. Perhaps it is time to understand that it is what it is: a centuries-old form of bigotry and scapegoating of a group of people who are quite imperfect, yet simultaneously quite humane – much like the rest of humanity.
Perhaps it is time that world forums take a serious look in the mirror and review the fact that double standards and hypocrisy take on interesting forms.
The writer, a former MK, was the founder and co-chair of the first Abraham Accords Caucus in the Knesset.