Terry H. Schwadron
June 2, 2019
With the steady flourishing of nationalistic messaging across the globe, there has been an astronomical rise in anti-Semitism as well as a general revulsion to more open immigration.
As if we were back in the 1930s, there is a desire to blame unequal and tougher economic times on Jews and immigrants, particularly Muslims, whether in France, England, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Australia and the United States.
Sometimes, too often in fact, there is a false effort to attack (or defend) Jews over the policies concocted in Israel for Israelis, both Jewish and Palestinian, and there seems little desire by public officials in many of the emergent right-leaning, “populist” governments emerging to do anything to keep the conversations distinct and separate.
The effort among U.S. college students to protest perceived Israeli aggressiveness against Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with economic boycotts has spilled over into an increase in campus fistfights and worse. Attacks on synagogues, mosques, and businesses are now an every-week affair, and the conversation in the business world over which boycotts speak politically correct is confused and smacks of trying too hard to satisfy a few.
For me, whose mom came to age wearing a yellow Jewish star as otherwise middle-class Germans spit on her and worse until escaping the country, this is all too close. As we have seen in too many cases, slander and name-calling leads to state-sponsored violence and incarceration, exile, theft and death.
What happened to “Never Again?”
There is a responsibility to call out the behaviors, to confront what passes as casual or youthful if misguided overexuberance and to demand that our government and that of our allies see that their policies are spawning more division between whites, particularly those who see an endangered white and Christian majority and its ways of privilege, and people of color, of difference in religion, orientation and background.
In Congress, the election of few new, outspoken Muslims to Congress, has spawned denunciations and misrepresentations to any statement perceived as anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism is being adopted wholesale by conservative Republicans and their evangelical Christian base voters, much to the surprise of more liberal Democrats who split their allegiances between defending against anti-Semitism and still criticizing the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The very appearance of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban as a recent invited guest with Donald Trump in the White House is a strange political cocktail after years of banishment from Washington. Trump is a vocal defender of increasingly right-leaning Israeli politics, as is Orban, while at home Orban is bucking European policy in leading the anti-Semitic campaign against Jews and immigrants of all stripe.
Reports of swastikas daubed on Jewish cemeteries abound in France as anti-Semitic incidents rose by 500%, including the murder of a Holocaust survivor in her own home. In Germany over the same period, violent anti-Semitic attacks rose by 60%. In Britain, Labor lawmakers in Britain are quitting their party, citing ingrained anti-Semitism. A Belgian carnival float caricatured Orthodox Jews sitting on bags of money. As the New York Times summarized, “The accumulated incidents in Europe and the United States have highlighted how an ancient prejudice is surging in the 21st century in both familiar and mutant ways, fusing ideologies that otherwise would have little overlap. The spike is taking place in a context of rising global economic uncertainty, an emphasis on race and national identity, and a deepening polarization between the political left and right in Europe and the United States over the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Some of the anti-Semitism has emerged as the Israeli government that has sidled up to far-right allies who praise Israel even as they peddle anti-Semitic prejudice at home, the Times said. In Europe, as in the United States, bigots have seemingly become more brazen, creating a climate that has made anti-Semitism far more permissible and dangerous. A third of European Jews are said to be moving away to the United States or Israel.
Anti-Semitism is being more widely harnessed for political ends, experts say. Far-right parties often portray Jews as a cosmopolitan threat to national identity, especially in regions like Hungary, Poland and Austria where the stereotype has been used historically. On the far left, some politicians have associated Jews with the failings of capitalism and conspiracies about supposed control over the global economy., including among France’s Yellow Vest movement.
Clearly Donald Trump has reflected similar contradictions as echoes of Charlottesvill persist. During his campaign, he attacked Hillary Clinton with a Twitter post that included her image, a Jewish star, and a pile of money. At the same time, the president has boasted close relations with Netanyahu, even at the price of ending two-state solutions between Israel and Palestinians.
The data suggest that most contemporary anti-Semitism is primarily still perpetrated by the white, far right, who are often also virulently anti-Muslim. Netanyahu engineered an electoral pact with a racist party from the far-right fringe who could help him retain power in the recent general election.
Expect any economic downturn anywhere in the world to result in ethnic tension and scapegoating.
Unfortunately, the scapegoats again turn out to be Jews and Muslim immigrants. How about a hat that says, Not This Time.