Contemporary antisemitism and ways to counter it

January 31, 2022 by Julie Nathan
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Around the world, we see Jews increasingly under attack – synagogues vandalised, Jewish students ostracised, Jews beaten up in the streets or murdered in their homes, calls for Israel to be destroyed. It has become so pervasive and overwhelming.

What can we do, where to begin? It is good to have a panoramic view of what is occurring across the world. However, to counter antisemitism, we need to break it up into its various components and develop specific strategies with which to tackle each component.

Every person who so desires can play their role. Everyone has areas of interest, skills and knowledge they can utilise in this campaign. People just need to find where they are best suited and then use their own abilities and skills in that area.

Firstly, let’s look at the three main components of the antisemitism machine. 

Sources: The Engine

Today’s antisemitism derives from four main sources, each ideologically driven: extremist elements within the political right and political left, and amongst Muslims and Christians. Each of these four sources is composed of various strands of belief, activity and influence.

Left-wing antisemitism tends to dress itself in a cloak of social justice, under an anti-racism mantra; whereas right-wing antisemitism tends to lay itself bare, without any cloak to hide its inherent racism. Within both the Muslim and Christian worlds there are individuals and organisations seeking to harm Jews and/or Israel, often from a supersessionist and supremacist base. For them, at the very least, Jews must be ‘put back in their place’.

Methods Used: The Wheels

The delivery methods used to express antisemitism can be quite diverse but are roughly divided between discourse and incidents, ie what is said and what is done.

Discourse covers bias and misinformation in mainstream society and vilification and incitement on the extreme margins of society. It is found in politics, the media, universities, social clubs and elsewhere. It proliferates on the internet and social media – communication channels used by governments and corporations, media and academics, groups and individuals. With the tap of fingers on a keyboard, hate is spread instantaneously across the globe.

Much more serious are antisemitic incidents – Jews being verbally abused and physically assaulted, vandalism of Jewish community property, and threats of mass murder. To thwart physical attacks, Jewish organisations in many countries have security measures in place around Jewish sites, without which there would be many more casualties.

Attacks against Jews do not come out of nowhere. They are built upon foundations of hate, often centuries in the making, and inspired by antisemitic discourse; from libels and teachings of contempt, creating an atmosphere that poisons how Jews are perceived, through to overt propaganda that demonises Jews. This leads to attacks on Jews, ranging from verbal abuse on the streets to mass shootings. The methods used to attack Jews, whether through discourse or incidents, are as much a legal and police issue as a political or social issue.

Power Structures: The Fuel

In any given society or nation, the power structures and those with influence have the ability to increase or decrease the levels and intensity of antisemitism. There are also international power structures such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, that act as a major source of anti-Zionism, by targeting Israel for unfair and discriminatory treatment, with a hugely unbalanced focus on the Jewish state. In addition, dozens of NGOs such as the BDS movement, operate internationally; their anti-Zionism intensifies the demonisation of Jews.

It is these institutions, through the authority they hold, that draw the line between what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour towards the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

How Can We Counter Antisemitism?

 The following are some ideas where you may like to focus your attention:

  • Joining a political party or engaging in interfaith dialogue and working from within.
  • Monitoring social media, to report the haters and to campaign for more accountability from platform providers, and to initiate and engage in social media campaigns to counteract the haters.
  • Holding mainstream media to standards of honesty, accuracy and balanced reporting.
  • Campaigning for law reform to outlaw vilification and incitement to violence.
  • Ensuring that universities are places of robust learning but not discrimination against Jewish students.

If we each choose one particular area and focus on countering antisemitism there, then it all contributes to the campaign.

Wherever you are, in your country and in your life, and whatever your particular interests and expertise (eg law, media, social media, your local environmental or women’s group), choose where you are most suited and feel most comfortable, and work from there. Seek comrades and allies, and do what you can, whenever you can.

We are not alone. We are not incapable. There are many people who provide excellent role models in countering antisemitism. There is plenty of scope to find where one can contribute to countering antisemitism, and defending Jews against hatred.

In summary – get involved, educate others, demand accountability, expose hate, report incidents, and let’s fight this plague together!

Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia. She is also the Chair of the Antisemitism and Racism Committee of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW).

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