2020 Annual Assessment

Recent negative developments

  • Rise of conspiracy theories promoted by far-right actors. In response to an appetite for a single-cause answer to the existential quandary experienced in some sectors, far-right actors and white supremacists have weaponized the coronavirus pandemic to repackage and disseminate racist tropes, pointing to a so-called “Jewish-controlled government that is exploiting the virus to serve Jewish interests.”2
  • The impact of these false theories is, however, limited. An Oxford University study found that 19.8 percent of its respondents believed that Jews are behind the coronavirus, while 45.8 percent believed that “the coronavirus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the West.”3
  • BDS outreach to mainstream audiences. Anti-Israel BDS forces have leveraged the coronavirus to defame Israel among the progressive left and beyond. Along with smears by known anti-Semites in Turkey and Iran, they have presented Israel as an even more terrible “virus” than COVID-19, and have distributed caricatures of Israel propagating the virus.
  • Deadly shootings and physical assaults. Beyond the deadly synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Halle (Germany) committed by right-wing extremists, we have also observed in the last few years a surge of violence directed at US Haredi Jews by their African-American and Hispanic neighbors (as part of endemic inter-ethnic tensions in New York City and its suburbs). Often underestimated because of the identity of the attackers, the identity of the assaulted, and its limited geographical scope, this bigotry resulted in more than a hundred assaults and two mass killings in 2019.4 Even if the scope of this development is limited compared to the potentially dire impact of white supremacist ideology in America, this anti-Semitic violence requires the urgent attention of policy makers and entails interventions for mitigation and cessation.
  • Jews perceived as privileged in a context of economic downturn. Impoverishment and massive unemployment are a breeding ground on which anti-Semitic movements have historically developed. While it is not yet clear how it will develop, the pandemic seems to be leading to widening social and economic gaps. Underprivileged sectors may be tempted by far-right and far-left conspiracy theories that scapegoat Jews as wealthy oppressors.
  • Jews are scapegoats for right- and left-wing populists. White supremacists exploit the tragic and inexcusable death of George Floyd and claim that Jews are the organizing force behind the anti-system unrest in major US cities. Anti-Israel far-left extremists blame Israel – falsely – for training the police officers responsible for Floyd’s death, and draw an equivalency between police brutality in America and alleged Israeli brutality against Palestinians.
  • European far-left actors leverage anti-Jewish hatred to gain Muslim and far-right voters. European far-left politicians – claiming not to hear the anti-Semitic slogans chanted at their mass rallies – systematically deploy radical anti-Israeli rhetoric to woo Muslim migrants and occasionally use anti-Semitic fear-mongering and conspiracy theories to entice newly impoverished middle-class voters away from far-right parties.

Recent positive developments

  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect Jewish students. The order prohibits federal funding for colleges and universities that turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism.
  • Adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which was first drafted in a European Union committee as a non-binding definition, is slowly taking root worldwide.5
  • Engagement of state institutions to mitigate anti-Semitism. These include the first UN report on anti-Semitism, several national rulings to limit online anti-Semitism and BDS activity,6 and the nomination of special anti-Semitism envoys by a wider group of nations.7
  • Anti-Semitism scrubbed from Labour Party (UK). Anti-Semitism within Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was a factor in his 2019 electoral defeat by Boris Johnson. In concert with Jewish voices, Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has vowed to “wash clean the stain of anti-Semitism from [their] party.”8
  • “Black Lives Matter” movement increased awareness of racism and minority rights. This may present an opportunity to renew the Jewish-Black alliance so prominent in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.9 Alas, it may also nurture resentment against Israel and Jews, who are perceived as part of the oppressive white elites.

Long-term trends

  • After a seven-decade grace period following the Shoah, anti-Semitism has resumed and is becoming the “new normal” with which Jewish communities will have to contend.
  • In a world in which significant segments of the population have experienced downward social mobility and are worried that their horizons are grim, conspiracy theories flourish and the “Jew” reemerges as an iconic scapegoat that unites conspiracy traffickers from all political, religious, and social backgrounds. Taking advantage of digital means for free expression, simplistic theories demonizing the Jews are spread to millions, perhaps billions, of people across the internet.
  • In Europe, anti-Semitism – visible and invisible – impedes the participation of Jewish communities in the life of their general societies and dissuades Jews from participating in local Jewish communal life (on the flip side: anti-Jewish attitudes steadily decrease in the population).
  • In continental Europe, the main single determinant indicator of the sustainability of a Jewish community appears to be the percentage of Muslims in the population.
  • In North America and Australia, anti-Semitism has almost no tangible impact on the social, academic, economic, or political integration of Jews in general society. Yet, in the last four years in the United States, anti-Semitic right-wingers have become emboldened in their willingness to express their Jew-hatred and act upon it. Similarly, anti-Semitic views on the left have increased and Jews (particularly on college campuses) feel more threatened by them. Most of the abuse from this quarter has been verbal and psychological, not physical.
  • Anti-Zionism has become main-stream in Europe and frequently features traditional anti-Semitic components. Jews are often held accountable for the actions and policies of the Israeli government.
  • The discomfort European Jews have long felt has crept into the American landscape. More American synagogues have begun adopting security measures, and this may advance an unconscious message that Jews are not “regular citizens” but rather “citizens at risk.”
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