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2019 Annual Assessment

This is the 15th year the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) has published its Annual Assessment. Every year, JPPI’s Annual Assessment seeks to offer a snapshot of the state of world Jewry. The gauges used to evaluate how world Jewry is doing year-to-year are largely unchanged this year, with one critical exception, community bonds. We are including for the first year an expanded version of the yearly Integrated index on Anti-Semitism.

The integrative index examines the threat to Jews in different countries, by tracking anti-Semitic incidents, the public’s attitude toward Jews, and the feelings of the local Jewish community, which also express that community’s trust in the local government’s ability and desire to protect them. Anti-Semitism is rising by every metric and can potentially affect each of the other measures we weigh every year in the Assessment: Geopolitics, Inter-Communal Bonds, Identity and Identification, Material Resources and Demography. Anti-Semitism is no longer a secondary concern but has significant impact on Israel and the Jewish people worldwide.

As the Integrated Anti-Semitism Index describes, the sheer number of anti-Semitic incidents has risen around the world, including in the United States. The FBI reported that Jews are the most targeted religion-based group by hate crimes, although Jews comprise less than two percent of the American population. Most of the more violent anti-Semitic attacks in the US seem unrelated to Israeli policies, although on college campuses the insidious, if non-violent, BDS movement feeds on overblown portrayals of Israeli policies. This has taken a toll on American Jews: nearly three-quarters of American Jews polled felt less secure than they did two years ago.

On the other hand, the rate of those in North America who hold anti-Semitic views is not high nor is it growing. An ADL survey shows that only 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic views while over half of Americans are concerned with anti-Semitic violence. A recent Gallup poll indicates that over 90 percent of Americans would not hesitate to vote for a Jew As President, while another study showed that Jews are the most admired religious group in the US above Catholics, Evangelicals and other religious groups.

Why the disconnect between record high numbers of anti-Semitic incidents and record-high acceptance of Jews in the US? There is a direct connection between this phenomenon and the weakening of globalization and the rise in populist nationalism. Around the globe, a hard-core minority of populist nationalists enjoys increased exposure in “marginalizing the other” in society. The extremists among these at times turn to violence, verbal or physical, including against Jews. Alongside these, worrying trends of anti-Semitism from the other side of the political spectrum abound.

Left-wing groups in Europe, including Muslim migrant populations, also identify an opportunity to advance their own anti-Semitic rhetoric. The anti-Semitism in Europe is entirely more threatening than that in the US. Across Europe, anti-Semitism is rising and sentiment against Israel along with it. The sources are a dangerous combination of a radical minority of the increasingly large Muslim migrant population in the continent, and the far left and far right on the political spectrum.

At both ideological extremes, the falsehood resonates that Jews control the financial and political strings of the world. Jeremey Corbin the leader of the British Labour Party regards Hamas and Hezbollah as friends, leading eight Labour members of parliament to leave their party. Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the UK, has called Corbin an “existential threat” to British Jews.

Clearly, the rise in anti-Semitism affects Israel–the state of the Jewish people–insofar as it takes on a greater responsibility both to focus on protection of Jews in the Diaspora and the relations Israel has with a number of different states. Managing these important foreign relations demands navigating a relatively new reality: many of the new populist leaders in countries like Hungary, Italy, Poland and other places may create an environment unfriendly to the immigrant and to “the other,” which can encourage a rise in anti-Semitism, but tend to be supportive of the State of Israel.

The dilemma the Israeli government faces is complicated. Strong relations and support for Israel in the international arena has clear value. But it comes with a price: when this support comes from populist governments or leaders, it actually tends to exacerbate growing tensions between the Israeli government and the Diaspora. On the one hand, embracing authoritarian leaders like Orban of Hungary raises the question of whether the government of Israel will itself standup against anti-Semitism when it is diplomatically inconvenient. Drawing close to such leaders signals that the rightward turn of the Israeli public and could also signal a departure from such core values as tolerance, kindness, respect for the other–which define the essence of Jewish values for many in the Diaspora.

Nowhere is this dilemma more acute than in the relationship of the Government of Israel with President Trump. America is Israel’s most important and indeed only true ally. And, Donald Trump’s friendship toward Israel has led to impressive results: declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, moving the American embassy, recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, providing unlimited support in the United Nations, consistently backing Israel’s right of self-defense in Gaza and elsewhere, and calling out the threat that Iran represents to Israel and the region. However, like other populist leaders, President Trump also raises problems for Israel in America. He is a polarizing figure in the United States and identifying with him so publicly has served to alienate most Democrats and a significant majority of American Jewry from Israel. Certainly, any Israeli leader and government would need to have good relations with any American president. However, the long-term interest of Israel demands strong relations with the entire American political spectrum. The Israeli government runs the risk of alienating a significant part of the Jewish community in the United States with too close an embrace of the president–especially younger Jews. Moreover, as recent polling shows, such attitudes are no longer limited only to younger Jews but are affecting the importance of Israel in the eyes of many older members of the American Jewish community as well.

All this helps explain why the gauge on inter-communal bonds is slightly more negative this year than last, even at a time when the rise of anti-Semitism should foster greater solidarity within the Diaspora. This seems to be a paradox, but the factors noted above help to explain why the measure is more negative this year than last.

Other measures in the Annual Assessment remain largely the same. In the instance of geopolitics, the picture is mixed with offsetting realities. Yes, Israel’s Sunni Arab neighbors have drawn closer to Israel, because they share common perceptions of threats from Iran. However, another factor is driving key Arab leaders to improve relations with Israel: the perception that the United States is withdrawing from the region and is not keen to live up to commitments.

It is geopolitically beneficial that Arab leaders see the value of close cooperation with Israel. It is, however, worrying that one of the reasons driving this is the sense that the US is with
drawing or wants less and less to do in the region. As Russia and China become more involved in the region, especially as the US retrenches, Israel will face more challenges. Additionally,
a US-China trade war will also pose a significant challenge for Israel as it seeks to preserve its economic trading relationship with China.

As always, this year’s Assessment does not provide just a snapshot of what is changing this year from last, but also makes recommendations for actions. One recommendation that stands out on the rise of anti-Semitism is the importance of developing “a set of guiding principles” for the Israeli government and other global or public leaders to use in responding to this issue wherever it arises. Similarly, at a time when the US is seemingly less willing to remain engaged in the Middle East, this may be the time to formalize America’s commitments to Israel, through “a long-term strategic contractual alliance” with the United States.

Like all of the recommendations, these are thought-provoking and should be carefully considered by Israeli and Diaspora leaders in America and around the world.

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