Israel’s perceived strength deters antisemitism and perceived weakness emboldens it
The wave of antisemitism that has washed over the world since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas is intensifying. Jews in many countries are living in fear.
One possible explanation for the wave is Israel’s actions in Gaza. But there is another explanation: Jew-haters feel that Israel’s current plight is an opportunity to rise up against the Jews living among them.
Thus, while victory in this war is essential to Israel’s continued existence, it is no less important for Diaspora Jews’ right to feel safer than they do now.
A recent survey conducted by the Jewish People Policy Institute, in cooperation with the World Zionist Organization and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, showed that American Jews’ sense of security has severely eroded. Around 50% of them feel less safe than they did before the war. Another survey found that only 27% of Jews feel comfortable showing any outward sign of their Judaism in public, compared to 65% before the war.
Given the sharp rise in antisemitic violence around the world, this sense of insecurity is understandable. In France and Germany, Stars of David have been painted Nazi-style on Jewish homes. London has been flooded with anti-Israel “protests” that feature undisguised murderous antisemitism. Across U.S. college campuses, Jewish students have been verbally and physically attacked by pro-Hamas antisemites.
Since the war began, there have been as many antisemitic incidents reported in Britain as in the first nine months of the year, the highest number since the U.K. began tracking domestic antisemitism. In France, the number of antisemitic incidents is nearly double that of 2022. In Germany, there has been a 240% increase. The U.S. is not an exception. The ADL has found a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents since the war started.
Hatred of Jews, of course, has existed for as long as the Jewish people have existed. After the Holocaust, however, antisemitism became, for a time, unfashionable. Antisemites were usually unequivocally denounced. But as the years passed and the memory of the Holocaust began to fade, the situation changed. The old antisemitism deeply embedded in Western culture was joined by radical Islamic and far-left antisemitism. Both groups deny Israel’s right to exist and hate the Jews for supporting that right.
There is no doubt that the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre both fed the sadistic impulses of today’s antisemites and created the impression that Israel is weak. That the attack followed months of internal turmoil in the Jewish state only reinforced this—quite mistaken—belief. Thus, antisemites saw all Jews as vulnerable and believed now was their opportunity to strike—emulating the Hamas terrorists who committed the massacre. They were emboldened to publicly and proudly express their seething racism and hatred. As a result, antisemitism is now in vogue.
Whether they like it or not, Jews are identified with the State of Israel. Israel’s perceived strength deters antisemitism and perceived weakness emboldens it. Thus, a clear victory in the war and the annihilation of Hamas will have a decisive impact on the security and safety of Jews around the world.
Of course, even if Israel restores its image as a strong nation that will fight to defend itself and the Jewish people, antisemitism will not disappear. But public expressions of that hatred and antisemites’ willingness to act upon it will diminish. The haters and racists, like the rats in Albert Camus’s The Plague, will return to the dark subterranean holes from which they emerged.
Dr. Shuki Friedman is vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.