2021 Annual Assessment

The Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People

PROJECT HEAD: Shmuel Rosner

Dan Feferman, Shlomo Fischer, Shuki Friedman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Gitit Levy-Paz, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Adar Schieber, Yedidia Stern, Shalom Salomon Wald

Barry Geltman

2021 Annual Assessment

  • The May 2021 violence between Israel and Gaza galvanized anti-Jewish hatred. Jewish communities worldwide have seen a spike in antisemitic incidents while protesters worldwide rallied in solidarity with the Palestinians. In Europe, this hostility manifested especially in an increase in antisemitic incidents by migrants from Arab countries. In the US, Jews were attacked, most visibly by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Los Angeles, and targeted by a number of progressive groups, reflecting the fact that antisemitism no longer stems mainly from the right. Jews are identified with Israel’s actions. Progressive Jews in radical groups are pressured to condemn an Israel perceived as part of the systems of oppression.
  • In the US, the Palestinian and other Arab minorities express their anti-Israel views more and more openly and gain more and more support from progressive actors on the Left. For these populations, the transition from anti-Zionism to antisemitism is fluid.
  • These trends reflect the fact that antisemitism is once again part of the American social landscape. The Jewish leadership is required to monitor the situation to understand whether this is a new and permanent phenomenon (or perhaps a stopover on the way to a worse situation).
  • Israel has lost the battle of narratives with young westerners over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even if criticism of Israel and antisemitism are basically two different phenomena, many antisemites disguise their anti-Jewish hatred as opposition to the right of Israel (the collective “Jew”) to exist. The demonization that for centuries has been directed at the Jews is now – to circumvent the anti-hate legislation – directed at Israel. If as some surveys claim, 20% of young US Jews think that “Israel has no right to exist,”3 and a large minority of them are not emotionally attached to Israel,4 there is concern that these youth will not assist organized Jewish institutions in their fight against BDS and other antisemitic movements in anti-Israel disguises.
  • Malicious actors are using the internet and social media as propaganda tools to spread misinformation and alternative facts aimed at delegitimizing and demonizing the Jewish state. In parallel, data show an explosion of online antisemitic hate speech as Israeli-Palestinian memes spread across social media. This re-emphasizesthe major role of the internet as a vector in the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation as well as being an amplifier of radicalization.5 Antisemitism and conspiracy theories associating Jews with the COVID-19 pandemic have been spread via social media of all types. The return to post-pandemic life has seen a recrudescence of physical attacks.
  • As part of its rivalry with the United States, the state-controlled Chinese media has disseminated anti-Jewish messages tracing US pro-Israel policy to “the influence of wealthy Jews in the US and the Jewish lobby on US foreign-policy-makers.”6
  • Coalitions with other anxious minorities are difficult to achieve. The intersectionality discourse to promote wider cohesion among oppressed minorities works against Jews who, through this lens, are counted among the white, wealthy, and privileged. Their requests for protection against discrimination and social exclusion encounter difficulties in being heard and regarded as valid.
  • The success of the vaccination campaign in Israel, which flooded the media in early 2021, improved Israel’s image among most of the general public in the West. Israel has been described as a successful country capable of calculated risks, making decisions, and acting on them. But there were harsh criticisms as well: Israel unfairly used its Jewish money to purchase the vaccine at higher than market prices to the detriment of other countries; Israel withheld the vaccine from West Bank and Gazan Palestinians.
  • There has been a positive development in the European political arena. European politicians are becoming less critical of Israel and a few of them have even adopted a pro-Israel stand. A mix of economic, geopolitical, and domestic reasons can explain the progressive change.7 The change in attitudes toward Israel is influenced, among other things, by the increased identification of Israel as a significant technological partner for Europe and as a stabilizing geopolitical factor in the Middle East. Beyond that, a growing sense of threat from radical Islam in a context of mass migration from Arab countries also nurtured some identification with Israel. The activity of pro-Israel elements, including visiting delegations of European parliamentarians and geopolitical experts, has also, to some extent, contributed to this positive phenomenon.8 Yet, the game is far from being won. Some top politicians have not hesitated to adopt a stance that goes beyond being anti-Israel to contest Israel’s right to defend itself. In France, a top minister associated Israel with “apartheid” while another criticized Israeli military actions without mentioning the Hamas provocations that had triggered them. Such a political position, which denies Israel’s right of to defend its citizens, is perceived by local Jewish institutions as “double standard” antisemitism and undermines the trust Jews had placed in the French government’s previous commitment to protect them.9
  • Another positive development: this year the IHRA definition of antisemitism received significant additional approvals and implementations. In addition, US President Joe Biden succeeded in having the No Hate Act passed into law, which addresses white supremacist violence in the country.