SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Jews have to consider whether it is safe to wear identifiably Jewish symbols and to consider how and where they pray.
Protesters hold placards and flags during a demonstration, organised by the British Board of Jewish Deputies for those who oppose antisemitism, in Parliament Square in London. (photo credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Five headlines from the last forty-eight hours capture increasing antisemitism and anti-Jewish incidents. They show a pattern of hatred and attacks on Jews, Jewish symbols and intolerance towards Jews that is worldwide. These kinds of incidents have happened in the past, but the proximity of them all at the same time paints a disturbing picture of a world in which, in many countries, Jews have to consider whether it is safe to wear identifiably Jewish symbols, and consider how and where they pray.
“Second antisemitic assault in Canada in less than a week,” reads one headline that tells of an incident in Toronto where two Jewish youths with kippahs were assaults in Toronto. In Montreal a taxi driver also cursed a Jewish man. Last year there were more than 2,000 anti-Jewish incidents in Canada, according to the report.
In another incident in Munich reported this week, a rabbi and his sons were “insulted and spat upon” while walking home from synagogue over Shabbat. Antisemitic attacks have almost doubled over the last year while Chancellor Angela Merkel remains in office. According to data the number of attacks increased from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. A separate report in DW says that another Jewish person found graffiti in their apartment building this week.
In Jordan Jewish tourists complained that they were searched for kippahs and banned from praying at Aaron’s tomb. This controversy allegedly began after video showed Jews had prayed at the tomb and it was then closed by the religious authorities because of the “illegal” prayer. But the more controversial aspect of the story is that Jews reported being searched for prayer shawls and kippahs.
In Turkey a summer camp showed young women shouting “death to the Jews.” The camp, allegedly run by a far-right Islamic group, shows younger girls and teenage women, some clad in all-black, shouting “death” when the word “Jew” is used. The video which circulated on Twitter has caused some controversy in Turkey where more left-leaning voices have asked for it to be investigated. The group that encouraged the young women to call for the murder of Jews also calls for Palestine to be “cleansed” of Jews, according to The Jewish Chronicle, linking hatred of Jews to hatred of Israel.
Lithuanian Jews shut their community center due to threats. The JTA reports that the only functioning synagogue has been shut down after receiving threatening phone calls. The community closed the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, a city that once had a large Jewish population and was called the “Jerusalem of the north.”
The headlines paint a disturbing picture. Hatred of Jews is common in countries where there are few Jews. From summer camps where children are told to chant “death to the Jews,” to countries that fear even seeing a Jewish prayer, to once thriving Jewish communities forced to shut their doors, the stories paint a picture of a worldwide assault on Jewish rights to live normally like other people. No other minority group in the world is subjected to such a large number systematic attacks and harassment, in some countries antisemitic attacks against relatively small Jewish minorities are almost equal to all the other hate crimes or religious-motivated hate crimes combined.
There is always an excuse for the hatred. In one country they will say it is about “Palestinians” and in another such as Lithuania they will say the harassing phone calls are about a “historic controversy” over the role of some Lithuanians in supporting the Nazis, but the real story is much deeper. The real story is that unlike any other group, whether it is Sikhs or Bahai or Catholics or Shi’ites, Jews alone are systematically singled out in almost every country in the Middle East and the West for hatred and harassment. This means that wearing a kippah is potentially cause for concern, and Jews have been warned against just wearing their religious symbols. Stars of David are banned from some events in the US with claims that the ancient Jewish symbol is “offensive” because it might remind the intersectional participants of the flag of Israel. Of course crosses and Islamic crescents are not banned, even though they appear on numerous flags. Only one symbol is “controversial” and it just happens to be the one used by Jews. Just one type of headcovering is more controversial to wear in public in most European countries, not the turban or the kippah that Muslims and Catholic cardinals wear, only the kippah that Jews wear can result in them being spat at.
Canada, a country that brags about its tolerance, is plagued by antisemitism. This includes incidents of Islamist preachers calling for Jews to be murdered. In Edmonton an imam claimed Jews were behind ISIS and the New Zealand terror attack. In Montreal another imam said Jews should be “destroyed on judgement day.” Canadian authorities have done nothing to charge these speakers with hate speech or to prevent such incitement from continuing. B’nai Brith’s annual audit of antisemitism found that the number of attacks on Jews increased from 1,752 to 2,041 in 2018. Jews are as likely, if not more, to be victims of attacks in the ostensibly most liberal and wealth western countries, as in other places, despite these countries supposedly being tolerant.
We are supposed to be inured to these kinds of reports. 1,000 attacks here, 2,000 there, vandalism, spitting, harassment, threatening phone calls, graves defaced, rabbis attacked, children punched coming home from synagogue, women’s headscarves pulled off by security, kippahs banned, synagogues shut, authorities dismissing charges by claiming perpetrators are crazy, juveniles or just “politically motivated.” In France a man who murdered a Jewish woman while shouting religious hatred was found not to be criminally liable because he was under the influence of marijuana, as if taking drugs or getting drunk is now a free pass to murder Jews in the country. In Germany the firebombing of a synagogue was ruled to be not antisemitic because the court claimed the bombing of the Wuppertal shul was directed at Israel. In Norway a rapper who cursed Jews was found to not be antisemitic, but only anti-Israel, in a case this year. Across Europe countries and local courts have sought to re-define antisemitism as “political” so as to not charge hate crimes, vandalism and attacks on Jews.
In Finland the Israeli embassy has been subjected to fifteen neo-Nazi attacks, according to another recent report. No other embassies in Finland are routinely attacked by Nazis. Only Israel, only Jews.
The reports raise disturbing questions about a pattern in some countries in which hatred of Jews is not only growing, but is being whitewashed by authorities and made to seem acceptable to people’s ears, in a way racism and hatred against other groups is not. Even as western countries ostensibly struggle to have more stringent hate speech and hate crimes legislation, for some reason the largest target of such crimes, members of the Jewish minority, are sometimes least protected because of a tendency to portray anti-Jewish views as anti-Israel.