By Rolene Marks
There is barely a day that goes by without some iteration of antisemitism rearing its ugly head, somewhere around the world. In every guise you can image – the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, shootings in synagogues, the alt-right, the ultra-left, campus activism, venomous slurs directed at children, rabbis beaten in the street, the new phenomenon of political antisemitism – you name it, this hatred has manifested.
Antisemitism is at a record high and it seems that no corner of the globe is immune. The message seems to be clear – it is open season on attacking Jews – verbally and sometimes physically.
Antisemitism is often referred to as the “oldest hatred” and it metastasizes quickly and in various forms. This ancient hatred has the uncanny ability to adapt to changing times and political climates. It seems that in this age of global uncertainty; where identity politics is becoming more and more prevalent; if you have a divergent opinion you could be “cancelled”, Jews once again, are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine.
In parts of the world where it was taken for granted that the vile tentacles of antisemitism would not reach, this is no longer the reality. It used to be taken for granted that countries like the United States or Australia were immune to this hatred or that Germany and Poland had learnt from their history less than a century ago but sadly, this isn’t the case.
According to recent surveys conducted by organisations like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the AJC (American Joint Committee) who conducted their research on growing antisemitism recently, they both reported an alarming rise in statistics.
The ADL findings reported that these countries had the highest percentages of antisemitism: Poland, South Africa (although the SA Jewish Board of Deputies disputes these findings), Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Belgium and Austria.
Australia reported a 30% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the last year that included verbal abuse, harassment, and intimidation. This is according to the country’s annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
The United States has seen antisemitism spread like a plague across university campuses, Orthodox Jews harassed and beaten up in New York City, and violence has escalated to the point where the community has endured two deadly synagogue shootings and the site of members of the alt-right marching with their tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Like Britain with controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Labour party and the reluctance or stubborn refusal of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to tackle this scourge which leaves many of England’s Jews feeling politically stateless, the United States has seen the same phenomenon rears its ugly head in US politics. 2019 has been the year of the “Squad” – rookie congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and to a lesser account, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has used their newly minted status and platforms like Twitter to excoriate the Jewish state. This has filtered out into the ultra-left and is evident on university campuses and in movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.
The irony is that the two seemingly divergent left and right meet in the middle when it comes to opinions on Jews and the nation state of the Jewish people – Israel.
It is social media that is perhaps becoming the most alarming platform for hate. Mediums like Facebook and Twitter have created a space where like-minded haters can band together to create community. In this instance, these communities empower each other to prey upon their targets.
As an outspoken supporter of Israel, I have received my fair share of nasty messages and have summarily reported them to Twitter and Facebook. Apparently wishing me dead does not violate their “community standards”. Pop superstar, Lady Gaga, once commented that social media was “the toilet of the internet” and she could not have been more right.
Actor and comedian, Sasha Baron Cohen, famous for playing some of the most controversial and sometimes tasteless characters in his movies (albeit to prove a point) recently took Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to task for among many things, not effectively regulating his platform. Cohen rightly stated that should platforms like Twitter and Facebook been around during Hitler’s time, the dictator and his murderous henchman would have used it to full effect to propagate hate. Cohen called these platforms “the greatest propaganda machines in history. “
He went on to take shots at Zuckerberg for allowing Holocaust deniers to go unregulated because of the “freedom of speech”.
“Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” Cohen asserted. “I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.”
Social media is not the only battlefield for rising antisemitism. The battlefield has moved to the streets, the schools, the corridors of power, the graveyards, university campus, and the holy sanctuaries. It has become pervasive.
The only way to fight this scourge is to speak up. Stand Up – it is important to remember that we have a voice. Social media platforms used for propagating hate can also be used to educate against it. It is important that intolerance is not allowed an environment to flourish. Antisemitism gives a tailwind to those who wish to discriminate against any minority. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor in his famous poem first they came said the following,
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Speak up. Do not let hatred go unchecked. Don’t let this become the new “normal”.