By Josh Brown…
Anti-Semitism has once again raised its ugly head in full daylight overseas. And now we must jump into action before this hydra arrives on our shores.
A recently-published report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights finds that – just 70 years after the Holocaust – hatred of Jewish people pervades European life and has become “normalised”.
In the UK, anti-Semitic incidents are at record levels and, closer to home, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported a shocking 60% rise in Jewish hate incidents in 2018.
The Australian Federal Government is familiar with the threat and has recently granted $2.2 million to the NSW Jewish community for the protection of its institutions.
Many Jewish Kiwis have long detected low levels of anti-Semitism in our communities but, unfortunately, of late many of us have perceived a worrying uptick in the number of incidents.
Any active social media user can attest to the almost-daily stream of hate directed towards online Jewish profiles, but it is also easily noticeable in the comments section in any New Zealand-originating online article discussing Israel or Judaism.
Our community threat level is at “substantial”, according to the monthly Community Security Group report – and that is justifiably so.
Perhaps the hate was always there, but the anonymity of the internet has certainly brought it into the open and re-normalized its manifestation.
The fight against classical bigotry is well underway: we have the tools to fight it and it’s relatively easy to spot.
However, these days the most threatening new form of anti-Semitism is being expressed in the form of anti-Zionism, a politically correct and convenient means of public expression for both far-right and far-left anti-Semites.
The far-right hates Zionism because it allows for Jewish self-determination and a refuge from persecution. It is the vehicle by which Jews can guarantee their future and maintain their cultural and religious identity. And that’s a concept that white supremacists and intolerant conspiracy theorists can never accept.
On the far left, there are those who are against Israel and Zionism because of perceived human rights issues and support for the Palestinians in the ongoing conflict.
The problem is that they conflate criticism of the Government with criticism of Israel’s existence. They don’t see how singling out the Israeli project for cancellation based on the actions of the current Government is anti-Semitic – regardless of its value to us as a pillar of Jewish continuity and identity while also a discounting of the imperative for a Jewish homeland.
This type of anti-Jewish sentiment does not seem to stem from inherent hateful ideology but their indifference for us retaining our rights is deeply offensive. This type of anti-Semitism is harder to call out because the perpetrators see themselves taking the cultural moral high ground: “How can I be anti-Semitic, when I’m against racism?”
As anti-Zionism is the denial of the right to a Jewish homeland it is felt as an attack by most Jewish people. That is intensified because many of us are certain it’s being used as a mask for publicly distasteful anti-Semitic sentiment.
It comes from a number of directions but traditional anti-Semites and anti-Zionists use the same tropes and images to express their hatred, with the only difference being that identifying terms have been swapped. It’s now Zionist for Jew, Israeli conspiracy for Jewish conspiracy, “Zios” are the new Nazis and so on.
A report recently published clearly illustrates the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and confirms what we already know – it sounds the same because it is the same.
Consequently, I believe it’s time to draw a line in the sand and that we must urge our local and national government to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
It’s supported by Jews around the world as it addresses old and new forms of anti-Jewish bigotry in the post-Holocaust era. It’s been approved by numerous and local councils in the UK and Europe and, most recently, it’s been adopted by the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and the Auckland University Students Association.
Advocating the IHRA definition can be achieved by writing emails to your local and national representatives and speaking to them about it at any available opportunity. Government need to know that this is important to us for protecting our rights.
Endorsement of the updated IHRA definition of anti-Semitism will help safeguard New Zealand’s Jewish communities and will help maintain our harmonious position in our cities and regions.
It affirms our right to self-determination but it also stands up to anti-Semitic sentiment disguised as anti-Israel hatred.
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
To guide the IHRA in its work it works it is noted that manifestations may include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.
Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Josh Brown is a board director at the Wellington Jewish Community Center, the Wellington representative of the Zionist Federation, a member of the New Zealand Jewish Council, a co-founder of the groups Young Jewish Professionals of Wellington and the Shalom Students Association at Victoria University. Josh is currently attending the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship seminar in Israel.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of any organisation he represents.