Anti-Semitism is on the rise in North America and around the world. Violent attacks on Jewish institutions and Jews are increasing. Swastikas have been painted on Jewish Community Centers. Headstones have been desecrated in Jewish cemeteries. Assaults on individuals wearing kippot have grown. Neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Charlottesville in August 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Significant percentages of Europeans espouse unfavorable views of Jews generally and say that Jews have too much influence over media, politics and business. Hate crimes against the Canadian Jewish community rose by more than 60% between 2016 and 2017. And, so horrifically, 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue were massacred on October 27, 2018 in what was the worst act of violence against Jews in American history. We must speak and act forcefully to stop the rise in anti-Semitism wherever it is found.
Anti-Semitism is itself an ancient phenomenon and a remarkably resilient form of hate. In its most terrible manifestation, anti-Semitism led to the Shoah and the murder of 6 million Jews. In the aftermath of this genocidal tragedy, the world said “never again.” Yet despite this pledge, we now see acts of anti-Jewish hatred on the rise.
Growing instances of anti-Semitism are related to rising trends of xenophobia, anti-Muslim hate, racial hatred, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Members of some targeted communities have been made especially vulnerable because of the color of their skin or the dress they wear. The general climate is one in which white supremacists and white nationalists feel emboldened to espouse and act on their twisted views, in part because political leaders have in some cases encouraged or failed to consistently and unequivocally condemn hate crimes, hate speech and group hatred, including anti-Semitism.
The rise in anti-Semitism can be seen on both the ideological left and right. On the right, white supremacists and white nationalists like the individuals who perpetrated the Tree of Life and Poway, California murders, among others, are digesting and spreading their toxic messages. On the left, critiques of Israel too often cross a line by denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, by questioning the loyalties of North American Jews, and by drawing on classic anti-Semitic tropes in describing the effectiveness of the North American Jewish community in utilizing our legitimate democratic rights to pursue our pro-Israel activities.
These phenomena are different, but both are deeply troubling, with each side of the ideological divide using anti-Semitic imagery to arouse and engage their allies. These traditional anti-Semitic tropes and memes, originally associated with nativist European ideologies, now cross the globe online into religious communities and national settings that until recent decades had been devoid of such hateful images and prejudicial messages. As the pace of this messaging increases, the World Jewish Congress found a 30 percent increase in online anti-Semitism between 2016 and 2018.
Internationally, anti-Semitism is manifesting in ugly ways. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban fueled his rise to power in part by trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes about global Jewish conspiracies. Indeed, his demonization of the prominent Jewish philanthropist, George Soros, was a central theme of Prime Minister Orban’s 2018 re-election campaign. In Britain, the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn has been slow to stop the spread of anti-Semitic sentiment among its members, leading nine MPs to quit the party. In France, the horrific murders of Mireille Knoll and Sarah Halimi, two elderly Jewish women targeted because of their faith, are just recent examples of ongoing anti-Semitic acts of violence. Other murders include the 2015 siege of a kosher supermarket in Paris, the 2012 killing of a rabbi, his two sons and a schoolgirl at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, and in Belgium, the four people killed in the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum. Circumcision bans and prohibitions on ritual slaughter, proposed under the guise of human or animal rights, are gaining steam in a range of countries with the effect of stifling the ability of Jews to practice their faith freely. And amid rising anti-Semitism and general instability in Venezuela, Jewish emigration has shrunk the nation’s Jewish community to just 7,000 people, from 25,000 in 1999.
At home, the rise in anti-Semitism has led Jewish institutions, including synagogues, to assess and revise their security infrastructure and procedures. Metal detectors, reinforced windows and doors, and a visible police presence are now common phenomena. They are a painful yet necessary reality for houses of worship rooted in a desire to be places of welcome. This pain is especially true for Jews of Color and Jews who identify as transgender who potentially experience the presence of law enforcement negatively. This new reality also places significant financial burden on already stressed institutions.
We believe that it is important to understand anti-Semitism as a direct, present threat to our survival and also, as civil rights scholar Eric Ward argues, the foundation on which white nationalists build a campaign of terror and violence, deployed against numerous vulnerable minorities in their quest for political power and supremacy. This ideology at its core portrays Jews as an overwhelmingly powerful, malignant force, seeking to usurp the white race from its rightful place. Under this perverse ideology, when a black man becomes President of the United States, or immigrants and refugees are admitted to Western countries, it is because Jews are manipulating society to undermine the white order.
By understanding the ways in which anti-Semitism forms the basis other forms of hatred and bigotry, we can work to build and rebuild alliances that will strengthen not only our own community, but those of other minority groups in North America and throughout the world. In an environment of heightened fear as well as real danger at home and abroad, we must be ready to respond. Only by identifying anti-Semitism and working to combat it wherever we find it can we, and others, be truly safe.
Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
- Express our unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism in all its forms;
- Strengthen the ability of our synagogues and other institutions to adapt to changing security, spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial requirements necessary in a time of rising anti-Semitism;
- Call on political, civic and religious leaders at all levels to clearly and forcefully denounce and delegitimize anti-Semitism, commend those leaders who do so, and condemn those who perpetrate anti-Semitic speech and acts;
- Call on political leaders and online service providers in North America and across the globe to find ways to curtail online hate speech within the constraints of national and international guarantees of free speech;
- Support educational programs that teach students, both youth and adult, about the dangers of anti-Semitism and how to fight it;
- Condemn criticism of Israel that crosses the line into anti-Semitism;
- Continue to act in solidarity and partner with other vulnerable communities targeted for acts of hate;
- Recognize the particular dangers facing Jews of Color and Jews who identify as transgender and work to ensure the safety and security of all members of our community, within our institutions as well as outside our walls; and
- Continue to engage with partners with whom we have common cause, both within the Jewish community and across the political and faith spectrum, in calling out anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior whenever we encounter it, even while we combat hate speech and hate crimes wherever they occur.