Anti-Semitism: Know It. Name It. Shame It.

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 4:17pm

There is talk of a “new anti-Semitism” sweeping the globe, but all I see is the same irrational hatred aimed at the same perplexed victims, who are once again left wondering what has energized such bile.

Whenever it appears, anti-Semitism has an ancient hatred at its core, and yet as the centuries roll by, it is rarely the same thing twice. Its nature is opportunistic and reactive, always morphing, mutating, hiding in the dark corners of politics and culture waiting for its moment to strike. Then comes the hew and cry that something “new” is happening. Whatever the novelty of its form, look deeper for its familiar substance, because not much will have changed. So ingrained are the roots of hatred, even the Nazis failed to come up with anything new until 1941 when they started to murder Jews en masse. Like a virus, anti-Semitism merely mutates to avoid detection – it’s just a more resilient version of the same old thing.

That said, there is something different about the complexity, ferocity and diffusion of this particular onslaught. It is emerging from a perfect storm of extremist ideology, twisted politics and petty racism – an unholy alliance of left and right, religious and secular, who disagree on all but one thing: their shared hatred of the Jews.

Thankfully, there are some who have the courage to take up the fight against anti-Semitism. Be warned, though, against misdirected efforts to relieve symptoms in favor of identifying causes. The symptoms of anti-Semitism are noxious to be sure, but removing the diseased root requires more than a fight. And anyway, I doubt many anti-Semites are reading this blog. And even if they are, I suspect my short expose will not change their views. To them I am just another Jew-loving apologist. 

Three things are necessary to be successful in reducing the incidence of anti-Semitism: We need to know it. We need to name it. And we need to shame it. These steps are essential as a foundation for other strategies to succeed.

Why we need to know it: We have a tendency to react to outbursts of anti-Semitism based on its symptoms, often without knowing enough about its genesis. Anti-Semitism must never be excused, but digging deeper to understand the motives behind it as well as the context in which it happens is imperative to reversing it. The recent Anti-Defamation League survey on global anti-Semitism helped to identify the horrifyingly widespread nature of the problem, but it also begged the question, why? In every country, there are local variations and perspectives driven by different political and cultural communities. If we do not understand it in detail, we envisage anti-Semitism as a monster, rather than the pathetic product of the human mind it is. The more we know the monster, the more we find its weakness, the less its power to harm. Research needs to be right at the top of our agenda.

Why we need to name it: In 2008 an all-party group of parliamentarians launched a set of recommendations to counter anti-Semitism. One recommendation determined that anti-Semitism should be clearly identified through monitoring and recorded through police and crime records. The Community Security Trust in London has since reported a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents during both recent Gaza crises. As disturbing as the statistics are, they do show the full scale of the problem. Naming it – exposing it for what it is – is a vital step to eradicating it. In Britain, the truth is not hidden. Many countries do not monitor accurately, and allowing it to grow in darkness will only result in greater intransigence in the long run. Giving it a name means we know where it is.

Why we need to shame it: Discrimination laws, such as they exist, are often a weak catchall to convict the perpetrators of anti-Semitism. Where specific laws against anti-Semitism do exist, they should be strengthened and applied rigorously. Where they do not, it is time to make clear that anti-Semitism is a malicious and purposeful crime. Impunity only engenders more of the same behavior, along with its twin, apathy. Where appropriate legal instruments are not available, anti-Semitism has to become a public shame, neither tolerated nor condoned, but exposed and condemned. Angela Merkel's decision to be outspoken on anti-Semitism is precisely the kind of leadership we need. It should not be such a rare sight to see politicians take a stand, but it is a good place to start.

Once we know it, name it and shame it, we have foundations to make real change.

We need to change the public voice countering anti-Semitism. Jews have every right to defend themselves, but the widespread silence of others all too often makes anti-Semitism an exclusively Jewish issue. In fact, anti-Semitism is a threat to the values of our civilization. When Jews are targeted we are all targeted. If the German public had understood that, the Nazis would not have gained foothold, however appealing their populist manifesto.

There isn’t any need for the next generation to be anti-Semitic, but it is up to us to teach them differently. Through education we have a responsibility and an opportunity to celebrate Jewish heritage and history without the negative stereotypes recycled from the Middle Ages. The testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the courage of the Righteous Among the Nations, shows clearly both the threat we face, and the example we have been given to act upon our conscience, to know it, name it and shame it. 

Stephen Smith