This article was first published at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
Racism is recognized as integral to Western Society, Antisemitism is not
On May 25, a 46 year old black man, George Floyd was asphyxiated and killed by a policeman in Minneapolis. This murder led to huge anti-racism demonstrations in the United States. Some were accompanied by extreme violence and looting. There were also antiracism demonstrations in several European countries, including major ones in the UK and France. 1, 2 Many people understand that racism is to different extents an integral part of western societies.
Antisemitism is also an integral part of Western society. This has been the case for many centuries. Often it was extreme. Its contemporary very significant reality is only acknowledged by few Jews and non-Jews.
The prime manifestations of this societal integration of antisemitism vary from time to time. During the past few years, the institutional antisemitism in the British Labour Party drew international attention. This was partly due to the inaction about complaints by its then leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a self-declared “friend” and “brother” of genocidal Arab terrorist organizations.
In the past few months this integral presence of antisemitism in Western societies has primarily drawn attention as a result of the Corona pandemic and the massive anti–racism manifestations. One important aspect of this is that antisemitism often infiltrates into mass demonstrations, which have no relation to Israel or Jews.
This is also the case in the current “hygiene demonstrations” against the Corona lockdown in Germany in a variety of cities. Thousands of people participated in these protests. In Berlin, many participants chanted “Freedom Resistance Traitor” and “We Are All the People.” Some threw bottles at the police who responded with pepper spray and arrests. Among the demonstrators were conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.
At several demonstrations in Germany protestors wore yellow stars on their chests or armbands. They tried to falsely equate the lockdown measures to the Nazi persecution of Jews as well as compare the country’s current government with Hitler’s regime. 3 “Not vaccinated” or “Covid 19” is often written on the yellow stars. 4 Subsequently the city of Munich has prohibited the wearing of a yellow star at these gatherings. 5 Occasionally demonstrators wore concentration camp inmate clothing with the sign “mask makes free.” 6 Corona–related demonstrations in a number of German cities promoted by the right wing AfD party have also featured Nazi symbols and references to the Holocaust.
Soon after an even worse outburst of antisemitism at demonstrations unrelated to Jews or Israel emerged. Several anti–racism demonstrations in the U.S. were accompanied by burning and looting. Some of the worst violence took place in Los Angeles. Various Jewish shops were destroyed in the Fairfax district. A variety of Jewish institutions were damaged including synagogues and a school. A statue of Raoul Wallenberg was smeared with anti-Semitic slogans. 7 In Richmond, Virginia a Reform congregation, Beit Ahaba, had its windows smashed by rioters. 8
The anti-racism protests in Paris on June 13 focused on the death of Adama Traoré, a Malian French man who died in police custody in 2016. Some protestors shouted “you dirty Jews.” There were also placards reading ‘Israel Laboratory of Police Violence.’ Though there is a video of the incident, the leader of the left-wing “unbowed France” party (La France Insoumise), Jean-Luc Melenchon, falsely accused the police on Twitter of peddling antisemitic gossip. 9
The way in which antisemitism has infiltrated recent demonstrations – unrelated to Jews or Israel — in various countries has many precedents in recent decades. From November 2018, ‘yellow vest’ manifestations took place on Saturdays in France. They took their name from the highway safety jackets that the demonstrators wore. The protesters demanded more economic justice. Initially, a major target was rising fuel prices and the high cost of living. Yet almost every Saturday there were verbal attacks against the Jewish community. 10
In January 2014, a mass rally in Paris took place. This “Day of Anger” was meant as a protest against French President François Hollande’s economic plans. However, various groups of participants started to shout antisemitic slogans. These included, “Jews, France doesn’t belong to you” and (the Holocaust denier) “Faurisson is right,” as well as “the Holocaust was a hoax.” 11
There were more or less similar antisemitic occurrences at the 2011 New York ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. The protestors were for the most part not antisemites. Yet antisemitism tainted those protests. In a video of the demonstrations in New York, one could see Jews being attacked and blamed for the financial crisis and financial assistance to Israel. The signs included “Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street,” and “Hitler’s Bankers.” 12
October 27, 2005 was the official beginning of a three-week period of major riots in France. On that day, two youngsters in Clichy sous Bois, near Paris, were accidentally electrocuted when they entered the transformer house of the national electricity company. Their friends claimed they were fleeing the police. The government declared the riots ‘officially’ over on November 17. The numbers of cars torched the night before had finally fallen below 100. The rioters were almost all North Africans. The main targets of the hooligans were the police and the government. Yet synagogues at Pierefitte and Garges les Gonesse were attacked with Molotov cocktails. 13
As a follow-up to the recent anti-racism riots, there was violence against statues in the U.S., U.K. and other countries, mainly but not only against those of slave owners. The first incident came when anti–racism demonstrators tore down the statue of Edward Colston – a slave owner – in the British town of Bristol and threw it into the harbor. 14 In a number of other places statues were removed by the authorities.
While the removal of statues of people with a slavery or otherwise problematic past is a subject of substantial media discourse in a number of countries, little if no attention has been given to the existence of extreme antisemitic sculptures in Europe. In Germany there are at least 30 religious Christian buildings which have a Judensau (Jew in contact with a female pig) sculpture which dates back to the Middle Ages. A few months ago, in the town of Calbe, a carving was taken down for repairs. It depicted a Jewish male in an obscene pose with a pig. In March, the parish decided it was too offensive to return to the buttress and should be hung elsewhere. Yet the Building Authority of the area decided that the object had protected status. In the meantime, the sculpture was restored to its place. It will remain covered until a decision about its future is made. 15
Earlier this year, there was a court case concerning a thirteenth century bas-relief on the church in Wittenberg, a building associated with Martin Luther. It depicts a rabbi peering into a pig’s anus while other figures suckle from its teats. A panel of judges at the regional found that the image ‘did not harm Jews’ reputation because it was ‘embedded’ in a wider memorial context.’ This was the statement of the presiding judge.
Among the other towns in Germany where there is a sculpture of a Judensau is Cologne at the choir of the local cathedral. It shows Jews in obscene context with a large female pig. Next to it is an antisemitic motif which is generally considered an illustration of the blood libel. The Judensau sculptures are mainly German. Yet one also finds one such sculptures elsewhere: one in Switzerland, one in Belgium, one in Sweden and one in Austria. 16 There are two in France.
Another classic antisemitic issue which has been in the news in recent months is the emergence of many new mutations of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. These claim that Jews or Israel are at the origins or otherwise responsible in certain ways for the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. A study by the Kantor center at Tel Aviv university found that the pandemic has “unleashed a unique worldwide wave of antisemitism” and “The new wave of antisemitism includes a range of libels that have one common element: The Jews, the Zionists and/or the state of Israel are to blame for the p andemic and/or stand to gain from it,” the researchers wrote.
A study by scholars at the University of Oxford found that one in five English people to some extent believe that Jews created COVID-19 to collapse the economy for financial gain. 17
The above-mentioned cases only refer to issues which are currently prominent in the public eye. Yet the centuries old interweaving of antisemitism with Western culture continues to show up in many other ways. Major elements of medieval antisemitism still exist. There is much Holocaust distortion. Besides that, in many new ideologies, movements and intellectual currents, expressionS of antisemitism eventually come to the fore. This hatred may focus on Jews or on Israel. Perhaps the worst is the widespread belief in Europe that Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is comparable to that of the Nazis. 18
Despite all this there is only minute awareness that antisemitism is integral to western culture and societies.
11 Jerome Gordon, “Gurfinkiel: France may have joined ‘Europe’s league of fringe anti-Semitic
countries,’” The Iconoclast, January 29, 2014.
15 www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-53004748; www.domradio.de/themen/kirche-und-