Lies Are Fueling the Rise of Anti-Semitism

COMMENTARY Civil Society

Lies Are Fueling the Rise of Anti-Semitism

May 1st, 2019 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Joel Griffith

Research Fellow, Financial Regulations

Joel is a research fellow in the Roe Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
The problem is pure falsehood and lies about the Jewish people.  Piero M. Bianchi/ Getty Images

A 19-year-old man on Saturday opened fire in a synagogue filled with hundreds of Jews celebrating the final hours of Passover. 

His hate-fueled act ended the life of Lori Gilbert Kaye—a woman dearly loved by her family and community. The bullets severed the finger of Rabbi Goldstein and wounded several others. The trauma, anguish, and terror will haunt the survivors. 

The manifesto inked by the killer reveals the perverted ideologies that inspired his depraved actions. Jarringly, some of these anti-Semitic ideas can be found throughout our society. The problem is pure falsehood and lies about the Jewish people.     

Throughout the Middle Ages, anti-Semitic hatred in Europe led to the destruction of synagogues, burning of holy books, execution of Jewish sages, and sometimes the elimination of entire Jewish communities. People based their hate on raw religious bigotry, charges of blood libel (claims that Jewish religious observance involves drinking the blood of non-Jewish children), and assigning blame for deadly epidemics on the poising of wells by Jewish neighbors. 

Jews in Eastern Europe faced centuries of oppression. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the municipal government in Kyiv, Ukraine, forced Jews to live separated from the rest of the city. Likewise, as the Russian Empire gained Jewish population through territorial acquisitions, these communities endured a second-class status. For instance, in 1791, Catherine II decreed that Jews could only live in certain regions of Russian territory. 

In the 1880s, legislation enacted under Czar Alexander III targeted Jews with significant restrictions on their right to get an education and conduct their finances and business. During this period, a widespread persecution of Russian Jewry occurred in the form of pogroms in more than 100 communities. 

Things weren’t much better for Jews in other parts of Europe. In the late 1400s, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain sought to force Jews to convert, and many who resisted were forced to flee. Throughout the 1500s, other forced conversion attempts occurred, particularly across modern-day Germany. 

With the Age of Enlightenment, things improved in Europe. Jewish people shared in a relative abundance of opportunity across much of Europe. But with their success came more sophisticated forms of anti-Semitism—allegations of dual loyalty and conspiratorial myths that Jews controlled the levers of government through sly financial schemes. 

Leading up to World War II, Adolf Hitler whipped up fury against the Jewish people by accusing them of treachery and blaming Jewish influence for societal decay and economic problems. This, of course, led to the Holocaust.

These same sentiments fester today, and the manifesto drafted by the monster responsible for the killing this past weekend echoes the anti-Semitism grounded in religious bigotry of ages past, along with the baseless accusations that were so common. 

Symptomatic of the resurgence of anti-Semitism was The New York Times cartoon by Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes, published on Thursday of last week. The cartoon pictures Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog on a leash leading a blind President Donald Trump. In addition, a Star of David dangles from the dog’s neck while a kippah (signifying the “fear of heaven” in Judaism) rests on Trump’s head. 

The apology for this blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon hardly seemed credible, given another cartoon by a Norwegian artist that the Times published days later. This one depicted the prime minister coming down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments using a selfie stick. 

Roar Hagen, a Norwegian cartoonist, released a nearly identical cartoon of Netanyahu leading Trump—each carrying one tablet of the Ten Commandments—in a journey down from the Golan Heights. The United States recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights just weeks ago. 

These are no mere critiques of the Israeli government, the Israeli prime minister, or the president of the United States. These cartoons depict Jews as a sly minority manipulating the world in a quest for domination.

How is this different in substance to the Nazi Germany periodical Lustige Blätter in 1940 picturing “the Jew” leading British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by the hand atop the globe? “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” published in 1903, once spread these myths. A mainstream media outlet now chooses to normalize these ideas for mass consumption. 

Make no mistake: The “anti-Zionism” of the 21st century is but a manifestation of anti-Semitism. It singles out the 15 million Jewish people alive today (just 0.2% of the world’s population) and denies them the right to a nation in their ancestral homeland, while accusing “the Jew” of “hypnotizing” the world. 

Sadly, our nation’s institutions are failing to sufficiently counter this hate. Congress has struggled to condemn with specificity the blatant anti-Semitic statements from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who claimed Israel “hypnotized the world” and suggested Jewish Americans unduly influence politicians through their wealth.  

Leaders of the Women’s March and other organizations embrace those with a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric—people such as Louis Farrakhan, who says the “powerful Jews are my enemy” and that he “has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through.” 

Americans are growing disturbingly ignorant of recent atrocities against the Jewish people. In a recent poll, two-thirds of millennials were unfamiliar with the Auschwitz concentration camps where Nazis exterminated more than 1 million Jews, out of the more than 6 million who perished in the Holocaust. Moreover, college campuses provide a safe quarter for the unlawful behavior of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement—a movement rooted in anti-Semitism. 

The answer to such hate in a free society is not to muzzle speech—even hate speech. For the power to suppress speech, once obtained, may ultimately be wielded against those who hold viewpoints the state disapproves of. 

Nor is the solution to deny law-abiding citizens their fundamental human right of self-defense, a road demonstrably proven over the centuries to heighten the risk of tyranny, plunder, or mayhem. 

No. The solution is far more complex, one which requires action on the part of all us. 

People of goodwill must boldly condemn those promoting this hate. Parents must better equip the next generation with a grounding in history in order to inoculate youth from philosophical poison that seeks to corrupt their minds and destroy their hearts. Educators must dispel the myths. Political parties must deny those engaged in the traffic of anti-Semitic tropes a place in leadership, and donors must withhold funds from those politicians. 

Each of us bears a unique responsibility to combat hateful lies with truth. Only light dispels the darkness.

Livestream or attend at noon, May 2, a Heritage Foundation event, “Defeating Anti-Semitism at Home, Abroad, and on Campus”

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal