I find it heartbreaking that, over 70 years on from the Holocaust, the world doesn’t seem to have learnt the lessons from it. Whilst of course Jews worldwide are not facing the level of persecution they were facing during World War 2, antisemitism remains alive and well, as an ideology that stigmatises the Jewish people. It’s as if the words ‘never again’, which have been made the slogan for the memory of the Holocaust, have been forgotten.
Disturbingly, recent studies by the European Jewish Congress in conjunction with Tel Aviv University show that in 2012 alone antisemitic incidents rose by 30%. The main reason given for this is the rise in economic poverty across the world that has led to an increase in fascist and antisemitic political parties in places like Greece and Ukraine and the continued growth of Islamic extremism. These reasons, it must be said, are not an excuse for a vile prejudice, a prejudice that can have deadly consequences, none more so than in the attack that led to the deaths of Jewish school children in Toulouse last year. It appears we have not moved away from a situation where people are insulted, physically attacked or in the worst cases killed just for being Jewish.
The report states that 686 attacks were recorded in 34 countries, ranging from physical violence to vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, compared to 526 in 2011. The sharp increase followed a two-year decline. The numbers may not seem a lot, but to me any attacks on a person just because of their religion is one attack too many. That’s why I agree with the President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, who says there needs to be “a policy of zero tolerance for racism”. This needs to start with governments across the world not just speaking out against antisemitism, but enacting policies that discourage antisemitism. Unfortunately, in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, the opposite seems to be happening. Indeed, governments in these countries seem to be tacitly encouraging antisemitism. For instance, in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez’s anointed successor Nicolas Maduro called supporters of opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, “heirs of Hitler”. This is particularly offensive as Capriles is the descendant of Polish Jews on his mother’s side. Maduro has a history when it comes to antisemitism as well, because in 2010 he questioned the national loyalty of Venezuelan Jews. When political leaders continue to espouse antisemitism, it is clear that there is a long way to go in the fight against antisemitism.
What I find most concerning is rather than the Toulouse attacks being a wakeup call for antisemitism to be challenged, it actually became a rallying call for international terrorist groups to attack Jewish people. This is highlighted by Hezbollah’s attempted operations in Cyprus and its attack in Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli Jews. It is illustrated by the continuing work of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, an arm of the Iranian regime, who are trying daily to kill Jewish people worldwide. It’s illustrated by the growth of far right parties across Europe with explicit calls to target Jews. We have to wake up to this and challenge the far right and proscribe terrorist groups like Hezbollah, so that they find it harder to launch attacks. If we do nothing, antisemitism will continue to rise and people insulted, killed and harmed physically just for being Jewish.
We’ve all seen in the horrors of the Holocaust what antisemitism can lead to. We cannot allow it to happen again and therefore we must reverse the tidal wave of antisemitism.