Anti Semitism: The Eternal Scourge

"It is heart breaking that antisemitism is still a topic that needs to be discussed at all. What can be done to prevent it?"

Tania Chen Barbachano
Photo: Afp
La Jornada Maya

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Antisemitism has manifested itself throughout different periods in history, normally following times of economic uncertainty, political turmoil and social unrest. Jewish people have often served as scapegoats in order to channel the frustration of the population; it seems that human nature only finds itself comfortable when it has a particular target to blame for its problems -- indeed, much like how populist political movements target minorities like immigrants. But how much does antisemitism still play in populist movements and in contemporary society?

The answer, in short, is far more than expected.

Antisemitism is wrong. Any manner of thinking that casts a group of people as subhuman because of their race, their beliefs, their place of birth, their skin colour, and/or sexual orientation is wrong. This is a basic fact that should be the foundation of society. Discrimination against and mistreatment of those who are different are not acceptable. As the internet blurs the boundaries and shortens distances, people are exposed to new media, culture and ideas. Differences are unavoidable, but differences should promote mutually beneficial discussions, not intolerance and hate speech.

The post-Holocaust motto has been 'never again'. But, unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself with a return to anti-Semitic rhetoric being found in extremist movements gaining momentum. But is this a case of a return of a phenomenon that we thought had disappeared or is it merely the rediscovery of an already present hatred that had just been muted? It appears that the latter is the case. As time passes and Holocaust survivors are fewer and fewer, memory becomes a tenuous thing; and, despite the overwhelming evidence, Holocaust deniers and antisemitism have found a voice.

This sinister trend also coincides with an increasingly difficult global climate, as populism and anti-liberal forces take power. A cornerstone of populist ideology is the idea of the ‘other’, ‘an enemy among us marked by their differences’ and channelling the discontent of the majority against minorities.

Jewish people have been a target for centuries. Since medieval times, institutions in power have targeted Jewish people; the earliest recorded pogroms took place as a prelude to the First Crusade in 1096. Forced conversions and expulsions are recorded even further back to the 7th Century, and sporadic violence against Jewish people was not new with acts of violence recorded throughout cities in the area of what is now modern Germany. However, the pogrom of the First Crusade was an "unbridled social attack" in which the institutions in power did little to nothing (and in some cases even encouraged) the violence.

Some historians consider the Holocaust to be the horrific culmination of a series of anti-Semitic acts that began as early as the First Crusade in 1096. The Holocaust did not arise out of a vacuum and neither do the acts of violence happening today around the world against minorities. There is always a cause and effect and, as people accept populist policies and programs, they can well wind up in a dictatorship with complete intolerance and genocidal actions.

Complacency has allowed the return of antisemitism from where it hasdsat in the shadows. When people who spout hate rhetoric such as Donald Trump come it power, those who hold the same beliefs feel both justified and legitimized. They become emboldened and act out their prejudices, some of which would have been unthinkable prior to the 2016 elections. However, the greatest resurgence of antisemitism appears to be happening in Europe.

Recently, the British Labour party has come under scrutiny for the alleged antisemitism of some of their party members. A controversial documentary by John Ware titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic has drawn complaints from the party for being a misrepresentation of unsubstantiated allegations. Following this, a party member was expelled for anti-Semitic views only to be readmitted later despite widespread protests within Labour, as well as the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Furthermore, Theresa May appointed John Mann as an independent advisor on antisemitism in order to combat its rise. Alongside this, Jeremy Corbyn has allegedly made plans to stamp out antisemitism from the party, but how successful these attempts will be remains to be seen.

What is clear is this: the need for this hard line approach indicates how deeply rooted antisemitism is within one of the largest political parties in British politics. Other leaders in Europe have been less concerned with antisemitism resurging than they should be; in Hungary, Viktor Orban has been criticised of ignoring the role of the Hungarian state in the Holocaust. Poland's populist government too seems to downplay the part of Polish people as perpetrators of the Holocaust. This shift in historical narrative serves as a fertile ground for antisemitism to return, or rather, to stop hiding.

Primo Levi once wrote, "It happened therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say". History needs to serve as a lesson to improve the future, not repeat the mistakes of the past. It begins with intolerance and escalates if unchecked. Not only must society strive to prevent genocide from happening but must always be on the lookout for the hate speech that gains traction under the promise of free speech.

It is heart breaking that antisemitism is still a topic that needs to be discussed at all. What can be done to prevent it? Society and individuals must take responsibility for their prejudices and educate the younger generation as to the dangers of hate speech, and to say to anyone who seeks to use fear as a division tactic that "diversity is a richness, never a threat" to quote United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

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