Anti-Semitism: Journalistically parsing its current upsurge both here and abroad

I recently spent time in Costa Rica where I was able to visit the nation’s central Jewish “compound” in San Jose, the capital city. My guide was a member of one of the country’s leading Jewish families.

I called it a compound — as opposed to a campus — because that’s how it felt. High concrete walls that seemed more appropriate for a military facility than what I actually encountered — a broad, grassy, central plaza surrounded by a small kosher restaurant, a community history and Holocaust museum, a private Jewish school, a large synagogue I was told is filled on important Jewish holidays and for rites of passage, a senior citizens center, and assorted other community offices.

Had I not been escorted by a member of a leading Costa Rican Jewish family, my wife and I would have had to submit, for security reasons, our identifying information eight days in advance of a visit. As it turned out, thanks to our friend, we just show up and were whisked past the armed guards waiting outside the compound’s thick metal doors.

All this in a nation with only about 3,000 Jews — most able to trace their ancestry to World War II-era Poland — and who our guide insisted face relatively little overt anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment. And yet they're fearful. Why?

Because Jews across the world — particularly so in Europe but also in tiny Costa Rica and even the United States —  increasingly feel insecure because of a rising tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions — the two are often wrongly conflated, by both sides — being reported in the international press, as they should be.

The majority of GetReligion readers, I’m sure, are familiar with this turn of events. But let’s probe a  bit deeper. What’s causing this upsurge today?

Is it an ugly resurfacing of the historical anti-Semitism that Jews have faced since the earliest decades of Christianity's split from Judaism, the first of the big three Abrahamic faiths?

Or is it a product of the further globalization of Islam, sparked in part by Muslim immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands, and the impact this and their general attitudes toward Israel has had on the societies in which they've resettled?

I think it’s too easy to blame Muslim immigration, alone. It's a combination of the two, particularly in the cases of the United Kingdom and the United States, the latter having not gone unnoticed by my American family members and my closest Jewish friends. I’ll get back to this American point below.

This recent essay in First Things, an interfaith, conservative opinion journal about religion and culture, recently ran a piece that places the blame entirely on the second option. This quote is a bit long but important:.

In a June 18 dispatch, Eric Fournier, the French ambassador to Hungary, reported that the alleged anti-Semitism of Hungarian President Viktor Orban was “a fantasy of the foreign press.” He added that the allegation diverted attention from the “real modern anti-Semitism,” whose source is “Muslims in France and Germany.” The private memorandum was leaked by the left-wing website Mediapart and reported widely in the French press. Hungary’s “management of illegal immigration” might be a model for France, Fournier added.
The French president denounced the memo as “contrary to the French official position,” saying that if it were shown that Fournier’s views had been made in public, he would be removed. The memo was private, but [French President Emmanuel] Macron fired him anyway. Fournier’s memo had struck a raw nerve. On April 18, 250 French notables, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, had denounced the “new anti-Semitism” arising from “Islamic radicalization,” declaring: “We demand that the fight against this democratic failure that is anti-Semitism becomes a national cause before it’s too late. Before France is no longer France.” Nearly a tenth of France’s half-million Jews have emigrated in the past decade in response to Muslim violence against Jews.
Ambassador Fournier was entirely correct: Polling data provide massive evidence of Muslim anti-Semitism in France. Fifty-six percent of believing and practicing Muslims in France believe that there is “a Zionist conspiracy on a global scale,” according to a 2014 Fondapol study. French soldiers guard synagogues and Jewish schools. French Jews are advised by their community leaders not to show themselves on the street with visible signs of Jewish identity, such as a kippah [Hebrew for a religious head covering].

So that’s one opinion. Its not without some merit but, I think, fails to deal with the question of Christian Europe’s historical anti-Semitism, of which even Britain is by no means innocent.

Take a look at this CNN backgrounder on Britain’s left-wing Labour Party, which has wrestled with anti-Semitism in its ranks being conflated with anti-Israel sentiments for some time. Or this report from the Financial Times, which provides a British take on the issue.

Perhaps more accessible to American readers is this opinion column from the Washington Post, that ran earlier this year. It deftly notes the role that old-fashioned British Christian anti-Semitism plays in the UK today.

Referring to the ongoing political squabbling over Brexit, columnist Anne Applebaum wrote:

As centrists and pragmatists retreat, wounded, from political life, new fantasies and fantasists blossom in the vacuum. Surely it can’t be the case that a directionless Britain is floundering; surely someone else must be to blame for all of this chaos and ill will. Some seek scapegoats, others uncover conspiracies. Maybe it’s unsurprising, then, that the oldest scapegoats and the most familiar tropes are among them.

Now back to America.

There’s no doubt in my mind that President Donald Trump’s appeal to white nationalist Americans has allowed empowered-feeling, anti-Semitic right-wingers to go public — including running for public office as Republicans.

Equally disturbing, in my estimation, is that anti-Israel Democrats are gaining ground as their party swings further to the left as a reaction to Trump.

So we have a frightening, for myself and the Jews I know, confluence of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tropes surfacing big time in Europe and America.

Journalists need to try parsing the differences and must learn not to take at face value some one simply insisting they're only criticizing Israeli actions and not acting anti-Semitic. While that’s certainly a possibility, it can be a thin line between the two that even the actors themselves cannot discern.

One question to ask: Are Jews, like other nations, entitled to their own state that is not constantly being attacked by Palestinians and others who insist that Jews are inherently untrustworthy, or worse, and who are mere interlopers without the right to their own state in the Middle East?

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