Antisemitism in 2021: War and Covid-19 catalyzed global uptick

TAU researchers stress need for reevaluation of strategies to combat antisemitism

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Antisemitic incidents dramatically increased over the past year in almost all countries with large Jewish populations, according to the Antisemitism Worldwide Report 2021 published by The Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University (TAU).

Released annually on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the report is based on dozens of studies from around the globe, alongside information from law enforcement authorities, media, and Jewish organizations in various countries. It is the 28th annual report of its kind issued by the Center.

The authors report a dramatic rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, and Australia, as well as other countries. In most countries the increase was particularly notable compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Key Findings

  • 251 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the US, in only three weeks during the riots around the Israel-Hamas conflict in May 2021. According to the annual survey of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), 2.6% of American Jews said they had been the victims of antisemitic physical attacks in the past five years. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a 27% increase from 2020 and a 113% increase from 2019 in incidents of white supremacist antisemitic propaganda. 
  • In France, 589 antisemitic incidents were recorded in 2021, a 74% increase from 2020 and a 14% decrease from 2019. 
  • In May 2021, B’nai Brith Canada reported 61 assaults against Jews in Canada. Altogether 226 incidents were recorded that month, a 54% increase from the same period in 2020. 
  • In the UK, 2,255 antisemitic incidents were recorded in 2021, an increase of 34% from 2020. A sharp rise of 78% compared to 2020 was recorded in physical assaults against Jews.
  • German Police recorded 3,028 antisemitic incidents during 2021, an increase of 29% from 2020 and 49% from 2019. Another worrying phenomenon registered in 2021: German anti-vaxxers likened their situation to that of the Jews in the Holocaust. The authors of the Report argue that this has led to trivialization of the Holocaust. 
  • 447 antisemitic incidents were recorded in Australia in 2021, an increase of 35% from 2020 and 21.5% from 2019. 88 incidents, the highest monthly total ever, were recorded in May.

The authors found similar phenomena in a range of countries: Dr. Inna Shtakser examined the rise of state-sponsored antisemitism under Belarus’ authoritarian leadership; Dr. Carl Yonker and Dr. Lev Topor investigated how antisemitic white supremacists are penetrating mainstream American conservatism; Dr. Ofir Winter analyzed voices in the Arab world that paint the Abraham Accords with unmistakably antisemitic colors; and Adv. Talia Naamat demonstrated the challenges for French courts in prosecuting Islamist antisemitism.

Need to Re-Strategize

“In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has enjoyed extensive resources worldwide, and yet, despite many important programs and initiatives, the number of antisemitic incidents — including violent assaults — is rapidly escalating,” said Professor Uriya Shavit, Head of the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at TAU’s Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities.

Despite certain successes outlined in the Center’s January report on positive trends combating antisemitism, Professor Shavit stressed that the latest findings demonstrate that some strategies are clearly not effective. “The easy thing is to say that more laws and more funding are required,” he said, adding that the situation demands “courageous and unsparing examination” of the efficacy of some of the more prevalent strategies in battling antisemitism.

“The Jewish world must pull itself together and understand that the fight against antisemitism and the fight for liberal democratic values are one and the same,” he concluded.

The Center’s founder, Professor Dina Porat, wrote an analysis of the reasons for the increase in antisemitic incidents, underlining the negative impact of social networks in amplifying antisemitism.  According to Professor Porat, exposure to conspiracy theories that thrive on the internet increased during pandemic lockdowns, which kept people at home, glued to their screens. These toxic ideas included claims that the Covid-19 virus had been engineered and spread by Israel and the Jews, she explains. Some of those poisoned by such theories for such a long period of time emerged from the lockdowns bitter and aggressive. Professor Porat also emphasizes Iran’s efforts to spread antisemitic propaganda through the social media and to fund specific channels, and the need to make these efforts known and denounced throughout.

The report questions the utility of legislation and agreements reached with social media companies on banning antisemitic expressions from their platforms. The gravest concern is the dark web, which shelters extremists of all types, and where antisemitic content is freely and openly spread. The report also notes that Iran invests substantial time and funding in spreading antisemitic propaganda online, focusing their campaigns mainly in the United States and Latin America. 

Read the full report here (.pdf) >>

“The Jewish world must pull itself together and understand that the fight against antisemitism and the fight for liberal democratic values are one and the same."