Anti-Semitic violence against Orthodox Jews in Jersey City and Monsey dominated media coverage on a number of days at the end of 2019—violence that resulted in four deaths and multiple injuries from a machete attack. In December 2019, there were multiple assaults and incidents of harassment in New York City—largely directed at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn. President Donald Trump’s executive order relating to anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses and the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the British elections also dominated conversations regarding anti-Semitism at the end of 2019. January 2020’s anti-Semitism news proved less dramatic—and even included a few positive developments—but was no less worrisome.
For analysts who proclaim that anti-Semitism is entirely of the left-wing variety, January 2020 was not a good month. There was plenty of news about right-wing xenophobia and other forms of anti-Semitism in the first month of the year. And for those who assert that anti-Semitism is totally a problem of the nationalist right, January 2020 was also not a good month, as there was an abundance of stories about left-wing anti-Semitism. For those who argue there are a few simple and obvious solutions to resurgent worldwide anti-Semitism, it’s time to remove those rose-colored glasses.
The level of shocking anti-Semitic violence in the United States declined in the first month of the year, but the aftershocks from Jersey City, Monsey and Brooklyn continued. Throughout the month, property vandalism, including anti-Semitic graffiti, was reported in localities as diverse as New York City and Lincoln, Nebraska.
During the first week of the new year, 25,000 people marched from Manhattan to Brooklyn in a show of solidarity with the victims of anti-Jewish violence. Similar, smaller-scale marches took place in a number of other U.S cities. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to fund Holocaust education, while the New York City School Chancellor introduced an anti-hate crime program into the city’s schools. And at the end of the month, an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) poll found no evidence of a spike in anti-Semitic attitudes among Americans.
This past month, partisans on the left were quick to highlight that the White House is again providing press credentials to an internet site that had earlier called the impeachment process a “Jew coup.” Partisans on the right were vocal about similarities to blood libel when Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Talib retweeted a tweet falsely claiming that Israelis drowned a young Palestinian boy.
In the United Kingdom, the race is on for leadership of the Labour party (which performed abysmally in the December 2019 elections). Most of the candidates vying to succeed Jeremy Corbyn have signaled their wishes to rebuild relationships with Jewish voters and have indicated that they are willing to work with the Board of Deputies, the most prominent organization representing Britain’s Jews. In particular, the leading candidates pledged to adopt a ten-point plan devised by the Board of Deputies to confront Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis.
Yet leftist, anti-Israel forces in the United Kingdom have not gone dormant. Ultra-Corbyn supporters attacked a candidate for Labour leader favored among many Corbyn allies for working with the Board of Deputies on anti-Semitism issues. A Labour-affiliated group issued a report blaming Israel for the party’s anti-Semitism problems. At a local Labour meeting, a pair of Labour activists were subjected to anti-Semitic comments and attacked as “foreign agents” because they opposed a resolution attacking the Board of Deputies. And a newly elected Labour member of parliament declared that students who attended “Zionist” conferences should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a racist ideology.
Elsewhere in Europe, as we remembered the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, there were disturbing signs of a rise in Holocaust revisionism. In Lithuania, a Member of Parliament from the ruling party introduced legislation, similar to the Polish legislation passed in 2019, falsely claiming that Lithuanians and their leaders did not participate in the slaughter of the country’s Jews during World War II. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian diplomat heading the country’s mission in Tel Aviv told Israelis to stay out of the debate in Ukraine over honoring individuals who collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews. Additionally, there were denials in some countries of current levels of anti-Semitism. At the very end of 2019, a Hungarian diplomat and former head of Hungary’s consulate in New York tweeted that Americans have no business complaining about Hungarian anti-Semitism while Jews are under violent attack in the United States.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, with its examples of what types of criticisms of Israel can be labeled anti-Semitic, was also in the headlines. The city of Montreal became the third Canadian city (after Calgary and Vancouver) to reject attempts to adopt the IHRA definition. Meanwhile, overseas two more countries, Uruguay and Italy, adopted the definition. Even more surprisingly, 641 of 643 members of the newly elected British parliament endorsed it.