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No, Antisemitism is Not Dead

Sara McCleary

The world watched last week as politicians from all over the globe trekked to Israel to attend the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres.

Leaders from over 70 countries, including Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, and even the Palestinian Authority, gathered to pay their respects to the former president in the largest gathering of world leaders in Israel’s history.

It was a wonderful show of support and veneration for a man who lived a life in service to his country and worked to create peace in the Middle East, and to most observers, respect was the main message to take away from the gathering. Yet, one journalist at least inferred instead that the show of support “proved that antisemitism is dead.”

Did I miss something?

Saying that a show of respect for a Jewish leader signals the end of antisemitism is equivalent to saying that the election of U.S. President Barack Obama means that anti-black racism is dead in the U.S. Antisemitism is, after all, very much alive. In addition to a noticeable increase in antisemitic sentiment abroad, Canada itself saw a 28 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents in 2014 over the previous year. Obviously we can’t even say that antisemitism has levelled out, let alone died.

Now, to be fair, the Ha’aretz headline is an extreme oversimplification of the point of the editorial. But when the author, Gideon Levy, continues, flaws remain in his argument. Levy claims that “while antisemitism remains in certain limited circles, it can no longer frame most of the world’s governments.” Let’s start with the first half of this sentence – he concedes that antisemitism exists “in certain limited circles.” I’m not sure how Levy defines the word “limited” but I’d say it exists in pretty substantial circles.

After all, within the last two months in Canada alone we’ve seen news stories of Jewish students getting bullied on campus, a Canadian political party advocating in support of a boycott of Israel, and a Lethbridge university professor spreading messages of hatred. Worldwide, the list grows larger: repeated antisemitic graffiti on U.S. streets and buildings, Nazi-inspired attacks on Jewish students in Argentina, intimidation of Jews and an Israeli team by soccer fans in Poland, France and Ireland, etc. Of course, these are just a few of the more publicized cases; the list could certainly go on and on. Not what I would refer to as “limited circles.”

Levy claims that antisemitism “can no longer frame most of the world’s governments.” Of course, this is true in that outright antisemitism would not be tolerated as part of the foundation of a major party’s platform in Canada. And perhaps most of the leaders of the western world are supportive of the Jewish community (to say nothing of certain parts of Europe at the moment). But to suggest that some antisemitic and anti-Israeli sentiment will never be accepted by any politician or their supporters is patently false. Some missteps by one candidate in the current U.S. presidential campaign are evidence of this, as is the Canadian Green Party’s adoption of a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) policy against Israel. Just because they aren’t calling for a Jewish genocide does not mean that an undercurrent of antisemitism isn’t there helping to form policies and guide actions.

The main point of Levy’s editorial is that “an end to [Israel’s] occupation will end Israel’s pariah status.” No matter your opinion on the conflict, to suggest that it is the only source of anti-Israeli and antisemitic sentiment the world over is willful blindness. It suggests an extremely limited worldview and ignorance of history, as well as the everyday experiences of members of the Jewish community.

Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master’s degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.