Antisemitism “threatens not only Jews, but society at large, foundations of democracy and free speech,” declared Israeli Foreign Ministry Director of the Department for Combating Antisemitism Ambassador Gideon Behar on Monday.
Speaking to The Algemeiner in New York, Behar said that Israel and the State Department “share the same feeling” — that “antisemitism is indeed on the rise.”
He warned of a growing trend in Europe, especially in the countries with the continent’s largest Jewish populations, and accused Internet giants Facebook, Google and Twitter of not taking sufficient “proactive measures” to prevent the spread of a new kind of antisemitism, whose influence can be seen in the violence in Israel today.
“The threat of antisemitism in Europe is a real one,” he said. “In France, the U.K. and Germany, where most European Jews live today, you see higher levels of antisemitism and antisemitic incidents.
“If you take the first six months of this year and compare [them] to last year, in Britain there was a rise of 53 percent, in France 84 percent, and in Germany it remained … the same; but [it has been] on the rise as well in 2015,” he said, quoting figures that match the British Community Security Trust for the U.K., and the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive for France.
“Generally speaking, for data in Europe, most of the victims of antisemitism still do not report antisemitism – 85 percent according to E.U. data,” he said.
The E.U. Fundamental Rights Agency’s 2014 antisemitism report, released last month, concurs: “Victims and witnesses of hate crimes are reluctant to report them, whether to law enforcement agencies, the criminal justice system, NGOs or victim support groups. As a result, victims of such crimes are often unable or unwilling to seek redress against the perpetrators, with many hate crimes remaining unreported, unprosecuted and, therefore, invisible.”
While the 2014 report did not list Behar’s 85% under-reporting figure, the 2013 FRA report indicated that 76% of the victims of antisemitic harassment chose not to report it. The FRA blamed, in part, a lack of E.U.-wide policy that led to “gross” under-reporting still in 2014, and likely in 2015 as well.
Behar said the European Union “should adopt a definition of antisemitism.” A working definition for antisemitism was adopted in 2005 by the agency that the FRA ultimately replaced, but this “working definition” was removed from the website in 2013, even though the U.S. State Department still includes it in its own definition.
“If you cannot define antisemitism, how can you find it?” he asked.
Behar, who was the Israeli ambassador to Senegal, a country distinguished by the Anti-Defamation League for harboring the most antisemitic attitudes among the sub-Saharan nations it surveyed, said the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tackling antisemitism should be “separate.”
“The Israel-Palestinian issue is one thing,” he said, “and hatred of Jews is another. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not influence tackling antisemitism.”
Still, Behar said, it was important that legal definitions of antisemitism include what he called the “3 D’s” of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, namely: demonization, double standards or delegitmization of Israel or denial of its right to exist. “Then it is antisemitism, because it is directed against the Jewish state, because it is a Jewish state,” he said.
Behar said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which directs its efforts in the private and public sectors, and its organizers, reflect this area where the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism blurs.
“Today, Israel has become the Jew among the nations,” he said. “BDS activists are a growing source of antisemitism worldwide, because they do not distinguish between Israel and Jews elsewhere. If you are looking into demonstrations in Europe last year, many of them as a result of the conflict in Gaza — many of them had very severe antisemitic characteristics … In Germany, it was the first time we heard ‘Jews to the gas’ since World War II.”
Despite recent victories claimed by the movement, such as the adoption of BDS by a large U.S. labor union and the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, Behar was dismissive of the anti-Israel movement: “I don’t think they have been successful so far.”
Behar said, “Social media is a major source of antisemitism today,” because it allows for the spread of “hate speech and incitement in larger quantities.”
In his only mention of the wave of terrorist attacks that have been haunting Israelis since violence erupted at the Temple Mount in September, Behar said, “Facebook was used by different people and organizations calling for the murder of Jews, to drive on them with cars, to stab them, and this is something we do not accept.”
Similar to definitions of what scholars call “new antisemitism,” he said the antisemitism cropping up on “Facebook, YouTube, Instagram” differed from the antisemitism of traditional “radical Right” or “radical Left” groups and individuals.
“Online antisemitism is real and not virtual antisemitism,” he said. “Many people do not understand the significance and influence of online antisemitism.”
He said the “Internet industry should protect users from hate speech and racism … They should not continue to let social media be such an open place where there is incitement against Jews and antisemitism. They should do more to protect users from this kind of hate.”
Quipping, “You’d be surprised to see how popular Hitler is on Twitter,” Behar said that the Internet and social media giants have yet to take “proactive measures” to prevent the spread of antisemitism and hate speech through their products. “We think that they should do more, and they can do much more to stop antisemitism online.”