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Antisemitic attacks increase amid Middle East conflict

Antisemitic attacks increase amid Middle East conflict
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The U.S. and other countries around the world are seeing a rise in antisemitic attacks at protests and online as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages in the Middle East.

Human rights groups say some criticism of Israel's actions during the conflict is crossing the line into antisemitism.

States around the country are reporting vandalism at synagogues, such as graffiti of swastikas and pro-Palestinian messages. Marking an uptick online, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Thursday reported finding 17,000 tweets between May 7 and May 14, a period of escalation in Gaza, with a variation of the words “Hitler was right.”

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“Some people seem to have trouble distinguishing the State of Israel, which is a sovereign state just like the United States or France or any other state, from Jews because Israel is the Jewish state, about 80 percent of its citizens are Jewish,” Jill Jacobs, a rabbi and executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, told The Hill.

“We saw, for example, a really horrible incident near a Jewish Community Center in London, where people were driving down the street yelling terrible things about Jews, including rape their daughters. We saw just on Tuesday night, a physical attack of Jews having sushi at a sidewalk cafe in Los Angeles. We've unfortunately seen an uptick in those incidents where people are vandalizing synagogues,” Jacobs said.

Pro-Palestinian protests are setting up outside of synagogues and Jewish communities in multiple states despite their having no direct involvement with the Israeli government.

“We have seen a little bit of this in the United States where there's an anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian demonstration that is organized in front of Jewish institutions. That often crosses a line, because it's not protesting an Israeli consulate or a State Department but protesting Jews for being Jewish,” Oren Segal, vice president for the Center of Extremism at the ADL, told The Hill.

Among the attacks are a pro-Palestine sign left with a smashed window at the Persian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago and a synagogue in Utah that was vandalized with a swastika drawn on the front door.

“If someone can explain to me how putting a swastika on a synagogue in Salt Lake City is somehow direct to the plight of the Palestinian people 4000 miles away, I would feel enlightened if someone could make that connection for me,” Rabbi Avremi Zippel, program director at the Chabad Community Center Synagogue, the vandalized center in Utah, told The Hill.

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“Yet, we’re in a world where that point is being made,” Zippel said. 

Similar issues are being reported in Europe. London's mayor condemned antisemitic attacks in the city over the weekend. The British charity Community Security Trust reported a fivefold increase in antisemitic attacks in the U.K. over a week, BBC News reported. German officials warned against antisemitism at pro-Palestinian protests over the last week, according to German media.

Segal said an increase in antisemitism on social media has particularly concerned ADL.

“There has been a number of antisemitic trends that have emerged since the crisis began in the Middle East. This is, I would say, across various social media platforms, from Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and a range of others,” Segal said.

“Seeing this on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, for example, surely makes it more available to younger audiences. We’ve heard concerns from the community about kids seeing a level of discourse that is concerning to them on these social media platforms,” he continued.

Jacobs, the rabbi, said she's seeing even expressions of Jewish faith earning pushback on social media.

“So you can say, saying ‘free Palestine' is not an antisemitic statement, that's a political statement. But when you're saying it to somebody, when somebody posts a picture of themselves making Challah for Shabbat, and the response is free Palestine. What you're basically saying is, you Jewish person cannot do anything that is not representative of the State of Israel,” Jacobs said.

Earlier this week, CNN fired a freelance writer who reportedly praised Hitler on Twitter, including saying the world needs another Hitler.

Experts noted it's not the first time antisemitism has been linked with criticism of the Israeli government.

In 2014, when there was another notable conflict in Gaza, The New York Times reported on antisemitic language and attacks that spiked in Europe.

Some pro-Palestinian protesters in France began attacking Jewish businesses and synagogues. Firebombs were thrown at a synagogue in Germany, the Times reported.

Zippel believes the attacks, especially online, have become worse since 2014.

“I would say that not only do they remind me of 2014, I would say they make 2014 pale in comparison to what we're seeing,” Zippel said. “The reality is that over seven years, social media has taken up a very, very different place in a lot of people's lives. And that's a dangerous thing, period.”

One 2020 study suggested the level of Holocaust denial shared on TikTok should raise concern.

“I represent clients, for example, Jewish students, who are spat on and punched in the face and called dirty Zionist baby killers. Because of their Judaism, because of their ethnicity, they're blamed for a foreign conflict thousands of miles away,” Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of U.S.-based legal nonprofit The Lawfare Project, told The Hill.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America in response to the recent vandalism and attacks on Thursday urged Congress and state governments to increase resources available to Jewish institutions and provide law enforcement more resources "to thwart faith-targeted violence."

Observers warn the spike in antisemitism at times of conflicts may be broader than foreign policy differences.

“We definitely see a trend in that but I think the analysis I would provide is, it’s not only that. It's about anti semitism. It's not about foreign policy. It's people using that as a lever to push their antisemitic views and rhetoric,” Elana Broitman, senior vice president of public affairs for The Jewish Federations of North America, told The Hill.

Goldstein agreed.

“Jews are being killed everywhere. They're being killed in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Brooklyn, Paris and [Los Angeles]. Everywhere it's happening and the Middle East conflict, so to speak, is used as an excuse to justify violence and Jew-hatred,” Goldstein said.