The recent spate of violent acts of anti-Semitism in the United States, together with the alarming renaissance of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, should be seen as a rude wake-up call from the curious and lackadaisical state of hibernation in which the Jewish world seems to have naively ensconced itself.

Gunman attacks Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people
Gunman attacks Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people

Who can blame the international community at large for sidelining the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, when the Jewish world, whether out of a naïve sense of political correctness or merely resignation, seems to have accepted it as a permanent and indelible phenomenon, to be tolerated and suffered rather than to be dealt with and combatted?

The recent vile events that occurred at the end of October, 2018 are nothing new. Anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years, reappearing in many and varied forms, adapting itself to whatever circumstances exist at any given time and utilizing the available cultural, social, and technological means to propagate itself among the public.

The October 27, 2018, Pittsburgh murderer shouted, “All Jews must die!” while killing 11 worshippers. In August 2017, Charlottesville American Nazis, during their “Unite the Right” rally, shouted “Jews will not replace us” and “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” while displaying swastikas on banners and posting calls to burn the synagogue on their Nazi websites.

Charlottesville Neo Nazi Rally
Charlottesville Neo Nazi Rally

Steps Can Be Taken to Counter Anti-Semitism

So, aside from political statements of sympathy, shock, and disgust by international leaders, the question remains what, practically, can and should be done to deal with anti-Semitism worldwide?

Shortly after the Pittsburgh massacre, in a statement to an interfaith gathering on October 31, 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres hinted at the need for some form of concerted and serious action:

Jews are being again persecuted or discriminated or attacked for the simple reason that they are who they are. We see it in the internet, in hate speech; we see it in the way cemeteries are desecrated.  We now see it in this horrendous attack on a synagogue.

I believe it is important not only to denounce, not only to condemn these acts as any other act of xenophobia or racism, but it’s necessary to try to understand why this is happening.4

This was supplemented by a similar statement issued by his office on the actual day of the massacre:

The shooting in Pittsburgh is a painful reminder of continuing anti-Semitism. Jews across the world continue to be attacked for no other reason than their identity. Anti-Semitism is a menace to democratic values and peace, and should have no place in the 21st century.

The Secretary-General calls for a united front – bringing together authorities at all levels, civil society, religious and community leaders and the public at large – to roll back the forces of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and xenophobia gaining strength in many parts of the world.

Jewish Cemetery in New Jersey

This call by Guterres is instructive in that he goes beyond the accepted assumptions of the international community, and to a large extent among the world Jewish leadership, that views anti-Semitism as just another form of “hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and xenophobia.” In so doing, they equate anti-Semitism with evils of a different kind – racism and Islamophobia – while ignoring its own distinctive characteristics and history that are deserving of separate treatment.

The Secretary-General’s call to try to understand why such horrendous acts of anti-Semitism happen indicates an acknowledgment of the uniqueness of anti-Semitism as an age-old phenomenon, with distinct roots, causes, and results that do not necessarily merit its being packaged as just another form of racism or xenophobia.

In addition to anti-Semitism’s long and bitter history and the depth of evil it has generated, its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is common and proliferating throughout all cross-sections of society –among extreme Left-wing and Right-wing elements, as well as crossing all social and ideological strata.

The Fight Requires a United International Front

Indeed, perhaps one of the major lessons to be learned from this recent outbreak of violent anti-Semitism, as recognized by Secretary-General Guterres, is the need for consolidated action – a “united front” as he suggested, to be taken by the international community, against anti-Semitism.

In today’s world, as with any consolidated, international action to counter violence and terror, the fight against anti-Semitism requires a solid legal basis and sanction for action.

However,  despite the long and sad history of anti-Semitism, the international community has never seriously considered criminalizing it per se as an international crime, standing on its own regrettable merit, whereby its perpetrators, inciters, and propagandists, and all those involved in spreading and advocating it would be dealt with as international criminals and would not enjoy impunity.

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.