"I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly." - Jeffrey Goldberg
That quote was on the title slide of Holly Huffnagle’s presentation Aug. 6 at the final American Jewish Committee/West Coast’s Lunch and Learn series at Michael’s On East. Huffnagle is AJC’s assistant director of international relations.
AJC is the world’s leading global Jewish advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel and to advance human rights and democratic values in the U.S. and around the world. And its West Coast Florida chapter ranks among AJC’s most active supporters.
Huffnagle pulled Goldberg’s conclusion from an extensive 2015 article in The Atlantic, “Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” She then noted that three years later, in 2018, the answer to Goldberg’s question was moving toward the affirmative. In a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, two out of five Jews said they considered emigration from Europe or across countries.
Think about the anti-Semitic attacks in Europe. The 2012 attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, France, that killed a rabbi and three children and injured four others. The 2015 Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege where four Jewish people were murdered and nine were injured in Paris. And the 2018 murder of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor killed in her home in Paris.
Overlay those attacks on growing instances of harassment, vandalism and threats. According to European agency’s report, one in four Jews in Europe had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in the past 12 months. AJC reports that anti-Semitic vandalism is up 57% and threats are up 23% in 2017 over 2016. Anti-Semitism is also rising in the U.K. Earlier this year, nine members of Parliament left the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, and cited the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as their reason for leaving.
Huffnagle gave five reasons for the rise in European anti-Semitism:
Far-right — extreme nationalists who support ideas of a fascist regime;
Holocaust denial and distortion — attempts to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry;
Far-left — anti-Semitism often masked by the criticism of the state of Israel;
Islamist anti-Semitism — followers of the genocidal ambitions of Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas; and
Mainstream society — not speaking up about anti-Semitism and allowing it to continue as if it’s normal behavior.
Prior to her work at AJC, Huffnagle served under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump as a policy adviser to a special envoy in the U.S. Department of State assigned to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. She also was a researcher in the Mandel Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Huffnagle is not Jewish.
If anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly prevalent in Europe, Huffnagle says, it doesn’t look much better in the U.S.
The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people and injured six in 2018 was the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Then came the Poway synagogue shooting on the last day of Passover this year in California. Attacks on members of the Orthodox Jewish Community in Brooklyn are ongoing.
Just as troubling and rising: the BDS movement. This is the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against Israel, which is rampant on U.S. college campuses. And California is trying to pass a new ethnic studies model curriculum that identifies Israel as an apartheid state.
Thankfully, the U.S. government is taking action to counter the spread of anti-Semitism here and in Europe.
In January, President Trump signed the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 into law. First introduced by U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, in 2017, the act outlines how combating anti-Semitism is in the national interest of the U.S. and encourages adoption by national and multinational government institutions of the accepted working definition of anti-Semitism (see box).
In May 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a house bill while in Israel on combating anti-Semitism in Florida’s public schools and universities. Of AJC’s 22 regional offices in the U.S., three of them are in Florida — Miami, Palm Beach and Sarasota.
In a historic move, the U.S. Justice Department hosted a summit last month on combating anti-Semitism. This daylong meeting was the highest-level U.S. government conference on anti-Semitism ever held. Senior administration officials addressing the summit included Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan S. Carr.
Despite these efforts, one Lunch and Learn attendee shared with Huffnagle that she felt like she was living in Germany in 1935. Responded Huffnagle:
“Luckily, it’s not Germany in 1935, but one of the biggest differences attributing to anti-Semitism today is social media.”
The anonymity the internet provides only amplifies dangerous anti-Semitic rhetoric. And it’s the one thing that causes her most concern. She also said: “Anti-Semitism is the easiest form of hate to identify. Usually, that’s a signal something worse is on the horizon.”