Researchers: COVID-19, Israel-Gaza war fueled antisemitism

JERUSALEM (AP) — The coronavrius pandemic and Israel's overwhelming force during the Gaza war helped fuel a worldwide spike in antisemitism last year, Israeli researchers reported on Wednesday.

The prominence of political extremism and the reach of social media also may have intensified the ancient phenomenon of scapegoating Jews in recent years, the report said.

Antisemitic events notably increased in 2021 in many countries with major Jewish populations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia, the report said. The study compiled data from 22 countries.

French authorities, for instance, reported a 36% jump in antisemitic incidents involving physical violence, from 44 to 60. The United Kingdom saw a 78% jump in incidents of assault, from 97 to 173. The number of antisemitic incidents in Canada rose 54%, from 173 to 266, the report said.

Extremist and violent ideas have always been out there, but "you really had to make an effort decades ago to be exposed to them,” said Uriya Shavit, head of the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, which produced the report. “Today, it’s so easy to access them.”

Released as much of the world emerges from a two-year pandemic, the report comes after a year of extensive change in Israel. The relatively wealthy Mideast nation was among the world’s leaders in its vaccination program early last year. Then in May came its 11-day war against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, in which more than 260 Palestinians and 14 people in Israel were killed. Intense Israeli airstrikes caused heavy damage in Gaza and drew international concern and condemnation.

It all fed into a rise of antisemitism despite years of education, new laws and money directed at fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, the authors wrote.

“The struggle is failing,” said the report, which analyzes studies, news reports and other sources of information.

Released ahead of Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day, the report says that several countries with large Jewish minorities have experienced sharp rises in anti-Jewish attacks since the pandemic began in 2020.

Other nations, such as Italy and Argentina, saw decreases in antisemitism during the pandemic, according to the report. Pandemic restrictions may have played a role as white supremacists and state sponsors like Iran and Belarus spread conspiracy theories to a waiting audience of millions of locked-down people “glued to their screens,” the report said.

In the United States, with a Jewish population of about 6 million, reports by police departments, Jewish organizations and the media suggest a rise in antisemitic activities.

The Anti-Defamation League counted 2,717 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, a 34% increase over the previous year. It was the highest number since the New York City-based group began tracking such incidents in 1979.

The Tel Aviv University report released suggests antisemitism was on the rise during that period, but showed some fluctuations according to some measures. Its survey of American media reports suggested 28 incidents of violent physical assaults against Jews in 2021, compared to a dozen in 2020 and 36 in 2019.

Police departments in New York and Los Angeles, homes of the largest Jewish populations in the United States, showed small fluctuations. In 2021 the NYPD recorded 214 anti-Jewish hate crime reports, up from 126 a year earlier and 252 in 2019. The LAPD, meanwhile, recorded 79 anti-Jewish hate crime reports in 2021, compared to 40 in 2020 and 42 the year before.

There are indicators that antisemitism spiked during the Israel-Gaza war, with social networks — especially the so-called dark web — playing a role in the wave.

In Canada, B'Nai Brith Canada reported 61 assaults against Jews — the most since monitoring began in 1982 — in May 2021. Altogether, 226 incidents were recorded during that month, a 54% increase from the same period a year earlier, the report said.