Jews Under Siege

On the global rise of anti-Semitism, and the shameful effort to excuse it

Rep. Ilhan Omar / Getty
March 13, 2019

It is easy to dismiss anti-Semitism as a phenomenon of an older time. People read about the extensive hatred and persecution of Jews during the medieval period and imagine a far-off land, no less real than a fantasy world. Students study other historical examples of anti-Semitism, even ones involving mass slaughter, and view them like museum exhibits, relics of the past roped off from the realities of today. Tragically, however, anti-Semitism is no relic. Civilization's oldest virus is still infecting even the most developed countries, manifesting in ways that look eerily similar to the anti-Semitism remembered in history textbooks.

By now most readers are probably familiar with freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) recent flurry of anti-Semitic comments, including the accusation that American politicians support Israel because of the influence of Jewish money. She also insinuated that American Jews are guilty of "allegiance to a foreign country," meaning Israel. Omar was not the only American progressive to float the classic anti-Semitic charge of dual loyalty. Days later, on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) national deputy press secretary, Belén Sisa, wrote the following on Facebook: "This is a serious question: do you not think that the American government and American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel? I'm asking not to rule out the history of this issue, but in the context in which this was said by Ilhan." Sisa apologized on Tuesday, calling her comments "insensitive."

Sisa's post shows that Omar was not simply criticizing Israeli policy, as the congresswoman and her army of defenders—who include numerous Democrats and progressives and former KKK leadersclaim. Indeed, Omar's defenders argue that outraged Jews have misinterpreted her comments. Yet Sisa, a like-minded progressive, clearly thinks that Omar was accusing Jews of pledging allegiance to the Jewish state. Was she wrong?

The charge of dual loyalty is not just about allegiance to Israel. It fits into the centuries-old portrayal of Jews as shifty, scheming rats, always looking to exploit others for their own gain. There is a much more sinister foundation to Sisa and Omar's comments than even many of their critics seem to realize.

Such sentiments extend beyond the Atlantic to the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party continues to face a crisis over its increasingly institutionalized anti-Semitism under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. On Tuesday, when Sisa issued her own apology, Mike Amesbury, a member of Parliament and Labour's shadow minister for employment, apologized himself for sharing an image that Joseph Goebbels would be proud of. In 2013, before Amesbury was a member of Parliament, he shared a picture on Facebook from a website called According to the Jewish Chronicle, the image "showed a hook-nosed, bearded, cackling man wearing a Father Christmas hat, rubbing his hands together, along with the words: 'Remember to support the banks and corporations this Christmas in their continued efforts to enslave mankind, by spending money you haven't got on things you don’t need ... '"

The description brings to mind scenes from a street celebration in the Belgian town of Aalst earlier this month, during which a float featured anti-Semitic caricatures of Orthodox Jews and a rat atop moneybags.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands on Tuesday became the latest European country to confirm a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year. The Center for Information and Documentation Israel, a Dutch Jewish non-governmental organization that fights anti-Semitism, said in its annual report that anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands increased in 2018 by 19 percent compared to the previous year, according to the Algemeiner.

The Netherlands is far from the only country to see a steep increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the same time period. The United Kingdom has seen a 16 percent increase, Germany has seen a 60 percent increase, and France has seen a 74 percent increase.

And Europe is not even where anti-Semitism is the strongest. A 2014 survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that the Middle East is the most anti-Semitic region in the world, and that was before the recent jump in anti-Semitic incidents globally.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in every direction. It is often disguised as legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, as evident in the aftermath of Omar's comments. But Western progressives are not the only ones who follow this practice. Indeed, Palestinian terrorists similarly champion anti-Israel causes, like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, to disguise their anti-Semitic goals.

Even worse is when people try to excuse anti-Semitism by calling it legitimate criticism of Israel. Take the case of Kaveh Kholardi, a Norwegian rapper who cursed Jews at a concert in Oslo in June 2018. Kholardi was performing onstage when he asked whether there were any Jews in the crowd. When no one reacted, he said, "Fucking Jews." He then said he was joking, but, just five days before the concert, he wrote on Twitter that "fucking Jews are so corrupt," according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Pro-Israel activists and local Jewish leaders filed a police complaint, which was dismissed. Eventually the case was appealed to Tor Aksel Busch, effectively Norway's attorney general, who on Tuesday rejected the appeal, saying that Kholardi "seems to be targeting Jews, [but] it can however also be said to express dissatisfaction with the policies of the state of Israel."

In other words, cursing Jews without mentioning Israel is totally fine because it is a form of criticizing the Israeli government. The logic of that argument would be laughable if it was not shameful and, frankly, quite scary. At what point will authorities try to protect Jews? And at what point can people realize that there is a clear distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism? Now anti-Semites have even more reason to use Israel as the veil to hide their attacks against Jews.

Look how many of the above incidents happened just this month. It is clear that Jews are under siege, with anti-Semitism only becoming more common and visceral around the world. This should be a trend that unites Americans and others in steadfast opposition to it. But instead, much of the Western world has responded with apathy, cowardice, and obfuscation. There is no excuse or defense for anti-Semitism, yet too many people, including members of Congress, are searching for one. And they seem to have found it. Just claim to be criticizing the Israeli government; it is a get-out-of-jail-free-card for anti-Semitism.