Jewish life in 2021: A recap of troubling events and trends - World Jewish Congress

Jewish life in 2021: A recap of troubling events and trends

Jewish life in 2021: A recap of troubling events and trends

While the year 2021 saw improvements in the battle against antisemitism and Holocaust denial and in building a prosperous Jewish life, some areas continued to challenge the Jewish community at large.  

Troubling trends included the banning of ritual slaughter in some countries, a surge of antisemitic attacks during the Hamas-Israel conflict and the marking of the 20th anniversary of the controversial UN Durban Conference.

Surge of antisemitism takes place amid Hamas-Israel conflict  

Violence between Hamas and Israel in May 2021 led to a surge in antisemitic attacks and hate speech across social media, with blatantly offensive content permeating major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Along with the rise in online hate speech during this conflict, Jewish institutions, including synagogues and community centers, found themselves at the epicenter of anti-Israel demonstrations, with protesters equating Jews with the Israeli military and seeking to blame Jews for the latest conflict.

The World Jewish Congress produced a study, “Antisemitism Unleashed: Virulent Hatred of Jews and Hitler Glorification Exposed by the Israel-Hamas Conflict,” which detailed some of the more egregious examples on major platforms during this time. These included posts featuring Holocaust imagery, conspiracy myths against Jews and the State of Israel and various forms of Nazi glorification, among them evocations such as “Hitler was right.” 

Responding to the surge of antisemitism both online and against Jewish institutions, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrendous outbreaks of antisemitic manifestations in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, with anti-Israel demonstrators targeting synagogues and Jewish community centers and seeking to blame Jews around the world for the latest Middle East violence. We are also outraged by the surge of virulently antisemitic hate speech across social media with posts on major platforms featuring Holocaust imagery, conspiracy myths and Nazi glorification.”

Amb. Lauder urged “governments and authorities everywhere to take all necessary measures to protect all Jewish communities, Jewish institutions, and individual Jews” and extended the call to social media organizations to “immediately rid their platforms of vile posts that promote violence against Jews with such vile declarations as ‘Hitler was right.’”

Bias against Israel continues at UN

Bias against Israel across the United Nations continued in 2021, with special sessions condemning the Middle East’s only democracy and the continual implementation of anti-Israel agenda item 7, which calls for every Human Rights Council session to include a debate about Israel's human rights record, something not done for any other country.

In May 2021, at its 30th special session, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing a never-expiring Commission of Inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and failed to mention Hamas even once throughout the resolution. The special session was the ninth targeting Israel, a disproportionately high number considering that the council has only held 32 such sessions since its founding in 2006.

Meanwhile, while 38 governments boycotted the Durban IV Conference, dozens of others attended this, a gathering which was marred by Israel-bashing and antisemitism. The conference took place on Sept. 22, the second day of Sukkot.

Countries in attendance included: Belgium, China, Egypt, Iran, Ireland, the Holy See, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Portugal, Russia and Syria. The Belgian representative clarified that his government considers antisemitism to be unacceptable; there was no high-level Belgian participation in the event. Unsurprisingly, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority used the Durban platform as an opportunity to vilify Israel, alleging that it is a racist, colonial and an apartheid state. 

While the inaugural 2001 conference aimed to become “a landmark in the struggle to eradicate all forms of racism,” it degenerated into antisemitism and anti-Zionism, marking a lost opportunity to create a strong international mechanism against racism and other forms of hatred. Accredited groups at the conference distributed copies of the antisemitic The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and cartoons of hook-nosed Jews. Thousands protested against Israel, with signs equating the Star of David and a swastika, praising Hitler and calling Israel an apartheid state.

The rise of anti-establishment movements during the pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, an anti-establishment movement gained momentum across Europe, stemming from some concerns regarding COVID-19 social distancing requirements, according to a WJC report titled Anti-Establishment Movement. Far-right groups and individuals gained prominence at this time and spread antisemitic conspiracy myths and bigotry.

Anti-establishment protesters encouraged the public not to trust the government and called for leading politicians to resign, claiming that they are complicit in the implementation of the supposed New World Order, an imagined totalitarian one-world government. The anti-establishment movement has grown, particularly in Germany and Austria. It encourages violent protest, believing it is an appropriate and moral response to what they consider to be authoritarian rule.

The appeal and popularity of such protests increased as the pandemic progressed, with far-right individuals and organizers thinking that the crisis was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalize on fear and uncertainty to recruit individuals sympathetic to their cause, the report found. Far-right groups used digital communication platforms, especially Telegram, to plan and organize activities and share fake news and conspiracy myths, such as claiming that vaccines were a form of population control.

Antisemitism within the movement is strong, with followers simultaneously blaming Jews for the negative effects of the pandemic and comparing themselves to members of the resistance during the Third Reich and to victims of the Holocaust.  

Supporters of the movement have often trivialized the Holocaust by wearing yellow stars marked with “unvaccinated” and by arguing that “the old enemy was the Jew; the new enemy is the virus” or “once people were accused for not doing the Hitler salute; today they are criticized for not wearing the mask properly.” 

European courts allow ban of shechita 

While not an antisemitic incident, Belgium's Constitutional Court upheld the Belgian’s government’s right to ban shechita, religious slaughter of certain mammals and birds for food under Jewish dietary restrictions. Following the court’s decision, Amb. Lauder said:  

“Today’s ruling is a continued maneuver to discriminate against Belgium’s Jewish and Muslim citizens. By prohibiting religious slaughter without stunning, Belgium's Constitutional Court has placed a potentially terminal obstacle to continued Jewish communal life in Europe. This is not a matter of animal welfare, but the suppression of religious freedom and liberty that is guaranteed in Article 10(1) of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“As antisemitism continues to surge in Europe and around the world, we cannot let instances of religious persecution like this go unchallenged. The European Union must reverse this ill-advised decision so that Jews, and other minority religions, can practice their beliefs without restrictions.”