Pope Francis is Right: Antisemitism is a Serious Threat
The tide is going out for Jew-hatred. Recently, Pope Francis condemned antisemitism and called for new action to combat it. In doing so, the pope rightly expressed how only a new civil rights movement can counter a resurgence of long-simmering hatred against Jews.
During his visit to Hungary, the pontiff spoke at a meeting of ecumenical faith leaders, calling anti-Jewish hatred a “fuse that must not be allowed to burn,” citing “the threat of antisemitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere.”
The pope made the comment at an appropriate location. Fascists and their supporters in Hungary massacred over 500,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In more modern times, a survey commissioned by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities found that one in five Hungarians held strongly antisemitic views, with a further one in six holding moderately antisemitic views.
But the recent rise in Jew-hatred is not restricted to Hungary. In the United States, Jews were 2.6 times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than Black Americans, and 2.2 times more likely than Muslims, according to FBI data.
The cancer of Jew-hatred has become systemic around the world and embedded into political culture. In Chile, Jew-hating candidate Daniel Jadue won 40% of the vote in the Presidential Primaries for the left wing Apruebo Dignidad. Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party despite calling terrorist group Hamas his “friends.” In America, crackpots on the far-right like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene make comments about Jewish Space Lasers, while on the left, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweets denials of the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Politicians of all stripes peddle in hatred, falsely portraying Jews as the “other” to whip up their political base.
Hatred from the top inspires attacks on innocent Jews. When Israel went to war with the Hamas terrorist group last spring, Britain’s Community Security Trust found a fivefold increase in antisemitic incidents during a single week. The Anti-Defamation League found more than 17,000 tweets using some variation of the words “Hitler was right” during a seven-day period in May.
Jews and our allies have treated the disease of Jew-hatred for centuries. Now we demand a cure. We need to learn from modern American civil rights movements, which have been successful in agitating for systemic change.
The last few decades have seen a string of victories for civil rights. Women have integrated into the workforce and are now at the forefront of a struggle to eliminate sexual assault and harassment. Gay men used to be villainized and abused. Now same-sex marriage is legal federally, and even the NYPD joins in at Gay Pride parades. It is almost impossible to envision going back to a world where women couldn’t own property and gay people were spat at in the street.
Ending Jew-hatred within our lifetime is not only possible, it is also necessary.
The new grassroots Jewish civil rights movement #EndJewHatred has begun this work. We go beyond educating people about the harmful effects of antisemitism and Jew-hatred. We know that to win you need to get out onto the street and mobilize communities to fight for justice.
By combining proactive legal strategies using anti-discrimination legislation with direct action on the streets, we succeeded in persuading Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook to de-platform Leila Khaled, a terrorist leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was intending to radicalize American students at San Francisco State University.
When Sarah Halimi was murdered in Paris, France, prosecutors refused to charge her killer since he had smoked marijuana. He was a Jew-hater before he smoked weed, and his hatred motivated him to beat the pensioner with her own telephone and throw Halimi from a balcony to her death. The End Jew Hatred movement supported street protests around the world demanding justice for Sarah Halimi. President Emmanuel Macron and the French legislature listened and are in the process of changing their laws so this horrendous loophole is closed.
In the midst of a huge rise in Jew-hatred in Germany, a Jewish teenager was violently assaulted in Cologne. End Jew Hatred in Berlin hosted a street protest declaring “Jewish life is not a provocation.” Across America, activists held solidarity protests and blew the shofar. Later, activists protested and took our banner to the Reichstag itself. The German government has now put combating Jew-hatred on the official agenda items list for this year's election debate topics. This includes how the federal government intends to fund efforts to combat Jew-hatred.
In all these cases, grassroots activism supported by worldwide communal solidarity got results.
While Pope Francis called on citizens to “be vigilant and pray” so that movements to “ghettoize others instead of include them ... never happen again,” he left out that fighting antisemitism requires action, not mere vigilance. Jews all around the world feel ghettoized by hatred every day, from online tweets to vandalism of temples and synagogues, to physical assaults and violence.
Breaking out of that marginalization requires strength, courage, and unity. Above all, it requires a commitment to the goal of ending Jew-hatred and a fierce refusal to accept second class status. Thankfully, we know the tools needed to eliminate Jew-hatred within this generation: an organized movement with decentralized leadership that empowers people through vigorous engagement and organizations like mine to both protest against and litigate cases of anti-Jewish bias.
Creating and building this new movement for Jewish civil rights will achieve the goal Pope Francis described and make the world a safer place for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Brooke Goldstein is a New York City-based human rights attorney, author, and award-winning filmmaker. She serves as Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about and facilitating a response to the abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law.