The demonstrations may have no relation to Israel or Jews, but there’s always an inventive way to blame and attack them
By: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
Antisemitism has been an integral part of Western culture for more than 1000 years and that is still the case today. One of the many ways this can be seen is that antisemitism often infiltrates in mass demonstrations, which have no relation to Israel or Jews.
This is also the case in the current “hygiene demonstrations” against the Corona lockdown in Germany in a variety of cities. Thousands of people participate in these protests. In Berlin, many participants chanted “Freedom Resistance Traitor and We Are All the People.” Some threw bottles at the police who responded with pepper spray and arrests. Among the demonstrators were conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.
At several demonstrations yellow stars were worn on protestors armbands or chests falsely equating the lockdown measures to the Nazi persecution of Jews and the current government with that of Hitler. On these stars is written “not vaccinated” or “Covid 19.” Subsequently the city of Munich has prohibited the wearing of a yellow star at these gatherings. Occasionally demonstrators wore concentration camp inmate clothing with the sign “mask makes free”, Demonstrations in a number of German cities promoted by the right wing AfD party have also featured Nazi symbols and references to the Holocaust.
Gideon Botsch, head of the antisemitism research department of the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, said that while the participants in these demonstrations are very diverse, “the ever present though latent antisemitism behind conspiracy theorism is now becoming apparent.”
Saba-Nur-Cheema of the Anne Frank Educational Center said that antisemitism in the protests plays an important if not always open role. Footage of some demonstrators openly said that Jews are behind the Corona pandemic. That is, however, not common.
She added that the antisemitism is usually indirect. For instance, George Soros or Israel are accused of having initiated the virus. Nur-Cheema remarked that right-wing extremists wait for such a crisis situation to promote their ideology and attract additional members of the population.
Occupy Wall Street
The way that antisemitism infiltrates the current demonstrations is reminiscent of more or less similar occurrences at the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests. The protestors were not for the most part antisemites, yet antisemitism tainted those protests. The Emergency Committee for Israel was headed by William Kristol, the Jewish editor of the Weekly Standard. The committee prepared a video of the Occupy demonstrations in New York. One could see Jews being attacked and blamed for the financial crisis and financial assistance to Israel. The signs included “Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street,” and “Hitler’s Bankers.”
An African American protestor was seen accusing the Jews of “taking over America.” He said: “The smallest group in America controls the money, media and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers. I am against Jews who rob America. They are one percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge in the East Coast is Jewish.”
“Yellow vest” demonstrations in France
n 2019 the “yellow vests” manifestations took place on Saturdays in France. These protests began in November of 2018. They took their name from the highway safety jackets the demonstrators wore. The events were in protest for more economic justice. Initially, a major target was rising fuel prices and the high cost of living. The protest drew supporters from across the political spectrum. Part of them were very close to the radical left. Others were nearer to the positions of the far right.
These were not antisemitic demonstrations and had nothing to do with Jews or Israel.
Yet almost every Saturday there were verbal attacks against the Jewish community. Jean Yves Camus of the Jean Jaurès Foundation said that there was no system of order and anybody could join these demonstrations. He remarked that there were small groups participating who, if they did not show themselves at the protests, would remain totally unknown.
Antisemitism among the yellow vests received much publicity when on February 17, 2019 Jewish philosopher, Alan Finkielkraut – a member of the French Academy– passed the demonstration. A few demonstrators approached him and shouted, “Dirty s***, France belongs to us, dirty race, you racist, you hater, you are a hater. You are going to die. You are going to hell. The people are going to punish you. The Creator is going to punish you…you Zionist.” To the police one protestor said: “I have nothing against you. It is against this s***.” A policeman later recognized one of those who harassed Finkielkraut. He was brought before a court, which condemned him to a suspended prison sentence of two months.
The French “Day of Anger”
In January 2014, a mass rally in Paris took place. This “Day of Anger” was not related to any specific Jewish topic. Part of the protest was against French President François Hollande’s economic plans. However, various groups of participants started to shout antisemitic slogans. They included, “Jews, France doesn’t belong to you” and (the Holocaust denier) “Faurisson is right,” as well as “the Holocaust was a hoax.”
French journalist and public intellectual, Michel Gurfinkiel, wrote that it was shocking that nobody had acted to remove the antisemitic protesters. The police did nothing even though the shouts were in violation of French hate-speech laws. Gurfinkiel questioned whether French democracy was capable of holding antisemitism in check.
Black Lives Matter
If one deviates a bit toward some movements, which have a target not related to Jews or Israel, one may find similar phenomena. One of the clearest examples is the American Black Lives Matter movement. This organization aims to rectify the wrongs perpetrated against African American citizens in the past and present. Its 40,000 word manifesto accuses Israel of perpetrating genocide against Palestinians, labels Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ and joined with the BDS movement in calling for the total academic, cultural and economic boycott of the country. No such demands were made for any other state.
What more does one need to see how antisemitism is entrenched in Western societies?
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism.