OPINION: Today marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The day was an opportunity to reflect on anti-Semitism in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 2019, Ahmed Shaheed’s independent UN human rights report found that anti-Semitism had increased globally. Shaheed defined the term anti-Semitism to mean prejudice against, or hatred for, Jews.
We’re not immune here in New Zealand.
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Last year a survey revealed increasing anti-Semitism in New Zealand. The survey found 70 members of the New Zealand Jewish community had experienced anti-semitic verbal abuse and three had been physically assaulted in the previous 12 months.
The survey only reached about 10 percent of the Jewish community so the actual insults and assaults were probably close to 700 (insults) and 30 (attacks), respectively.
The equivalent study in 2008 found that 16 percent thought anti-Semitism was a serious problem in New Zealand – this increased to 44 percent last year.
Despite reporting that anti-Semitic incidents were responded to positively and in a timely manner and that New Zealand Jews had positive community relationships, the survey concluded that anti-Semitism in New Zealand was a major concern.
Much of the anti-Semitism seen by the Commission on Human Rights is online. This often includes longstanding anti-Semitic ‘tropes’.
Trope is an idea, image or analogy that is used over and over again. It’s like a cliche.
There are many anti-Semitic tropes that rest on hateful lies. We’ll mention three of them with illustrations from a recent New Zealand post. (With one exception, we haven’t edited the post.)
One anti-Semitic allusion is that Jews are either sub-human or animal: “Zionist Jews … are worse than animals”. It is a Third Reich language.
The other is that the Jews are part of a vicious conspiracy: “More free greedy money for these Zionists [expletive deleted] and their expert blackmail practice that has been around for thousands of years !!!! “.
This is related to anti-semitic insults, based on absurd falsification such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that the Jews are planning to take over the world.
Another common anti-Semitic metaphor is that Jews are no better than Nazis: “Godless trash. They are Nazi reincarnations.” Today we remember the Holocaust when millions of Jews and many non-Jews were killed by the Nazis. Rarely were non-Jews compared to the Nazis. This figure is very painful.
Criticism of Israel
In New Zealand, anti-Semitic tropes are often associated with criticism of Israel, especially the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.
It is possible to be critical of Israel’s actions, and support Palestinian human rights, without being anti-Semitic. Jews and Gentiles do this all the time. But everyone needs to have an understanding of anti-Semitic tropes.
Also, Israeli critics often condemn ‘Zionists’, but Zionism has a different meaning.
One meaning shared by nearly all Jews, and many non-Jews, is that Jews have the human right to self-determination in their own nation-state.
So, the word ‘Zionist’ needs to be clarified and understood.
We urge everyone who talks about Israel and Palestine to avoid hateful language.
Don’t be anti-Semitic, anti-Arab, racist, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic.
If you will, disagree with Israeli policies or pro-Palestinian human rights activists.
But don’t generalize. That is, do not assign responsibility for Israeli policies to all Israelis (let alone Jews), or for the words of some pro-Palestinian activists to all of them.
And never kindle the fire of hatred.
The next step
The Royal Commission’s report on the terrorist attack at the Christchurch Mosque calls on all of us to do what we can to advance social cohesion.
Working closely with Muslims and other communities, we are developing our responses to the recommendations of the Royal Commission that are meaningful to everyone in Aotearoa. Combating anti-Semitism will be an element of this response.
In the meantime, we’ll prepare a short paper on anti-semitic tropes so they can be avoided. We will do all we can to ensure anti-Semitism gets the right attention in the government’s National Action Plan against Racism. Also, we will draw up the Commission’s action plan against anti-Semitism.
Our aim is to foster respectful relationships between individuals and communities. We don’t expect everyone to agree with each other. We do not believe that all offensive words should violate the law – if they incite violence, that is different.
In a pluralistic democracy, based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, public discussion must respect diversity and not be based on hateful metaphors, stereotypes, and falsehoods.
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