ROME – With surveys showing hate crimes against Jews increasing in the West, the head of a well-known think tank on global antisemitism, fresh from a papal audience at the Vatican, described the trend as “saddening and frightening,” and pointed to a changing face of antisemitism today.
“We have to recognize that antisemitism has changed in a profound way,” said Harley Lippman, founder and CEO of Genesis10 – among the largest professional IT services and staffing firms in the U.S. – and the President of the Institute for Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP).
“[Antisemitism] has moved from being a right-wing phenomenon to a left-wing phenomenon, from being a Christian phenomenon to a radical Islamic phenomenon, and from being a religiously based phenomenon to an anti-Zionist phenomenon,” Lippman told Crux in an email.
On June 28, Lippman and members of ISGAP met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the rising tide of antisemitism in Europe as well as persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East. This was the second meeting with the pope for the businessman, who also sits on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“It’s easy to forget you’re meeting a man with a stature that is unmatched by anybody on the planet,” Lippman said of the pope’s humble demeanor, adding that Francis “is very much an ally” for the Jewish community, especially in the fight against intolerance.
“Pope Francis has invited us on both occasions because he wants to learn all he can from us, so he can truly understand our community’s concerns,” he added.
Speaking at an international conference on antisemitism in January, Pope Francis said that we must fight against “hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference.”
On that occasion he also invited Jews and Christians “not to remain imprisoned in resentment” and instead “build the common good together.”
Lippman recognized that since the Second Vatican Council, relations between the Christian and Jewish communities have improved substantially, adding that “it gets better each year.”
Populism is not the problem
It’s difficult to peg the reasons behind the surge in antisemitic attitudes in the West, but to the question of whether it’s a consequence of populist beliefs Lipmann answers “not really.” While it’s common for right-wing populist movements to rely on xenophobic rhetoric, a quick look at the situation of Jews in Europe shows a different perspective.
If we take the case of Hungary led by populist President Viktor Orban, cases of violence against Jews are few and there is no institutionalized antisemitism. In a mid-July trip to Israel, Orban stated that he is committed to fight antisemitism, including statements targeted against Israel, which Hungary has consistently supported in United Nations decisions.
In Hungary, “Jewish communities are thriving and secure,” Lippmann said. “It is in the countries where populism hasn’t taken root to the same degree that it appears Jewish communities are less secure.”
Ahead of a visit to the Holy land, Orban also said that antisemitism was much more a concern of Western Europe rather than Eastern Europe. This statement seemed confirmed by reports of hate crimes against Jews in France, England and Germany.
Last March, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was brutally murdered in her apartment in France. A recent study by renowned antisemitism expert Monika Schwarz-Friesel found that German antisemitic content grew to over 30 percent in 2018, a 22 percent increase in just a decade. Only last week, a Jewish academic visiting Bonn, Germany, was publicly attacked by a German of Palestinian origin who yelled racial slurs and tore a kippah from the man’s head.
“Regardless of the forces that are giving rise to antisemitism, it’s a reality,” Lippman said, adding that for this reason Francis’s advocacy of dialogue and tolerance is needed now more than ever.
“Now, more than any time since WWII, we need a pope like Francis who can articulate the divine value of kindness – not only for the sake of the Jews, but also as a clarion call to protect Christian minorities in the Middle East,” he said.
Israel, Palestine and the Vatican
Though Francis, like John Paul II before him, has often supported Israel, the Vatican has historically stressed the need for a two-state solution for the region and of giving Jerusalem a special international status.
When the Trump administration announced its plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Francis was among the first to comment asking the international community to guarantee the status quo.
“While I wholeheartedly support the embassy move, I also believe the pope expressed sincerity in his concern for the way the Palestinians would react,” Lippman said.
Since the protest of over 40,000 people along the Gaza border on March 30 after the embassy announcement, over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.
According to Lippman there is a “double standard” when it comes to the embassy question, which “erodes trust among the vast swath of world Jewry”, who, in his opinion, would support a two-state solution.
“Unable to destroy Israel militarily, most of the Arab world has embraced a new way to destroy Israel: equating Zionism with Nazism, while delegitimizing it by challenging our historical connection to Israel and through Holocaust denial,” Lippman said.
The real issue, he continued, “is that most of the Arab world has not come to terms with the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East.” According to the businessman the lack of recognition by Arab countries makes it impossible to build trust.
When it comes to peace, Lippman believes that the responsibility lies mostly in the hands of the Arab nations.
“The pope agrees with us that trust is the foundation of a productive dialogue,” he said.
“With his moral authority, he can play a tremendous role in enlisting nations of the free world to join him in telling the Arab world that the time has come to accept Israel.”