Choosing antisemitism: Instrumentalization and tolerance of antisemitism in contemporary European politics

Authorities in Poland, Russia, Hungary and some lawmakers in Britain’s Labour Party used antisemitism for political means, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s antisemitism report on Europe published Thursday.

In Poland, presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski was the target of “antisemitic rhetoric” this summer during an election in which he lost to the incumbent Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice party, ADL wrote in the report titled “Choosing Antisemitism: Instrumentalization and Tolerance of Antisemitism in Contemporary European Politics.”

The report noted that Law and Justice’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said in a television interview that Trzaskowski is “without a Polish soul, a Polish heart and a Polish mind” for allegedly agreeing to review restitution claims for Jewish property lost during or after the Holocaust. Trzaskowski is not Jewish.

The report did not call the remark specifically antisemitic.

 

Asked whether ADL considers Kaczynski’s statememt antisemitic, an ADL spokesperson said: “His remarks certainly play into longstanding antisemitic tropes. Juxtaposing ‘Polish’ and ‘Jewish’ in this manner sends a signal that Jews in Poland are somehow not real Poles. Mr. Kaczynski’s statement implies that being a true Pole – as an identity – means not accepting Jewish restitution claims. And, by extension, that being Polish means opposing those Jewish claims.”

The ADL report did say that Kaczynski’s remarks and others “proved a source of concern for many” both in Poland and abroad.

In Hungary, the report noted what it called the government campaign to “demonize George Soros,” a liberal Jewish billionaire who was born in Hungary and is funding causes that run contrary to the policies of the right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban.

One of those causes concerns the arrival of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, which Orban opposes and Soros actively supports. In 2017, the Hungarian government launched a billboard campaign against Soros featuring pictures of the businessman and philanthropist smiling and titled “don’t let him have the last laugh.”

The Mazsihisz federation of Jewish communities warned that the campaign risks emboldening antisemites, adding that Orban is “not an antisemite.” The EMIH federation of Jewish communities in Hungary disputed Mazsihisz’s warning, describing criticism of Soros as policy-based and legitimate.

But “Orban’s decision to target an American Jew rather than European Union officials with authority over EU immigration policy raises questions,” ADL wrote in the report, adding, “The most convincing answer is that the campaign was premised on the receptiveness to antisemitic stereotypes in the Hungarian public.”

On Russia, the report states that the country under President Vladimir Putin weaponized antisemitism by exaggerating its prevalence in Ukraine, with which Russia has had a territorial dispute since 2014.

Some Jewish groups in Ukraine, including the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, say that antisemitism there has exploded following the 2014 conflict, along with the phenomenon of honoring Nazi collaborators, including in parades featuring SS uniforms.

But “Russian accusations that Ukraine is an antisemitic country have also led to the politicization of the debate about antisemitism within the Ukrainian Jewish community,” ADL wrote. “Some leaders have claimed that raising concerns about antisemitism in Ukraine is an act of support for the Russian disinformation campaign.”

On Labour, ADL wrote that its leadership by Jeremy Corbyn, a far-left politician whose four-year stint as head of the opposition ended last year, “provides the clearest example of how antisemitic rhetoric surrounding Israel and Zionism and other forms of antisemitism were tolerated within a major political party to accommodate a radical component of the party.”

As the party’s ranks swelled, “incidents of antisemitic rhetoric and harassment by these new members steadily rose,” with Corbyn doing little to stop it, ADL wrote. Corbyn had denied allegations of antisemitism and the perceived failures to punish those for what appeared to critics as antisemitic hate speech, defending the work of his party’s ethics panel as impartial and holding to the highest standards.

perceived failures to punish perpetrators of antisemitic hate speech within the party was the result of the thorough work of its independent ethics body.

His successor, Keir Starmer, a centrist, has condemned Corbyn and briefly suspended the former party leader, allegedly for downplaying the party’s antisemitism problem.

The United Kingdom “provides the best example of the risk and potential severe consequences of antisemitism in politics, even in democratic regimes,” ADL wrote. “An antisemite became the leader of a major party and created a welcome space for antisemitism. Had he become Prime Minister, the British Jewish community would have been suffered a major blow with unprecedented emigration linked to that event.”

Source: ADL