By Paul Hunt and Meng Foon
Today marked the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The day is an opportunity to reflect on antisemitism in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 2019, a UN independent human rights report by Ahmed Shaheed found that antisemitism has increased globally. Shaheed defined the term anti-semitism to mean prejudice against, or hatred of Jews.
We are not immune here in New Zealand.
Last year a survey revealed increasing antisemitism in New Zealand. The survey found 70 members of New Zealand’s Jewish community had experienced anti-semitic verbal insults and three had been physically attacked in the previous 12 months.
The survey reached only about 10 per cent of the Jewish community so the actual insults and assaults might approach 700 (insults) and 30 (assaults), respectively.
The equivalent study in 2008 found that 16 per cent thought anti-semitism was a serious issue in New Zealand – this increased to 44 per cent last year.
While it reports that antisemitic incidents are responded to in a positive and timely manner and New Zealand Jews have positive community links, the survey concludes that antisemitism in New Zealand is becoming a major concern.
Most of the anti-semitism seen by the Human Rights Commission is online. It often includes longstanding anti-semitic ‘tropes’.
A trope is an idea, image or analogy that is repeatedly used. It’s like a cliché.
There are numerous anti-semitic tropes resting on hateful lies. We’ll mention three of them with illustrations from recent New Zealand posts. (With one exception we have not edited the posts.)
One antisemitic trope is that Jews are sub-human or animals: “Zionist Jews are … worst than animals”. This is the language of the Third Reich.
Another is that Jews are part of a ruthless conspiracy: “More free greedy money for these Zionist [expletive deleted] and their expert extortion racketeering practises that have been around for eons!!!!”.
This is linked to the antisemitic slur, based on absurd fabrications such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that Jews plan to take over the world.
Another common antisemitic trope is that Jews are no better than the Nazis: “Godless scum. They are reincarnated Nazis.” Today we remember the Holocaust when millions of Jews and many non-Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Rarely are non-Jews compared to Nazis. This trope is profoundly hurtful.
Criticism of Israel
In New Zealand, antisemitic 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 supportive of Palestinian human rights, without being antisemitic. Jews and non-Jews do this all the time. But everyone needs to have some understanding of antisemitic tropes.
Also, critics of Israel often condemn ‘Zionists’, but Zionism has different meanings.
One meaning subscribed to by nearly all Jews, and many non-Jews, is simply that Jews have a human right to self-determination in their own nation-state.
So, the word ‘Zionist’ needs to be clarified and understood.
We appeal to everyone who discusses Israel and Palestine to avoid hateful language.
Don’t be antisemitic, anti-Arab, racist, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic.
If you wish, disagree with Israeli policies or pro-Palestinian human rights activists.
But don’t generalise. That is, don’t assign responsibility for Israeli policies to all Israelis (let alone Jews), or the words of some pro-Palestinian activists to all of them.
And never fan the flames of hatred.
The Royal Commission report into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain calls on all of us to do what we can to advance social cohesion.
In close collaboration with Muslim and other communities, we are developing our response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations which is meaningful to everyone in Aotearoa. Combatting antisemitism will be one element of this response.
In the meantime, we will prepare a short paper on anti-semitic tropes so they can be avoided. We will do all we can to ensure anti-semitism is given proper attention in the government’s National Action Plan against Racism. Also, we will devise a Commission plan of action against antisemitism.
Our aim is to foster respectful relationships between individuals and communities. We don’t expect everyone to agree with each other. We don’t believe that all offensive words should be unlawful – if they incite violence, that’s different.
In a plural democratic society, grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, public discussion must be respectful of diversity and not based on hateful tropes, stereotypes, and falsehoods.