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Date: 2021
Abstract: Overt state-sponsored antisemitism ended in Europe with the fall of the Soviet Union. Antisemitic attitudes, however, remain prevalent in Europe, and some European political actors have instrumentalized antisemitism for political gain. This report examines both the conscious use of antisemitism in European politics and the calculated tolerance of antisemitism, demonstrating that the oldest hatred remains a modern political tool. Unlike antisemitic incidents of violence, vandalism, or insults, the political use of antisemitism does not target Jews themselves. Instead, antisemitic propaganda targets domestic or foreign audiences as a means of gaining political support. Demonstrating tolerance for antisemitism is another tactic of attracting political support. Polling data shows that these strategies have a rational basis. ADL’s 2019 Global 100 survey of antisemitic attitudes found that one in four Europeans polled harbored antisemitic beliefs. Antisemitic propaganda has as its goal to energize and attract followers. Antisemitic propaganda is also used to tarnish political opponents in the eyes of a specific audience by intimating that someone is Jewish, supportive of Jewish causes or of the State of Israel. Other times, political opponents are slandered as antisemites or Nazis to diminish their reputations with specific audiences. Each of these techniques will be covered in this report, which focuses on the conscious choice of instrumentalizing or tolerating antisemitism for political gain. Antisemitic rhetoric by political actors as an indicator of bias is a much broader topic, and this report does not cover those instances. The broad categories of the politicization of antisemitism include (1) politically motivated accusations of, or uses of, antisemitism against political opponents; (2) political appeals to antisemitic beliefs among the public, including the conspiracy theories about Jewish control of government, economy, media; and (3) tolerance of antisemitism within political movements as a strategy for increasing popular support. This list not exhaustive of the political instrumentalization of antisemitism, but this report provides illustrative examples from recent years in these broad categories. Why is this report important? While violent antisemitic attacks receive wide publicity – and rightly so – the politicization of antisemitism can also severely impact Jewish communities. The British Jewish community provides a compelling example. In January 2015, 11% of British Jews were considering emigrating, according to a poll by the UK’s Jewish Chronicle. That survey was conducted before Jeremy Corbyn, widely regarded within the British Jewish community as an antisemite himself, was even a leadership candidate for the Labour party. In September 2018, after antisemitism had become a serious problem in the Labour party under Corbyn, the Jewish Chronicle poll found that 39% of British Jews were considering emigrating. And in an October 2019 poll by the UK’s Jewish Leadership Council, just prior to the UK General Election, 47% of British Jews said they would “seriously consider” leaving the UK if Jeremy Corbyn were to win the election. Had Jeremy Corbyn won, leading a major party widely recognized as tolerating antisemitism among its members, and had even 30% of British Jews emigrated as a result of that single event, that number of roughly 90,000 Jews would have been similar to the total of all the French Jews who left France over the past 20 years. The sections below are select examples of the different ways in which antisemitism has been instrumentalized for political gain by various actors. The purposes and tactics vary substantially, but have the common element of politicizing antisemitism: The Russian government instrumentalized antisemitism in the forms of propaganda and “false flag” operations to influence domestic and foreign public opinion in its conflict with Ukraine. Polish political campaigns used overt antisemitic rhetoric during elections to win votes. The Hungarian government used coded antisemitism in political campaigns against EU migration policies. The UK Labour party consciously tolerated antisemitism to widen its political support from far-left radicals. Ukrainian nationalists glorified World War II era fighters to promote nationalist narratives, while trivializing their involvement in the Holocaust. The far-right Alternative for Germany party trivialized the Holocaust as part of their appeal to “Holocaust fatigue” among German voters. Other political actors have engaged in similar acts of politicization, and their absence from this report is not indicative of any assessment. The cases below are simply the most blatant examples of the types of politicization to be highlighted.