Anti-Semitism on the rise in the West, Israeli President warns

Isaac Herzog urges leaders of Europe to fight it at all costs as the picture is "deeply disturbing"

President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog addresses the European Parliament on Thursday. AFP
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Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the “heartlands of the free, democratic West", Israeli President Isaac Herzog has warned.

Mr Herzog urged leaders of Europe to ensure Jews could live safely on the continent where the Holocaust occurred.

Speaking on the eve of the annual commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, he said the picture was “deeply disturbing”.

“You must read the warning signs, detect the symptoms of the pandemic of anti-Semitism and fight it at all costs,” Mr Herzog told the European Parliament.

“Unfortunately, the picture is disturbing. Deeply disturbing. Anti-Semitic discourse festers not only within dark regimes, but within the heartlands of the free, democratic West.”

Anti-Semitism gained traction during lockdowns as the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated hatred online, he said, adding anti-Semitism was spreading “at record pace, at the click of a button".

“The distance between a viral video and a physical attack hardly exists at all,” Mr Herzog said.

“The distance between a Facebook post and the smashing of headstones in a cemetery is shorter than we would think. Deranged tweets can kill. They can actually kill."

In Germany, a group tracking anti-Semitism said it documented more than 2,700 incidents in the country in 2021, including 63 attacks and six cases of extreme violence.

Europe’s Fundamental Rights Agency said nine out of 10 Jews think anti-Semitism has increased in their country.

Incidents of bias and hate speech have also been rising in the US.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of the death camps, where Nazi Germany carried out its Final Solution seeking to murder the Jewish people of Europe.

Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews, but also Poles, Roma and others.

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2005 establishing International Holocaust Remembrance Day as an annual commemoration.

Auschwitz — in pictures

About six million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. About 1.5 million were children.

As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, Mr Herzog said his country is open to criticism but casting doubt about Israel’s right to exist equates to anti-Semitism.

“Casting doubt on the nation state of the Jewish people's right to exist is not legitimate diplomacy. It is anti-Semitism in the full sense of the word and it must be thoroughly uprooted,” said Mr Herzog.

“The rule is simple: Criticism of us must pass the basic test of fairness and integrity, and it must not cross the line into dehumanisation or delegitimisation.”

He also lashed out at Iran as Tehran continued its brutal crackdown over widespread protests led by young Iranians.

Mr Herzog called for the international community to fight against “the forces of darkness and hatred that threaten to destroy us".

“I speak first and foremost of the Iranian regime, which not only publicly calls for the complete annihilation of my country but is also murdering its own countrymen and women, who are demanding liberty and human and civil rights, stoking civil wars throughout the Middle East, playing an active and lethal role in the war in Ukraine, and developing weapons of mass destruction on the way to dramatically threatening the stability of the entire globe,” he said.

The president also urged the Nato military alliance to toughen its approach to Iran, as Tehran supplies drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine.

"The crisis there goes beyond the boundaries of Ukraine, with the Iranian threat now at Europe's doorstep.

"The illusion of distance can no longer hold. Nato must take the strongest possible stance against the Iranian regime, including through economic, legal and political sanctions and credible military deterrence."

The EU this week imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organisations suspected of taking part in the security crackdown on protesters.

The 27-nation bloc has also imposed punitive measures on Iranian people linked to supplying Russia with explosive drones to use in its war against Ukraine.

The head of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, speaking alongside Mr Herzog after his speech, said that "all Jews and Jewish communities should feel safe in Europe."

"We condemn anti-Semitism and we fight it with all possible means," Ms Metsola said.

Updated: January 26, 2023, 10:48 PM

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