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Jewish Agency Chair Isaac Herzog Discusses the Rise of Global Anti-Semitism

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December 17, 2019
TEL-AVIV, ISRAEL – MARCH 17: Chairman of the Zionist Union party and leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, seen casting his vote on elections day for the 20th Knesset on March 17, 2015 in Tel-aviv, Israel. Herzog stands as the only rival to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

FLORIDA  – Jewish Agency Chairman and former Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog sat down with the Journal during the Israeli-American Council’s National Summit on Dec. 8 in Florida to discuss the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide and how to combat.

Highlighting the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in Oct. 2018 and the Chabad of Poway attack in April Herzog said this has been the worst period of worldwide anti-Semitism since the 1930s.

“For the first time in American history Jews were murdered in synagogues, in prayer, in the last year, which means [there’s] clear evidence to the fact that there’s hate against Jews from the extreme fascist, white supremacist side of the map,” Herzog said.

He attributed the global rise in anti-Semitism to the world slowly forgetting the horrors of the Holocaust and fomenting anger over globalization.“[People are] looking for scapegoats and the first ones to blame are a small nation of 14.5 million Jews in a sea of 7.5 billion human beings,” he said.

On the issue of far-right anti-Semitism Herzog said if it were up to him he would ban all social media platforms that allow anti-Semitic propaganda to be disseminated on their websites.

“The world of social networks creates a common ground for cooperation between haters,” he said. “Anti-Semites, they were always all over the place, but they were not together on the same platform. This is the big danger. This is the big risk.”

However, he acknowledged that the First Amendment prevents such platforms from being outlawed in the United States. “Each country has to deal with its own legal and constitutional prerequisites,” he said.

Regarding anti-Semitism on the far-left, Herzog said it manifests itself as illegitimate criticism of Israel. He pointed to the French National Assembly’s passage of a resolution on Dec. 3 adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as the standard for determining when criticism of Israel turns into anti-Semitism.

“Delegitimizing the right of the state of Israel to exist is anti-Semitic because it takes away from the Jewish people the right for self-determination.You can argue with Israel. Believe me, there is a lot of things to argue, like you argue in the United States, but you don’t delegitimize the right of we the people in declaring independence of the United States to self-determination.”

Herzog also spoke about attacks on Israel on American college campuses, saying, “I can tell you the reports from campuses about Jews being called ‘kapos,’ about intersectionality and where people who love Israel and respect Israel and the right of Jews for self-determination are kicked out of fraternities, in my mind totally illegally,” he said, adding, “I think there is an unfair judgment on some quarters on the left side of spectrum in rushing to judge Israel without understanding the enormous challenges [the country faces].”

He also argued that while he is an advocate of a two-state solution, “One cannot ignore the enormous contribution of the Palestinian side to the failure of this process, including in their vast political system their lack of clear recognition for a state of the Jewish people to exist.”

The Jewish Agency chair also said he was perturbed at the stark differences in perception of the Israel-Palestinian conflict between his son, a progressive who serves in the Israeli army, and his best friend’s son, who is currently in a U.S. college. The way to address such a divide, he argued, is through dialogue and understanding.

On anti-Semitism in Europe, Herzog praised the French and German governments for their efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Prior to the United Kingdom’s Dec. 12 election, where Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was defeated, Herzog said he was concerned about a Dec. 8 Sunday Times report detailing anti-Semitism in the party.

“[The report] shows horrific [phenomena] of statements of people about exterminating all the Jews, [calling Jews] hooked-nose manipulators… and they’re not even kicked out of the party, or it takes months to kick them out of the party,” Herzog said. He also said that a couple of months earlier, he wrote a letter to Corbyn asking him “to explain what anti-Semitism and what Judaism is and I never got a response.”

He also said ahead of the election Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent him a two-page letter on Nov. 17 detailing his plans to fight anti-Semitism in Britain. Herzog called Johnson’s letter “a worthy step on his part.”

Herzog encouraged members of the Jewish community around the globe to be unified in their fight against anti-Semitism.

“You have to understand that the strength of Jews to survive and sustain all setbacks is by their collective power,” he said. “And I know that some people say, ‘What do I need it for? What do I need the [Jewish Federations] for? What do I need the congregation for?’ It’s a must. It’s a call of duty for all Jews. Get together. Be together. Stop being indifferent, because these are days of challenges.”

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