It has long been noted that when the situation in a particular region grows tense, racism and xenophobia are bound to increase.
For example, the coronavirus pandemic that gripped the world last year gave rise to a host of conspiracy theories, some of which brought to the surface issues of anti-Semitism and Sinophobia. The number of anti-Semitic crimes in New York City has reached an all-time high, according to German media. Young Americans increasingly deny the Holocaust and demonize the Jewish community. Hate grows primarily on social media, where conspiracy theories about Jewish and Israeli involvement in the coronavirus are widespread. In 2020, there were 336 incidents in New York City alone: swastika graffiti, anti-Israel slogans on house walls, and vandal attacks on synagogues.
Back in February 2020, Iraqi political scientist Mohammad Sadeq al-Hashemi, speaking on Al Ayam TV, stated that the coronavirus was allegedly created by “Americans and Jews” in order to reduce the world’s population. He also believes that the Jews have a “monopoly on laboratories developing biological and nuclear weapons.” This same theory was quickly picked up by an expert on the Turkish ATV channel, who stated even then that a cure for the coronavirus would be developed by the creators of the virus, noting that “Israel has already found a vaccine.”
In addition to anti-Semitism, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised a wave of racism and attacks against Asians. On several occasions, state leaders or high-ranking officials have directly or indirectly incited hate crimes, racism and xenophobia through their anti-Chinese rhetoric. The New York City Police Department has created a special hate crime prevention unit. According to Deborah Lauter, a staff member of the unit, hate crimes against Asian Americans alone now outnumber anti-Semitic incidents.
As noted by the media in various countries, some political parties and groups, including those in the US, UK, Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Germany, have taken advantage of the pandemic to promote various anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic agendas and conspiracy theories, demonizing refugees and foreigners. UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering,” calling on states to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”
The increase in racially motivated crimes is worrisome everywhere. In February 2020, the International Religious Freedom Alliance was created in the US, whose first report described the rise of anti-Semitism based on Nazi and Islamist ideologies.
There has been a noticeable surge of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic sentiment in recent weeks in many countries due to the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, whose death toll continues to rise steadily. Israel faced the threat of civil war between the Jewish and Arab populations. Against this background, Turkey and Iran mobilized the Islamic world against Israel.
Pro-Palestinian groups in Germany have called for demonstrations in the metropolitan areas of Neukeln and Kreuzberg, which the Central Committee of Jews in Germany has already called “pure anti-Semitism.” Last week in the German city of Gelsenkirchen, a group of people with Palestinian, Turkish and Algerian flags loudly chanted anti-Jewish slogans, Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues in Bonn and Münster, one of these buildings was stoned by protesters. In response, the police detained about a dozen people. “Anyone who attacks a synagogue or desecrates Jewish symbols shows that for them it is not criticism of the state or government policies, but aggression and hatred toward religion and the people who belong to it,” said Steffen Seibert, a German government spokesman, in a statement released May 14.
Commenting on the massive anti-Jewish outbursts in Germany due to the armed escalation in the Middle East, Michael Paulwitz, a columnist for the German newspaper Junge Freiheit, stressed that anti-Semitism in Germany has not disappeared in more than 80 years. “The Islamic anti-Semitism that rages in the streets is a mirror that no one wants to look into. This problem has been imported, and now it has reached enormous proportions,” says Paulwitz. In his view, Islamic anti-Semitism, which has spread in a “multicultural wonderland,” will not go away or become less violent.
Having shifted the blame for the escalation of the conflict in the Middle East on the Palestinian radical movement Hamas, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on Germans not to blame Jews living in Germany for the events in the Middle East. “We must all make it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to blame the events in the Middle East on the residents of Germany of the Jewish faith – whether on the street or on social media. There should be zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country. And as sad as it is that this is still necessary – the state must unconditionally guarantee the safety of synagogues,” said the German minister.
We have all seen the spiral of today’s conflict unfold. But it wasn’t yesterday that it started; the situation is slowly but surely moving toward full-scale war. So only common sense can stop the conflict, only the realization, first of all by Israel — as the most powerful player — that the Palestinians have nowhere to go, they are in their own land and nowhere to go. The US and individual politicians in the West can intercede for Israel by claiming, like US Presidential National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan or German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, that Israel has the right to defend itself. But we must not forget that the Palestinians will still remain in these territories and complain, because their lot there is not an enviable one: they are assigned an extremely squalid, semi-legal, disenfranchised place.
Therefore, along with a rapid resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is necessary to stem the tide of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that has arisen in many countries. So that not only in the Middle East, but everywhere else as well, normal conditions of coexistence are ensured for all members of the turbulent Middle East region.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.