jewish cemetary vandalized Mark Makela/Getty Images

Confronting a New Era of Anti-Semitism

In recent years, there has been a worrying upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents, including threats to, or actual attacks on, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, and the desecration of graves in US cities. But even in these troubled times, rays of hope can be found in unexpected places – like Germany and Russia.

LONDON – Ambassador Ronald Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, had much on his mind when we met in London on a rainy day in early March. The tall, distinguished 73-year-old art collector, homme d’affaires, and philanthropist was clear-minded about a number of issues, even on five hours of sleep.

At the top of his list of concerns is a worrying upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents, not least in his native United States. These include threats to, or actual attacks on, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, and the desecration of graves in St. Louis, Missouri, and other cities. “Even in the US, the country with the strongest Jewish community in the diaspora,” Lauder laments, “anti-Semitism is alive and kicking.”

Anti-Semitism comes in waves, and each historical epoch provides its motives. Christian anti-Semitism blamed Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. This anti-Semitism, which systematically marginalized Jews in the medieval and early modern periods, was supplanted by a pseudo-scientific race-based discourse that culminated in Auschwitz. When the sheer enormity of the Jewish Holocaust was revealed, these ideas slithered back into the shadowy world of the extreme right. But the anti-Semitism rearing its head again in Europe now sometimes comes from the far left as well.

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