This lesson explores antisemitism among youth. It draws on recent research on antisemitism and focuses on two examples: a student who spoke up against antisemitism at the University of Birmingham (UK) and then was attacked online, as well as a young man in Sweden who is committed to standing up against antisemitism and xenophobia.
Antisemitism is an ancient hatred that has persisted for centuries. It is also a contemporary hatred and form of prejudice, and reported incidents of antisemitism are increasing. In its May 2016 report, the UK’s Community Service Trust “shows that last year saw the third-highest annual total of antisemitic hate incidents in the UK. CST recorded 924 antisemitic incidents nationwide during 2015.”1 And the organization reports that “the first six months of 2016 saw an 11 percent increase in antisemitic hate incidents recorded in the UK compared to the same period in 2015.”2
In France, according to Human Rights First, “antisemitic incidents are on the rise . . . yet underreported and inadequately researched. The number of reported antisemitic hate crimes more than doubled in 2014 from the previous year, and they account for a disproportionate number of all bias-motivated incidents.” Furthermore, the number of reported incidents represents just a fraction of all occurrences. According to data from a 2012 survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, “82 percent of respondents said that they did not report to anyone the most serious incident of antisemitic discrimination that they had experienced in the past 12 months.”3
In their report, Human Rights First and other individuals and organizations monitoring antisemitism in France have said that comparisons to the 1930s are not apt. European states, for example, are not actively supporting and implementing antisemitism:
Nonetheless, antisemitism is a grave threat to human rights, and its resurgence in France should be of great concern to the French government and its allies, including the United States.
Antisemitic violence harms not only its direct victims but entire Jewish communities, preventing them from being able to exercise their fundamental rights. And the potential damage is even greater: Left unchecked, antisemitism leads to the persecution of other minorities, and to an overall increase in repression and intolerance. An increase in antisemitism is a harbinger of societal breakdown.4
Izzy Lenga is a university student in England. Last year, she saw some posters on her campus that read “Hitler was right.” Izzy took a photograph of one of the posters and shared it on Twitter with the message, “And for those who don’t think anti-Semitism is a serious issue, these were plastered over campus on Tues.” Almost immediately, people responded to her tweet—with antisemitic comments and threats, including “Another oven magnet crying about a piece of paper again?” and “I bet you put this up yourself, you just want more victim points.” People also responded with both moral outrage and compassion. Izzy’s story was picked up by several journalists and policymakers as well as everyday people who used social media to express their support for Izzy.
Talking to reporters who covered the story, Izzy said that she was afraid for her safety. She also said that it was not the first time that she saw antisemitic or Islamophobic graffiti on campus, and she was worried that the hate-filled responses she got for speaking out would prevent other students from speaking out when they witnessed hatred and prejudice on campus. At the same time, she was encouraged by the support she received, and she believed that she needed to speak up and not be silenced.