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Casey Babb is an international fellow with the Glazer Israel-China Policy Center at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, England.

Since the heinous terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, and Israel’s subsequent operations in Gaza, there has been a surge in antisemitic incidents worldwide. From a foiled plot to attack Jewish sites throughout Europe, to gunshots outside an Albany synagogue on Hanukkah, to the news of a minor being charged with terrorism-related offences after planning to attack Ottawa’s Jewish community, antisemitism has once again reared its ugly head – this time with a vengeance. Yet, despite these episodes, the fact the Holocaust only ended 78 years ago and that the deadliest day for Jews since that time happened just over two months ago, hatred of Jews, Judaism, and Israel remains woefully misunderstood and its implications dangerously underappreciated. Indeed, antisemitism as a guiding ideology and world view has been a precursor or antecedent to large-scale terrorist attacks, war, and even genocide. So, why is it then that antisemitism isn’t treated as a significant threat to national security that can and often does lead to deadly outcomes?

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, hatred of Jewish people and Judaism comes in many forms, making it hard to define and understand. It is a malleable form of hatred and scapegoating that unites jihadis with white supremacists, and the far-left with the far-right. Sometimes it is framed along ethnic or religious lines, other times it is conspiratorial in nature, and for the past several decades it has emerged most commonly as anti-Zionism. This ambiguity is in large part what makes addressing and combatting antisemitism so challenging – people don’t understand it. On one hand it seems like it’s everywhere, but for the more than 99 per cent of the world’s population who aren’t Jewish, it’s also nowhere at the same time. It’s a complex and insidious way of thinking that can’t be contained or neatly unpacked. As the late Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once remarked, antisemitism is an “irrational disease” that has eluded a “cure” for centuries. Still, just because antisemitism is an obscure and esoteric concept, doesn’t mean we can or should avoid taking action. In fact, paradoxically, it is the flexibility of antisemitism which makes it so dangerous – just look at the characters and events it has influenced.

From the camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz, to al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11th, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Paris attacks in 2015, the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018, antisemitic thinking has consistently been at the heart of abhorrent acts of evil and extremist movements of multiple persuasions. A 2020 report by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University found, “antisemitism is foundational to multiple violent extremist movements” and that “ … extremist movements that have been among the most violent – specifically, far-right and jihadist groups – have used antisemitism to target Jewish people, Jewish houses of worship, Jewish community institutions, and Americans supporting the Jewish state of Israel.” Moreover, many experts have noted that unlike other forms of discrimination, antisemitism has proven dangerous when it comes to misinformation and disinformation, the shaping of public opinion, and the erosion of democracy. As expert on hate violence and authoritarian movements Eric Ward once remarked, “[Antisemitism] distorts our understanding of how the actual world works. It isolates us. It kills, but it also kills our society.”

It is therefore quite puzzling that antisemitism isn’t centre stage when it comes to discussions about counterterrorism, combatting disinformation, and more broadly, national security. As someone who has worked both within academia and the security community, I can tell you that most university courses on these topics barely address antisemitism, and that policy makers throughout national security circles give little thought to it. Then there are the politicians who typically call-out antisemitism when it’s convenient – only after entire communities and their constituents sound the alarm. This lackadaisical approach needs to change. If it doesn’t, we should buckle up and prepare for more violence, more terror, and a weakened sense of who we really are.

From white supremacist groups to Islamic terrorists, lone-actors armed with guns, to nation states with ballistic missiles, hatred of Jews and Israel is a force that binds the worst of those among us. It can be found in the halls, classrooms, and student groups of the world’s top universities in the same way it can be found in the tunnels of Gaza. Yet, as it stands, antisemitism is treated merely as a peripheral social issue – a nuisance few care to understand let alone combat.

For those charged with teaching our children and keeping us safe – please wake up. Jews all over the world know where antisemitism leads. Do you?

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