Antisemitism of all sorts, Bibi, Ben-Gvir, Zelenskyy and, of course, Trump, owned the headlines in a year full of surprising twists and some names that just don’t go away.
ByJonathan S.Tobin, JNS
It’s been a difficult decade. 2020 was the year of coronavirus-pandemic panic and the general collapse of established norms. This was compounded by the Black Lives Matter riots that set off a moral panic about race, with the mainstreaming of fringe ideas and intersectionality.
2021 was a little better, as the world gradually shook off its COVID paranoia. But it was notable mainly for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that has roiled American politics ever since, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and the creation of an Israeli government that combined members of the right, the left and even Islamist parliamentarians.
2022 has been something of a challenge, with war and antisemitism dominating Jewish news just as much, if not more, than in the previous two years. As it comes to an end, here’s a look back at the year with my list—in reverse order—of the top 10 stories and how they’ve shaped the Jewish world.
10-The U.N.’s and ‘human rights’ groups’ war on Israel escalates
The report of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, published in June, was a textbook case of antisemitic incitement. In its view, there is no Palestinian incitement, no Palestinian terrorism, no Palestinian rejection of peace. Led by open antisemites like Navi Pillay, the document denied Jewish history and the truth about the century-old war that Palestinian Arabs and their enablers have been waging on Zionism.
Like the rest of the hatred directed at Israel from the world body and so-called “human rights” NGOs, this campaign is often downplayed or ignored by the Jewish world. That’s a mistake, since efforts such as those apparent in the COI report serve as the foundation for the ongoing “lawfare” endeavor to isolate and turn Israel into a pariah state. Far from being insignificant enough to warrant a lack of attention, these undertakings legitimize antisemitism throughout the world and undermine otherwise successful normalization moves between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.
9-Normalization with the Arab world continues
The second year since the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which led to the normalization of relations between Israel and four Arab and Muslim countries, saw those ties strengthened, with tourism and economic activity continuing to expand in 2022. But, while progress towards full acceptance is slow, the steady rise in trade and the growing signs of security cooperation testify to the Arab world’s belief that it can no longer be held hostage by Palestinian intransigence.
These positive trends might have been even stronger by now, had the administration in Washington prioritized the quest to build on its predecessor’s achievement and expand the circle of peace, especially with Saudi Arabia. But President Joe Biden has botched relations with Riyadh. And though he doesn’t oppose the accords brokered by former President Donald Trump, his foreign-policy team is still more interested in appeasing Iran and the Palestinian Authority.
8-Increase in Palestinian terrorism
Terrorism against Jews and Israelis increased in 2022 to levels beyond those seen in recent years. There were 23 fatalities, along with many more wounded, in hundreds of major attacks. “Minor” ones, involving rocks and Molotov cocktails, were so rampant that they often went unreported. Most of the assaults were on residents of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, but some took place in Tel Aviv, Beersheva and Bnei Brak. All contributed to a general sense of insecurity and a perception that the ruling coalition, led first by Naftali Bennett and then Yair Lapid, was losing control of the situation.
7-Social-media censorship divides Americans and the Jews
The sale of Twitter to billionaire Elon Musk created a furor, because of his decision to end the platform’s censoring of conservatives in general and opponents of Biden-administration policies in particular. Within months of the purchase, he opened the site’s archives, which revealed the details of how it sought to impact the 2020 election—through the elimination of stories exposing Biden family corruption and the barring and shadow-banning of right-wing users.
Views of this scandal were predictably divided along partisan lines. But the willingness of Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League to criticize Musk and advocate for additional censorship—ostensibly in order to silence violent antisemites—illustrated the way liberal groups that talk a lot about protecting democracy are actually out to muzzle political opponents.
Meanwhile, ADL’s efforts to advise other, even larger, platforms on methods of censorship and demonetization of those it labels “extremists,” demonstrated that the threat to free speech from Big Tech and its political allies is bigger than the debate about Musk.
6-What to do about Trump?
Former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles and political misadventures dominated the news throughout 2022. The House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 Committee’s investigation turned into a partisan show trial. The probe into whether he retained some classified documents and kept them at his Florida home also made headlines. And he was blamed by Republicans for the disappointing results for the GOP in the midterm elections, due to his dubious candidate endorsements.
Then there was his launch of a 2024 presidential bid, which was hampered by his bizarre decision to hold a public dinner meeting at his Mar-a-Lago resort with antisemitic rap artist Kanye West and a group of far-right Holocaust-deniers. His characteristic refusal to apologize, or distance himself from his guests, put his Jewish supporters in an impossible position. Many condemned him for the incident. Others stood by him, citing his record as the most pro-Israel American president in U.S. history. A growing consensus that he was entitled to gratitude for past acts but not future support did little to quell the controversy.
5-Kanye West and African-American Jew-hatred
Rap artist and fashion mogul Kanye West earned notoriety with a barrage of antisemitic statements in various venues and for scoring a dinner invitation from Trump. But the condemnations against him obscured the fact that the Jew-hatred he exhibited is becoming mainstream in the African-American community. Some, like comedian Dave Chappelle, mocked the idea that Jewish problems were the fault of blacks. But this cynical attitude obfuscated the epidemic of assaults by blacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City, which grew exponentially in 2022. It was caused in no small part by the acceptance of hatemonger Louis Farrakhan by many African-American celebrities, in the way that Black Lives Matter movement support for intersectional ideology and critical race theory granted a permission slip for antisemitism. In other words, though West remained the focus of the controversy, the problem extends well beyond his ramblings.
4-Iran protests and nuclear stalemate
The outbreak in September of a wave of protests against the Islamist government in Tehran by women and others who were sick of the mullahs’ despotic rule raised the possibility that the regime was in trouble. If so, that’s good news for the people of Iran, though the killing of demonstrators continued as the ayatollahs and their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces clung to power. The West’s sometimes halfhearted support for the protestors was rooted in the Biden administration’s two-year quest to revive the dangerous nuclear deal.
While Tehran showed little interest in this proposed rapprochement, the West was buoyed by Biden’s desire to resume the sale of Iranian oil, to offset the supply-chain problems caused by sanctions on Russia after the start of the war in Ukraine. By year’s end, Biden had acknowledged that the nuclear talks were stalemated and that strengthening Iran’s government against the protestors was indefensible. Yet it remained to be seen whether the United States was serious about helping the them or prepared to give up a policy that downgraded ties with Israel and the Gulf states.
3-War in Ukraine
In February, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine shook the world and inspired a wave of sympathy for the victims. The Ukrainians’ surprisingly effective self-defense created a situation in which neither side appeared to be in a position to completely defeat the other. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emerged as a heroic leader, and the disdain for authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin was part of the reason that the U.S. and its NATO allies intervened.
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, campaigned hard for Israel also to join in the war. But Jerusalem’s strategic interests in maintaining relations with Moscow—due to the latter’s presence in Syria, and to the potential danger to Jews living in Russia—made this a point of contention. In a virtual speech to the Knesset, Zelenskyy engaged in Holocaust denial about Ukrainian complicity in the murder of Jews. That, however, didn’t stop most Americans and Israelis from embracing him and the myth that his government is an avatar of Western democracy.
2-Netanyahu’s comeback and the rise of the Israeli right
In November, Israel’s five elections in less than three years finally produced a clear result, ending a stalemate that began in the spring of 2019. In the four previous rounds, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party had been unable to form a government. This was due to the defection of some on the right whose disdain for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister caused them to bolt. But the failures of the multi-party coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, and the growing strength of Netanyahu’s right-wing/religious allies finally enabled him to forge a stable majority government before the end of the year.
The star and anti-hero of the election season and new government was Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir. Netanyahu’s detractors in Israel and abroad did their best to demonize Ben-Gvir for his former support for the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. But his popularity was undeniable. His ability to garner so many votes stemmed from his unapologetic defense of Jewish rights and vow to combat both crime and terrorism with tough measures. While his coalition was labeled by rivals far and wide as “extremist,” Netanyahu appeared to be on track to adopt or resume policies that a majority of Israelis want implemented.
1-Rising antisemitism and the failure of American-Jewish leadership
In 2022, by every measure, antisemitism was on the rise in the U.S. and around the world. Though there had been no more mass shootings like that in Pittsburgh in 2018, Jew-hatred continued to bubble up on the far-right with figures such as Kanye West associate and Trump dining companion Nick Fuentes. But it was also surging on the left, with a swell of support for the radical wing of the Democratic Party in Congress and their intersectional counterparts on campuses—home of such incidents as the “Jew-free zones” demanded by students at the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law. Equally troubling was the strength of Muslim antisemitism, illustrated by the hostage-taking at a Colleyville, Texas synagogue in January, and the rise in hate crimes committed by African-Americans directed at Jews in New York City.
Yet, rather than rallying the community and non-Jewish allies to stand against all forms of antisemitism, mainstream liberal groups like the ADL, were focused primarily on targeting conservatives and downplaying Jew-hatred from the left, Muslims or blacks. In 2022, American-Jewish leaders showed that they were more interested in Democratic Party talking points about democracy and misinformation—as well as on issues such as abortion and climate change—than in defending the people they purport to represent.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.