On a quiet Sunday afternoon in Puerto Vallarta, a family was on their way home from the store. The father was at the front gate with his arms full of groceries, and his wife was across the alley with their two young kids in tow. An American man in his 20s approached her.
“Dirty Jew,” he said.
She froze, then reached for her phone to record the incident. As she fumbled with the phone, the man advanced on her and said it again.
The mother decided to retreat, and the man walked on.
The family, easily identifiable as Jewish by their traditional dress, has been living in Puerto Vallarta for the last three years.
“It seemed so out of place, because we’ve had nothing but respect here,” says the mother, who asked not to be named in this article.
However, many Jews around the world who have not suffered anti-Semitism in the past are suddenly finding themselves subject to attack. Anti-Semitism is rising globally, including in Mexico.
Worldwide, 2018 was the most lethal year for Jews in a quarter-century. The United States witnessed the worst massacre of Jews in American history in Pittsburgh. New York City reports an 82% surge in anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2019 while anti-Semitic incidents account for 72% of religious hate crimes in Los Angeles.
Last year was the third consecutive record-setting year for anti-Semitism in Canada: British Columbia saw an increase of 129% in anti-Semitic incidents between 2017 and 2018, while the Prairies showed a 143% increase. Germany witnessed a 60% rise in violent attacks against Jews in 2018. In France anti-Semitic incidents jumped 74% in 2018.
In Mexico, anti-Semitic attitudes rose 11 percentage points from 2014 to 2017, according to an Anti-Defamation League report published in 2017, the most recent data available. That means that while just 50,000 Jews live in Mexico, 31,000,000 Mexicans hold antisemitic beliefs.
Fifty-six per cent of Mexicans believe “Jews have too much power in the business world,” 49% believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than Mexico and 27% think the Holocaust was a “myth” or “exaggerated by history.”
At least in 2017, the increase in anti-Jewish prejudice was not accompanied by a rise in physical attacks on Jews.
“In our day-to-day life we feel very safe,” says Rabbi Shneur Hecht, who leads Puerto Vallarta’s only synagogue, Chabad Puerto Vallarta. “But because the way things are in the world today, we need to take precautions.”
Like Jews elsewhere, the Jewish community in Puerto Vallarta has recently increased security. Just a couple of years ago, like most houses of worship, Chabad Puerto Vallarta left its doors open to the public.
Now the doors are locked. The congregation was rearranged so that the women are now seated away from the entrance. Security guards are hired for all major events, including weekly shabbat services.
As the threat to Jews mounts, many people still don’t understand what anti-Semitism is. Simply stated, anti-Semitism is a hostility to Jews. Also known as “the oldest hatred,” anti-Semitism has taken many forms throughout history, and its manifestations are often contradictory. Jews have been hated for being communists and capitalists. Jews have been hated for their religion and for being godless cosmopolitans.
Anti-Semitism comes from both the political left, such as today’s Labour Party in the United Kingdom, and the right, such as the National Rally party in France led by Marie Le Pen. The unifying theme is that Jews are the enemy of a good society.
Today, anti-Semitism most often takes the form of hating Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. The 2018 Global Anti-Semitism Report found most anti-Semitic attacks were related to Israel, stating “70% of anti-Jewish attacks were anti-Israel in nature.”
Smaller than Vermont and home to half of the world’s Jewry, Israel is routinely and falsely accused of the worst crimes in modern society — apartheid, colonialism, white supremacy and genocide.
There are fewer than 15 million Jews in the world today. They make up 2% of the U.S. population, a little over 1% of the Canadian population and less 0.03% of the Mexican population. When it is understood that the massacres, grave desecrations, boycotts, attacks, hate speeches and bullying taking place all over the world are being perpetrated all at once against such a small community, the scale of the menace reveals itself.
What can we do to prevent more anti-Jewish hate crimes from happening?
First and foremost, we must listen when Jews express concerns — including when the topic is Israel. Equally crucial is to speak out whenever we hear anti-Jewish rhetoric, whether Jews are present or not. We must be clear that in our communities, anti-Jewish hatred is not tolerated. Finally, we need to learn about the history of anti-Semitism in order to adequately address it.
For his part, Rabbi Hecht is undeterred in his mission to lead his community. “We’re going to continue doing everything that we are doing, no matter what happens,” he says. “The darkness only makes us want to create more light.”
The writer lives in Puerto Vallarta.