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March 31, 2023

Why UHNWs need to beware of rising antisemitism

By Robert Amsterdam

Robert Amsterdam explains why the rise of antisemitism around the world spells danger for UHNWs

Though I am quite wary of dating myself, for many among my generation the 1979 release of the Pink Floyd album The Wall was a cultural touchstone. It was a subversive concept album, rock opera and experimental film which spoke to millions of youth across the world, earning bans in numerous countries. We all would remember the band later performing a historic concert in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in 1990, shortly after reunification. It was a moment of healing, optimism and a step into the future.

That’s why it was such a crushing disappointment to read the news earlier this year that the city council of Frankfurt was forced to cancel a concert by Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, referring to him as ‘one of the world’s most well-known antisemites’.

Mr Waters is hardly unique – I’ve lost count of the number of ageing celebrities who have gone off the rails with racist and extremist views. But the incident highlights the broader issue of rising antisemitism across the world, and why we should be more concerned than ever about it.

Antisemitism: a concerning resurgence

Around the same time as the Frankfurt incident, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in the United States declared a ‘National Day of Hate’, seeking to mobilise antisemitic activities. Although the day came and went without the explosion of violence organisers had hoped for, it was a clear demonstration of the expanding reach and tolerance of this poisonous ideology, as hate groups evidently feel more and more comfortable to go mainstream.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany / Shutterstock

While much of the focus of rising antisemitism is placed on the US, it would be a mistake to think it isn’t also happening in Europe, Africa and Asia. So why now? What is it about our current cultural and political moment which has brought these ugly tropes back into vogue?

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this with Dan Stone, an author and professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the director of its Holocaust Research Institute. He argues that holocaust memory has become incredibly contested and confusing due to histories being rewritten. Perpetrators are becoming victims and victims are becoming perpetrators, as it suits the purposes of nationalist-minded movements.

Creeping fascism

He points to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when anti fascist social democracy faded as the predominant postwar organising force, as Reaganism, Thatcherism and its neoliberal imitators took root. This changing of the ideological guard opened people up to all sorts of buried ideas and narratives that had previously been relegated to the lunatic fringe. They started to creep into the mainstream again. 

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People marching from Manhattan to Brooklyn against the rise in antisemitism in New York in January 2020 / Shutterstock

‘So by the 1980s, the European economies and political scenes are being reshaped quite substantially,’ Stone argued in the podcast interview. Italy was but one major example of the postwar anti-fascist consensus falling apart, with coded racial hatred again being incorporated and normalised.

Antisemitism has this unfortunate enduring capacity to continue returning again and again because it appeals to an emotional energy which has nothing to do with rational debate or logic. (Jews are simultaneously derided by these groups as both speculators and communists!) It’s a fear response – the search for some sort of overarching absolute to make sense of a chaotic world.

UHNWs should beware of rising antisemitism

These trends paint an ominous picture for the HNW community. By nature many UHNWs fit the profile of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’, residing in countries they were not born in, often with privileges and talents resented by nationalists.

What we have seen in London, for example, with the ‘othering’ of Russian émigrés, no matter what their personal political views may be, is a horrifying reminder that the attitudes adjacent to antisemitism involve a blurring of the lines, the legalisation of discrimination against innocent individuals based solely on identity.

We are seeing that same process also being applied to the Chinese, much as we’ve seen it happen repeatedly to prominent families originating from the Middle East and Africa.

Many people unfortunately assume that rising antisemitism may be ugly but, perhaps subconsciously, find comfort in the knowledge that they won’t be affected if they are not Jewish.

But what this underscores is a growing acceptance of breaches of rule of law when it comes to the ‘other’. It highlights the tolerance of discretionary enforcement and exercise of state power against some but not others, in a country previously thought to be safe from such authoritarian abuses.

This affects all of us, and it must not be tolerated. If we think ‘it can’t happen here’ or ‘it can’t happen again’, we need to take a moment and look back at how it all began. The parallels with today’s atmosphere, I think you would agree, are quite unsettling.

Robert Amsterdam is the founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP. The podcast Departures with Robert Amsterdam is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and elsewhere.

Images / Shutterstock

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