Graffiti reveals the hidden depths of antisemitism in Ireland

The prevalence of antisemitic tropes in Irish society and how to combat them

Just where a pedestrian pathway along the canal begins, off Baggot Street Bridge, you will find two electricity boxes. Graffitied on them are some large duck heads, and a smiling bee with the words “Bee Strong”, printed beneath. Electricity boxes, the stone walls and the trees along the canal are all magnets for graffiti, from anything to “E hearts F forever,” to some unidentifiable scrawl in the typical graffiti font. Graffiti can be beautiful, can be scathing, politically bold, or just complete nonsense, but tucked in by the corner of Baggot Street Bridge, we wonder: can graffiti be dangerous? If you were to look closer at the ducks on the electricity box, you will see the words “The Kalergi Plan”, stamped in red ink, littered across the ducks’ unblinking stare.

The Kalergi Plan is a far-right, antisemitic, ultra-nationalist conspiracy theory. It is an increasingly popular conspiracy theory amongst white supremacists and white nationalists, that claims the Jews are orchestrating waves of immigration into Western countries in order to wipe out “white” culture and dominate Western society.

Conspiracy theories are often used by extremists as a tool to legitimise baseless prejudice and overt racism. Racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories are fabricated beliefs that are built on racial stereotypes and offensive narratives. They serve to provide evidence for their racist beliefs and incite dangerous hate speech. With the internet, the spread of conspiratorial thinking has become more widespread than ever and an effective tool of right-wing, white, ultra-nationalist groups to circulate their harmful views. So, how dangerous are the spread of antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories in our society? And, is simply painting over the red-ink stamps by Baggot Street Bridge enough, or is this a more deep-rooted issue that requires urgent action?

 “…you must confront conspiracy theories head on when you are challenged by them. Hitler and his ilk were regarded as the lunatic fringe by most, even after he came to power.”

On 11 August 2017, white supremacists led a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. White supremacy is the belief that the “white race” is ultimately superior to any other race, and should be dominant over them. Throughout the rally, the group Unite the Right chanted their slogan: “The Jews will not replace us.” These people’s hatred is fuelled by the threat of being replaced by the waves of immigrants arriving in the US. They believe that immigrant culture is inherently inferior and incompatible with “white” culture. They don’t only want to express that immigrants are not welcome, and that they do not belong, but that their inclusion in Western society is dangerous. According to the extreme trends of today’s antisemitic conspiratorial thinking, these immigrants are a pawn in a Jewish plot to infiltrate and eradicate “white” culture.

In times of turmoil, antisemitism becomes a depressingly predictable feature of Western society. When in need of a scape-goat and a group to blame for society’s ailments, we see this kind of conspiratorial thinking reemerging and the violence that it incites. Antisemitism is a unique form of racism. Jewish people have historically been fabricated as a villain, as a manipulative and powerful elite. Conspiracy theories about the Jews have been prevalent in Western society for centuries, whereby Jews are depicted as a danger and an enemy, plotting world domination by nefarious and wily means. Jews have historically been pinned as the scape-goat, from the “Christ-killer”, to creating the Black Death. This kind of antisemitic trope has persisted until today and lays the ideological foundations of the Kalergi Plan.

Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi was a 19th century Austrian-German politician and philosopher. He was a pioneer of European integration and federalisation. Founding the Pan-European Union, the first presentation of the idea of a unified European entity, he is claimed to have laid the ideological framework for the European Union of today. The Kalergi Plan is an increasingly popular strain of white supremacist conspiracy thinking, claiming that Coudenhove-Kalergi had devised a long-term scheme to undermine the white race by encouraging immigration into Europe. The spread of immigrant population would create a country devoid of identity, who would supposedly be easily ruled by Jewish elites. The modern manifestation of this theory claims that the European Union’s immigration policies are an insidious plot, orchestrated by Jews, to wipe out “white” culture.

Jacob Woolf is a third year Economics and Philosophy student in Trinity, and the Chair of TCD Jewish Society. It was after the Christchurch attacks, where fifty-one people were killed in attacks on three mosques, that Woolf became inspired to write on the subject of far right-wing conspiratorial thinking. Many publications wrote on the topic of the right-wing conspiratorial theories that fuel these attacks, and while they did much to debunk these conspiracy theories, Woolf felt that they weren’t sufficient in effectively getting to the root of their thinking, with antisemitism at its core. To combat the rise of white nationalist terror attacks, Woolf believes we need to “understand the conspiracies driving them,” how they “build upon already popular conspiracy narratives, and their “deep intersections with antisemitism”.

“The publication will attempt to toe the line between being far-right and being accepted as mainstream, and, in doing so, gradually de-stigmatize dangerous hate speech.”

The Kalergi plan is intrinsically linked with other, more popularised conspiracy theories such as “The Great Replacement theory” and “white genocide” theory. These conspiracy theories have been thoroughly debunked. Adequate health care, reproductive freedom, high standards of living, fewer children and higher life expectancy have led to drastic demographic changes in developed countries. However, demographers have proven that the groups currently considered to be white will not cease to exist and are certainly not victims of a genocide.

“Every couple of years they tend to change the name – white genocide, great replacement, replacement theory,” explains Woolf. Conspiracy theories start on the fringes, and are overtly antisemitic. As it becomes more popularised, the antisemitic roots of these theories are often hidden. Publications “slightly out of the fringes which will act as a sort of gateway.” It is then that these theories become de-stigmatised. Overtly expressing antisemitism will be replaced by buzzwords like “globalist” and “New World Order”. The publication will attempt to toe the line between “being far-right and being accepted as mainstream,” and, in doing so, gradually de-stigmatize dangerous hate speech.

“The Jewish community are questioning how much are we willing to accept before we make an issue of it,” says Woolf. Last year in Terenure, a swastika was painted on the Synagogue. “Maybe it was an actual Nazi, maybe it was just some stupid teenager, trying to be edgy,” says Woolf. “…if we make a big fuss about it … people know that they can just do it and get a reaction from us.”

It was last year, that Oliver Sears, art dealer and second-generation Holocaust survivor, spotted the words “The Kalergi Plan” graffitied on the wall opposite the cinema in Rathmines, with the Star of David painted alongside it. Sears was deeply offended by this graffiti and wrote an open letter to the Irish Times, calling for the local council to remove it. Sears believes that “you must confront conspiracy theories head on when you are challenged by them. Hitler and his ilk were regarded as the lunatic fringe by most, even after he came to power.”

Antisemitism in Ireland can also manifest on the left-wing. “The vast majority of antisemitism in Ireland manifests itself in a casual way and is often connected to ignorance about Israel and Zionism,” says Sears. “It’s so easy to blur the line of legitimate criticism of Israel and the broader condemnation of Jews, globally. This happens frequently within Irish discourse.”

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a Palestinian led movement that calls to end international support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians. “It’s not the critisism of Israel itself as antisemitic, it’s the way it’s being used to fill antisemitic narratives,” explains Woolf. “BDS actors tend to be very careful about the language they use. They know that there are so many people looking to characterise them as inherently antisemitic.”

“It is the duty of each individual to stand up and resist the onslaught against democratic values,” says Sears. “This means countering casual racism whenever you’re confronted by it. It means promoting democracy in every space you live in: the workplace, educational institutions, socially and, above all, at the ballot box.” Woolf urges everyone to learn how to recognise antisemitic narratives and learn “where it usually hides,” which is just under the surface of anti-LGBT, anti-migrant, or other discriminatory and xenophobic narratives.

“Combating this conspiracy is vital for the safety of minority communities, and to that end there needs to be a greater understanding of its beliefs and functionalities,” says Woolf.  “These people aren’t wrong, they’re liars, they are making up these lies to scare you into supporting them because they know, if they’re honest about what they really want they’ll never get the support.”

Woolf believes that it is important to recognise these theories’ antisemitic origins. If we wish to disable the spreading of these conspiracy theories we must fully understand them. To disable the spread of these narratives, we must recognise when antisemitism lies at its intellectual core. Even from a short distance, the graffiti by Baggot Street Bridge is hard to notice. It is only on close examination, with the right eye, the marks and the stain it leaves on the graffitied canal is blatant. “Antisemitism is almost always hidden and bubbling under the surface,” says Woolf. “A lot of people aren’t always aware of how prevalent it is.” A closer eye and the understanding of the danger these conspiracy theories incite, is key to combating hate speech in our society.

Milena Barnes

Milena Barnes is a former Features Editor of Trinity News.