Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Asian Hate on the Rise: A Coincidence?

Well before the recent Israel-Hamas conflagration, anti-Semitic attacks in America (and Europe) were on the rise. Simultaneously, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen as well in the U.S. Although they seem to be on completely different paths, in fact there is a strong parallel between them.

First the differences. Anti-Semitism (A-S) has been around for millennia, and in the US almost from the inception of the country – notwithstanding some important leaders who refused to partake or fought against the phenomenon e.g., George Washington and especially Abraham Lincoln. However, in the 19th and most of the 20th century, such A-S was relatively “subtle”: quotas, disparaging remarks and the like. Recently, however, the anti-Semites have moved their hatred up several notches: synagogue vandalism and even mass murder (Pittsburgh), physical attacks on kippah or black hat wearers, and the like. The most recent incidents are mostly anti-Israel oriented, an 80% rise in the last month (https://www.timesofisrael.com/antisemitic-acts-in-us-soared-80-in-a-month-jewish-security-group-reports/), itself an indication that such A-S has once again taken the “dual loyalty” canard out of the closet.

Anti-Asian (A-A) discrimination and attacks also have a relatively long history in the United States, going back at least to the mid-19th century when thousands were used (some would argue “exploited”) to build the nation’s nascent, intercontinental railroad system. This led to numerous A-A riots, lynches, and other attacks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Chinese_violence_in_California). And everyone knows what happened to West Coast Japanese-American citizens during World War II: American-style concentration camps (without mass murder).

Here too recently, A-A hate crimes have been on the rise. The immediate cause: the so-called “Chinese Virus” (Corona). From March 2020 through February 2021, an astounding 3,795 A-A incidents were reported, a number that is most probably a gross undercount (https://secureservercdn.net/104.238.69.231/a1w.90d.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/210312-Stop-AAPI-Hate-National-Report-.pdf) – of which close to 400 were physical assaults.

So what could possibly be a common denominator here? Palestine/Gaza and “Chinese Corona” are nowhere near each other. True, but these are merely the superficial and proximate causes of A-S and A-A. Underlying them, especially in the past several decades, is a factor on a totally different plane: social jealousy. Can it be “coincidence” that Jews and Asians are the two ethnic groups in America that are the most successful economically and professionally? In 2018, the average median income of Asian families in the U.S. was over $87,000, compared to $66,000 for all “White Americans”. No “average family income” data exists for American Jewry as a whole, but 44% report family incomes of over $100,000 compared to only 19% of all Americans. One more data-point, just as telling: While the median household net worth of the typical American family is $99,500, among American Jews the figure is $443,000. And when we look at the Jews most vulnerable to A-S attack because of their head covering – the Orthodox (“Modern” and “Open”) – their average median household income (2016) registers an astounding $170,000 (compared to the American median household income then of $59,000): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Jews#Socioeconomics

Jews and Asians are loath to mention this because it seemingly plays right into the A-S and A-A stereotype: “money-grubbing” etc. Of course, the real factor here is something else entirely: education, education, education – these two groups also have the highest educational level in America (to be sure, there are significant differences within each of their sub-groups, e.g., ultra-Orthodox have a low level of higher education).

Thus, anti-Semites and those who dislike Asians will latch on to temporary “indignities” (Gaza; Corona), but the underlying basis of their A-S and A-A is far more deep-rooted.

There is good news and bad news in this. The good news, for both Jews and Asians the American dream has worked very well economically, professionally (and for Jews) religiously as well. However, such success has an obverse social side: ongoing hatred from a relatively small but significant-enough group of Americans who haven’t been nearly as successful. This also constitutes somewhat of a quandary for liberal American Jews who traditionally have fought anti-Black racism, but now find part of the Black community (the more “liberal” side) “intersectionally” siding with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, most Jewish liberals are psychologically primed to defend underdogs and not overdogs like their Asian-American counterparts. One can expect a growing rift within the Jewish liberal camp on that score too.

And finally, there’s even an outside Israeli angle here as well. Over the past several years, Israel has been strengthening economic ties with totalitarian China and (ultra-nationalist) Modi’s India. That will make it easier for American Orthodox Jews to support the fight against A-A racism, but far less so their more progressive co-religionists. Not to mention each of these two Jewish camps’ relationship with Israel.

In any case, clearly Asian and Jewish Americans must continue to do their utmost to fight A-A and A-S, but they shouldn’t delude themselves that this “battle” will be won easily or perhaps ever. A-S has been around for two millennia; A-A (in the West) for two centuries. They are not going away – precisely because U.S. Jews and Americans of Asian extraction have been, and almost certainly will continue to be, highly successful.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published three books and 60 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. For more information and other publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com
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