Gauging Anti-Semitism Without a Measuring Cup

How do you quantify an upswing in hatred?

Can you do it by counting attacks? Certainly. By adding up the numbers of offensive comments made by public figures? For sure.

What about the amount of loathing an individual has for Jews? Is there a way to compute that?

The answer is: No. And that’s why I become skeptical when folks talk about a rise in anti-Semitism.

It’s not for the reason you think. By no means am I denying the global presence of such bigotry. In fact, I believe its proponents are more vocal than ever—primarily owing to the proliferation of the Internet and new media allowing people to share their thoughts with the world. But there’s a difference between the vocalization of hatred and its volume. We don’t have an accurate measuring cup for the latter. So we can’t assess correctly the level of an individual’s antipathy. It’s intangible, uncountable. Which means that anyone who claims that he or she, because of Israel, dislikes Jews now more than ever is living in delusion.

I’ll explain. Comments on the web running along the lines of “I used to think Jews were OK, but Israel made me think otherwise” merely suggest that anti-Semitism was already lurking under the skin of the people typing such content. Seeking a rationale for their aversion, they cite Israel, a “legitimate” source. The truth is, however, that they’re just prone to generalizing about an entire religion, an entire culture. They’ve been open to hate from the start; the Jewish state just provides the impetus for them to voice their repulsion.

You see what I’m saying? People don’t go up and down when it comes to anti-Semitism. They don’t waver. They either subscribe to it or they don’t. There are no moderates when it comes to hate—only adherents. One bigot can’t be more hateful than another.

I know there’s an argument that the kind of “casual” anti-Semitism existing in country clubs around the United States doesn’t equate to murderous ideologies espoused by groups such as ISIS or the neo-Nazi set. Yet aren’t they both equally offensive, equally dismissive? Do we become any less flustered when someone talks about “your kind” or “you people” than when another individual calls for your race’s death? I don’t think there’s a way to measure the level of malevolence here. Wouldn’t both sides be just as happy to see Jews disappear?

Hence my cynicism when it comes to talk about anti-Semitism on the rise. It’s not rising; it’s always been present. It just bubbles to the surface more when high-profile events, entities or personalities relating to Judaism make the news. Violent acts against Jews may be counted. Hate speech from public figures may be assessed.

But the anger and contempt many have for my religion can’t be quantified; it may only be observed. And when it emerges, we recognize it immediately, as ever. There’s no change. It’s a plateau.

It’s anti-Semitism. Always lurking, always around.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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