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Bonnie K. Goodman
Librarian, Historian, and Journalist

How American Jews feel about antisemitism

Anti-Semitism in the United States. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Anti-Semitism in the United States. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Some might want to deny it, but antisemitism is a huge problem for North American Jewry

Colleyville attack, Holocaust remembrance, and persistent anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Considering the feelings from the outside world, the political and religious divisions among Jews in the United States, Canada, the rest of the Diaspora to Israel, and even among Israelis are even more troubling. In May 2021, the Pew Research Center released an updated survey on American Jewry entitled “Jewish Americans in 2020.” [1] Aptly put, the subtitle was “U.S. Jews are culturally engaged, increasingly diverse, politically polarized and worried about anti-Semitism.” [2] Jewish Americans are intensely divided politically, with the non-religious majority, and liberal branches of Judaism, Conservative, and Reform are overwhelming Democratic Party, while the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox support the Republican Party and conservative views. The divisions are starker among younger Jews, who are more liberal, more diverse racially, less attached to Israel, and more critical of the Jewish state.

These viewpoints spill over in their views and support of Israel. American Jews are less attached to religious observance and Israel than in any previous survey of American Jewry. This statement is especially true for younger Jews under 30-years old. They are the least attached to Israel than any other age group, and first the first time in a survey, the age group’s attachment to Israel is under 50 percent. As Pew notes, “More broadly, young U.S. Jews are less emotionally attached to Israel than older ones. As of 2020, half of Jewish adults under age 30 describe themselves as very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel (48%), compared with two-thirds of Jews ages 65 and older.” [3] These numbers correlate to their liberal political leanings. Among the different branches of Judaism, American Jews believe they have more in common with Israeli Jews than with their religious counterparts. With Conservative and Reform Jews finding, they have little in common with Orthodox Jews and vice versa.

All Jews of diverse backgrounds agree that antisemitism is rising and more of a problem. According to Pew, 90 percent of Americans believe “there is at least ‘some’ antisemitism in the United States, including 45% who say there is ‘a lot’ of anti-Semitism.” [4] As Pew noted, “Three-quarters say there is more anti-Semitism in the United States than there was five years ago, and just over half (53%) say that ‘as a Jewish person in the United States’ they feel less safe than they did five years ago.” Most American Jews feel that not only “The number of anti-Semites has grown,” but that “people now feel more free to express anti-Semitic views.” [5]

Pew indicates the most common forms of antisemitism American Jews experience. “For example, 37% say they have seen anti-Jewish graffiti or vandalism in their local community in the past 12 months, while 19% say they have been made to feel unwelcome because they are Jewish and 15% say they have been called offensive names. Fewer say that in the 12 months prior to taking the survey they have been harassed online (8%) or physically attacked (5%) because they are Jewish.” Orthodox Jews are more often victims than any other branches because they wear religious symbols and attire.

Additionally, young Jews under 30 years old are at the receiving end more than any other group, with a quarter experiencing antisemitism. Three-quarters of Jewish adults have seen, heard, or read antisemitic tropes or stereotypes on social media or in the news, with 30 percent witnessing it “in their presence.” If American Jews heard any Holocaust denial, it has been second-hand, with 63 percent reading or hearing it, only 9 percent experienced it “in their presence.” However, fewer American Jews heard questions of dual loyalty to the US because of Israel; only 36 percent heard it second-hand, while only 6 percent heard it “in their presence.” [6]

The American Jewish Committee also conducted a new survey, on “The State of Antisemitism in America 2021,” releasing it in October 2021. [7] The survey asked some of the same questions as the Pew report on antisemitism, and the results also mirrored them. The results determined that 90 percent of American Jews find antsemitism a problem, with 40 percent finding it a serious problem. An overwhelming 82 percent believe antisemitism increased in the past five years. Most American Jews worry that antisemitism is not being taken as serious as it should be. A third of American Jews feel less secure because of the increase of antisemitism. Most Americans Jews experienced an attack or harassment in person or on social media, 17 and 12 percent, respectively. However, a small minority of only three percent experienced a physical attack. As AJC indicates, “In all, 24% of American Jews have been the targets of antisemitic incidents — physical attacks, remarks in person, or remarks online- in 2021.” [8]

Avi Mayer, the AJC Managing Director, Public Affairs and Senior Spokesperson noted, “Antisemitism has remained a constant in the lives of many American Jews. A flareup between Israel and Hamas in May saw a wave of violent antisemitism sweep across America and the world, with Jews beaten in city streets, subjected to hateful vitriol, and intimidated on social media. Hasidic Jews have been assaulted outside their homes, synagogues and Jewish schools have been defaced, and Jews have been pushed out of various political and ideological spaces. While the past year has thankfully not seen deadly attacks of the same scale as the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, nary a day has gone by without word of yet another antisemitic incident somewhere in America.” [9]

Still, most American Jews are not letting antisemitism prevent them from participating in Jewish cultural or religious activities. Pew noted of the 35 percent of Jews who felt less safe from rising antisemitism, two-thirds had no intention of staying away from Jewish events, worship, or activities. However, AJC’s survey found more Americans are becoming more reticent about public displays of Judaism and attending Jewish events and places because of rising antisemitism, 25 and 17 percent, respectively. AJC notes, “In all, 39% of American Jews have changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism in the last 12 months.” [10] The May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict has made 72 percent of Americans Jews feel less safe. Jewish institutions have been the targets of antisemitism by “graffiti, attacks, and threats.” AJC found, “In all, 24% of American Jews said that Jewish institutions with which they are affiliated had been targeted by antisemitism over the past five years.” [11]

Despite the Colleyville attack American Jewish leaders are calling on the Jewish population to show support attend services. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told American Jewry, ‘It’s safe to go to shul,’ that mentality, which keeps American Jews returning to their synagogues, especially after antisemitic attacks. [12] Rabbi Cytron-Walker also expressed that he was not going to let the incident and anti-Semitism prevent him from wearing his kippah, “I continue to wear my yarmulke proudly. It’s really up to you. And I would hope, and I would pray that we’re able to get past the sense of fear.” [13] On Twitter, Professor Lipstadt encouraged all Jews to fight back no matter their observance level by going to synagogue on the Shabbat after the attack. Lipstadt posted, “And none shall make YOU afraid-Lev26:6: Jews-Orthodox/Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist/JCC/Havurah/Atheist/Break-fast/Proud&Not so/LQBTQ/Straight/Unsure/Educated/Don’t know an Alef vs. Bet: SHOW UP IN SHUL THIS SHABBAT/SHOW UP IN DEFIANCE/JOY/TO SEE FELLOW JEWS #SHOWUPINSHUL” [14]

Unfortunately, most 58 percent of American Jews that experienced online harassment do not report the attacks. It is discouraging because social media platforms do not remove the threats or remarks three-quarters of the time. Very few choose to report the incidents beyond the social media platforms, only 5 percent go to the police, 17 percent report to Jewish organizations such as ADL or their local Federation, while most 46 percent go to the social media platforms. Most American Jews that experience online antisemitism do not feel physically threatened and only 18 percent do. American Jews feel more alone when they are verbally attacked in person, 79 percent do not report the incidents, only four percent go to the police, but 19 percent attempt to report to the Jewish organizations. [15]

Considering ADL’s numbers and AJC’s survey, American Jews are not comfortable reporting the antisemitism they experienced to the authorities. According to the FBI’s 2020 statistics, American Jewry represents only two percent of the American population, but attacks against them represent 58 percent of all “religiously motivated hate crimes” in the US. [16] The FBI received reports of 7,759 hate crimes in 2020, “4,939 attacks were motivated by race or ethnicity, 1,174 by religion and 1,051 by sexual orientation.” Jews represented the largest number of “religiously motivated hate crimes with 676 reported, 9 percent of the total hate crimes for 2020. In 2019 more American Jews reported hate crimes, representing “63% of all religiously motivated hate crimes and 13% of all hate crimes nationwide.” [17] Jews represent “the third-largest target of hate crimes out of all minorities in the entire country,” with “only anti-black or African-American, anti-White, and anti-LGBT attacks were more numerous than anti-Jewish ones.” [18]

Despite not reporting antisemitism to law enforcement, two-thirds of American Jews trust the police to keep them and their institutions safe. They trust President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party, and their local governments with 53, 45, and 42 percent, but lack confidence in Congress and the Republican Party, disapproving 50 and 65 percent, respectively. Almost all American Jews view the far right as an anti-Semitic threat 91 percent, but only 71 percent see the far left as a threat and a problem, still, the vast majority, 86 percent of American Jews agree Islamic extremism is a threat. Surprisingly, considering American Jewry’s sympathy for racial and religious minorities, 72 percent consider them an antisemitic threat.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) and historian. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South,” “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Anti-Semitism,” and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[2] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[3] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[4] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[5] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[6] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/

[7] https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2021/AmericanJews

[8] https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2021/AmericanJews

[9] https://www.ajc.org/news/the-state-of-antisemitism-in-america-2021-insights-and-analysis

[10] https://www.ajc.org/news/the-state-of-antisemitism-in-america-2021-insights-and-analysis

[11] https://www.ajc.org/news/the-state-of-antisemitism-in-america-2021-insights-and-analysis

[12] https://www.jta.org/2022/01/19/united-states/the-texas-rabbi-who-escaped-a-hostage-situation-wants-to-correct-the-record

[13] https://forward.com/news/481138/charlie-cyrton-walker-texas-fbi-adle-to-wear-my-yarmulke-proudly/?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_3562806

[14] https://twitter.com/deborahlipstadt/status/1483428898717290497?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1483428898717290497%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A %2F%2Fforward.com%2Ffast-forward%2F480966%2Fdeborah-lipstadt-texas-synagogue-colleyville-antisemitism-envoy%2F

[15] https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2021/AmericanJews

[16] https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-694567

[17] https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/antisemitism/antisemitism-jews-target-of-58-percent-of-all-religiously-motivated-hate-crimes-in-us-678228

[18] https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/antisemitism/antisemitism-jews-target-of-58-percent-of-all-religiously-motivated-hate-crimes-in-us-678228

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a librarian, historian, and journalist. She has a BA in History & Art History, an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program, where her thesis was entitled, "Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Anti-Semitism, 1860-1913." She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, Judaism, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin "The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South" into a full-length biography.
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