We are in a new era of global hate and American extremism. While we know that Jews have experienced these difficult times before in their complex history, we are encountering a fundamentally different American Jewish experience than we have known.
A number of factors have made this contemporary expression of hate distinctive and particularly dangerous. In other places, I have addressed some of the historic manifestations and triggers associated with various expressions of hate.
The Confluence of Forces: Contemporary anti-Semitism is the product of five forces all in play at one moment:
- The pandemic itself has revived the historic mythology of this being a Jewishly-sponsored event, as over the centuries, Jews were identified with causing pandemics or in turn benefiting from such conditions.
- The economic dislocation has generated its own negative responses, as once again we can identify the historical marker of Jews and money, as we face accusations of Jewish economic domination over the marketplace.
- A third factor involves the case against Israel and its image as a problematic international actor in connection with its treatment of the Palestinians. Where intersectionality suggests that all victims of persecution are the same. Israel not only becomes the collective Jew but a pariah state. The equation here is that the Israelis are the new Nazis. We add the corollary fact that Jews and Israelis are defined as “white” and as such are demonized as being part of the established or entrenched Western or colonial power structure.
- “Whiteness” is a new measure of standing and power. As I have noted in previous articles, for the political left, Jews are seen as the new purveyors of influence and power, and for the right, Jews are defined as pretenders seeking to “replace” the authentic white establishment in decision-making roles. The rise of American nationalism along with the counter-veiling response of left-wing progressivism has created a political environment ripe with anger and hate, driven from both extremes. When one finds deep political fissures and divisions in a society, such conditions are profoundly and inherently dangerous for minority communities. The Jewish historic experience readily addresses such a problematic condition.
- Today, Jews are seen as central players in three primary areas: political actors, key financial players, and cultural influencers. Their dominant roles are producing significant counter-responses, designed to minimize and marginalize the Jewish presence.
This then represents the perfect “trigger” moment, where the simultaneous assault on Israel and Jews has been launched. Placing all of this in historical context, such conditions have taken place previously in history, when Jews as key actors are identified with particular policies or political viewpoints. The results here, and as in the past, have been highly problematic to Jews, their political interests and their social standing. This contemporary war against the Jews is being waged on a number of different fronts.
We are encountering this timeframe of hate with the simultaneous acceleration of violence on our nation’s streets. This particular combination of hateful words with violent action presents a new and dangerous challenge.
Let us look more deeply at the contemporary elements of this new hate environment.
When Truth Becomes Negotiable: In an age where facts and truths are no longer identified as accepted, this creates space to frame new beliefs and mythologies about particular groups. The presence of alternative facts can be highly problematic for minority communities. Their “truths” can be overshadowed and lost amidst the rise of these alternative facts!
A Moment Beyond the Holocaust: We are now 75 years past the Shoah. In more concrete terms that accounts for three generations that are replacing those that had experienced the events surrounding 1933-1945. The direct connections are now being shattered with the people and events of that era.
We are past the period of personal recall, remembrance and historic regard. As we know with other meaningful encounters, memory has but a certain life expectancy. The past here is truly the past! We are on new ground now! Time has a way of warping the meaning and substance of the genocide of the Jews. Employing such tropes that reference the uniqueness and specific meaning of the Shoah holds no value or credibility in this particular cultural moment.
Social Media as the New Hate Platform: The delivery systems of hate have changed. Today, we are seeing the exploitation of social media as an efficient weapon in carrying forward this war against Jews, Israel and Judaism. This war is being waged simultaneously by organized hate movements and by individual actors. It is primarily directed at isolating and marginalizing Jews as players.
The Unraveling of the Jewish Contract with America: A key part of the unique and successful Jewish experience within the United States has been directly tied to the existence of a tripartite religious arrangement. Traditionally, the equation “Protestant, Catholic and Jew” provided Jewish Americans with an equal religious standing in this nation. Despite our minimal numerical size, on the religious front we were considered an equal partner. As this society undergoes significant demographic and social changes, that arrangement is beginning to become undone. The political and social cover that was provided by this equation appears to be weakening. Two factors are contributing to its demise. First, the decline of religious influence and authority in the US has weakened the power and place of religion. Second, the emergence of new religious challengers, namely Islam and other faith traditions, has generally undermined the special and unique role of Jews within this religious construct.
The Middleman Phenomenon: In other contexts, when faced with political pressures from groups perceived to be in power and with those who view themselves as petitioners seeking recognition and influence, those social groups caught in the middle are often buffeted by each of these political actors. Jews at this moment are being identified as being in this trap. However, this state is sadly not new to the Jewish experience.
Is the American Dream Over? When one examines the confluence of all of these social forces acting on the society, it is possible to confirm that a different and less friendly environment appears to be the new political condition. This moment raises a number of pressing challenges for America’s Jews. How we as a community determine how best to respond to these threats will define the future status of Jewish life on this continent.