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James Demmin-De Lise
freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter

Silenced and ignored: today’s antisemitic reality

Antisemitic censorship. Graphic courtesy  James Demmin-De Lise.
(Graphic courtesy of James Demmin-De Lise)

Though I’m not yet a Jew, I’ve already faced antisemitism both professionally and personally. My husband has experienced it throughout his life. Such is life as a Jew. He has encountered it so many times, unless it is a particularly egregious example, it hardly registers anymore. I’ve had major, mainstream publications ignore invoices and pull articles I’ve written about traveling to Israel or just mentioning Jewish history—such as in an article about Prague referencing the gorgeous Spanish Synagogue (coincidentally, it’s been reported today that it was defaced with anti-Jewish graffiti). Sadly, we are far from alone.

“Jewish voices are silenced anywhere they are bullied or harassed for being Jewish or pro-Israel. Students have been targeted by professors, comedians like Michael Rapaport have had venues cancel their shows, and anywhere someone feels they need to tuck their Magen David or Chai necklace into their shirt, they are being silenced. It’s pervasive and it’s disgusting,” Liora Rez, founder of StopAntisemitism told The Times of Israel.

Before we dive in, we should have a shared definition of what antisemitism is—even if I think we can all tell what it is when we witness or experience it. I tend to use the working definition as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed ‘ toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

That antisemitism is on an uptick, is hardly surprising. A recent survey published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) confirmed this for the seven countries with the largest Jewish populations. “After years of antisemitism mostly keeping to the fringes of society, it is alarming to see the percentage of people who harbor antisemitism and anti-Israel beliefs rising both in the United States and around the world,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, in a statement. It is pervasive, with more the majority of respondents holding antisemitic views.

These views aren’t held in a vacuum. They lead to action and embolden others to act. “In the aftermath of the October 7 war crimes committed by [the terrorist organization] Hamas, the world has seen the worst wave of antisemitic incidents since the end of the Second World War,” begins the Antisemitism Worldwide Report for 2023. The report is the result of a collaboration between the ADL and Tel Aviv University. Relying on data collected from law enforcement agencies, governments, Jewish organizations, and the media, the report is a damning indictment of society writ large.

“It seems like the most fashionable thing in the world right now is to hate Jews. It’s open season,” Roy Schwartz, pop culture historian and writer, told The Times of Israel.“People are still mostly careful to use ‘Zionists’ as a euphemism, but that too is changing and we’re seeing more hateful rhetoric openly targeting ‘the Jews.’”

“It saddens me a great deal how polarizing the conversation on Israel has become, and I have heard from more than a few people in Our Jewish Recovery that the events of October 7th and the appalling rise of anti-semitism since have been triggering, for some to the point of worrying about relapsing,” Rabbi Ilan Glazer, founder of Our Jewish Recovery, told The Times of Israel. “I know that many in the Jewish community are feeling especially upset by the protests on college campuses, and the far left’s adoption of the Palestinian cause as a social-justice issue. But waving Hamas and Islamic Jihad flags is not ‘just’ an act of protest against the Israeli government—it’s also legitimizing terror attacks that have left so many lives in Israel shattered.”

In the wake of the Hamas attacks, the increased antisemitism can be found in all sorts of places. “I am involved with planning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)-related panel events for a very large non-profit mental health organization. I suggested a panel on antisemitism (which I thought was so desperately needed given the events of October 7th and the rising level of antisemitism around the world) earlier this year and the organization said was ‘too political’ a topic to discuss and they vetoed my idea because of ‘possible negative feedback,’” a Jewish mental-health professional shared with The Times of Israel, though they need to remain anonymous due to fear of professional reprisal. “The organization frequently holds events and attentions to bring attention to racism and other injustices. They suggested another discussion about racism instead. This is, in my opinion, a horrifying example of how people are too afraid of antisemites to condemn antisemitism, and of how DEI efforts are leaving Jewish voices out in the cold.”

This rhetoric, especially when it is under the guise of so-called progressivism, is actively impacting and silencing Jewish writers, academics, and students across the globe. “As a writer and journalist, not to mention an Israeli-American, it’s immensely frustrating to me to see the media—not TikTok, but respectable mainstream press—constantly accept every blood libel and accusation against Israel or the Jewish community as fact, and any counterargument or anything remotely positive as dubious or hysterical. I’ve lost several collegiate relationships because of this. They just don’t want to hear it,” continued Schwartz. “It really is a hive-mind across academia, publishing, and media.”

This has led to self-censorship and outright censorship. “The climate has become more tense, and expressing certain viewpoints can result in backlash,” Kateryna Odarchenko, political strategist and partner at SIC Group USA, told The Times of Israel. “This often broadens to encompass the portrayal of Israel in the United States. It frequently devolves into a perceived conflict between Muslims and Jews, which is fundamentally incorrect. In religious doctrines, Muslims and Jews share much in common, such as a belief in a single God. Many people do not understand the history and simply align their positions with media portrayals.”

This movement in the zeitgeist can be particularly intractable. This past May, a spreadsheet entitled “is your fav author a zionist?” went viral. Widely shared in media—traditional and social—this list is a compilation of authors the list creators want to boycott for sharing support for Israel (or merely being Jewish). The list is an outgrowth of efforts that began on X (formerly Twitter) on October 8th, before the Israeli military responded to the attack, to boycott any author that condemned the atrocities committed by Hamas or support for Israel.

Though, these efforts aren’t new. “I had glimmers of this years ago, too,” said Novelist Mary Glickman to The Times of Israel in reference to pushback she faced about a novel that made publishers ‘nervous’ when part of it was set in Israel due to market concern. “The Palestinian narrative was beginning to be popular, and there was a better demand for such. Fair enough, I would say. Time has passed. Culturally, it feels as if the ball has been in the Palestinian court for a long time. And look where we are. What can I say about that but Chai Israel Chai. Nothing surprises me and everything worries me.”

I could catalog myriad examples of these overt and covert attacks by linking media coverage—though I’d rather not add to the trauma. These efforts have had an abundant proliferation post the October 7th massacres. “October 7th changed my life forever,” Schwartz told The Times of Israel. “It has for every Jew, whether they realize or acknowledge it or not. The first thing that I’ve learned since is just how much the world doesn’t care about us. The second is how much we care about each other.”

Even those who disagree about the current level of antisemitism and censorship agree that as individuals, we can do more. “I do not believe that special measures or an organized campaign are needed to ensure that Jewish voices are well-represented,” said Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, an Israeli and a professor at New York University (NYU), told The Times of Israel. “Here, the individual, be that a professor, writer, teacher, or head of any Jewish organization, ought to speak loud and clear, publicly, privately, and in other forums they deem effective to share their views. It is more self-censorship and personal consideration than the outside influence that prevents such individuals from making their cases publicly.” Regardless of our individual political positions, I agree with Professor Ben-Meir regarding the need for individuals to speak up.

The onus, however, is not only on our community organizations and ourselves. “Academic institutions and the media alike need to be taken to account for the lack of transparency and willingness to take foreign funding that would normally be reported to the [United States Department of Justice]—as academic institutions are required to do if they take federal funding. [Those] that are being influenced by foreign investments or donations should have to register under the [Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA)] given they are purveyors of ideas that influence both public opinion and policy,” says Irina Tsukerman, a human rights and national security lawyer.

Indeed, governments around the globe should make a concerted effort to push back on rising antisemitism and other forms of extremism. There is a line between free speech and hate speech. There is a line between academic freedom and activities by terrorist organizations and non-allied intelligence agencies. In recent memory, it is hard to find a time that has been so propagandized or so heavily influenced by terrorist talking points.

Many compare this time period to the 1930s, though I don’t think we are quite there yet—though that can change quickly. I am not alone. “There are those who say this is just like Nazi Germany, and they are wrong on two counts. First, the government is still supportive of Jews and Israel, however imperfectly. Second, most people are still sympathetic to our cause, despite media efforts to assert otherwise. But that could change in a heartbeat,” said Rabbi Yonason Goldson, known as the Ethics Ninja, to The Times of Israel. “We have to keep our voices strong and clear. Tell the truth. Stick to the facts. Use reason and logic. Show empathy for the people of Gaza without excusing Hamas or advocating for an unsustainable ceasefire. Speak passionately but respectfully, emphatically but civilly. Demand justice when academics and government officials abuse their positions to stifle Jewish voices or manipulate the truth. In the battle for hearts and minds, every voice matters.”

Every voice matters, and every person matters. We can all work to combat antisemitism. “The public should always try to stay safe. But, whenever possible, Jews should be loud and proud,” Rez continued. “Wear your Magen David, wave your Israeli flag, put out your Bring Them Home lawn sign. Gather with friends, pray, talk to your non-Jewish neighbors. And when you come across antisemites, by all means say something, reach out to StopAntisemitism, or call the police if necessary. Jewish weakness just gets antisemites more excited. That’s why the Hamas monsters were so elated on October 7. Jewish strength is the answer. Strong Jewish identities, strong Jewish communities, and a strong state of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Schwartz agrees with this. When asked what should we do? The answer was anything. “Speak up. Challenge unfairness and untruth where you see it. Let our fellow Jews know that they’re not alone. Let the world know that we’re not afraid. We have to do it. Because if not us, who, and if not now, when?”

Odarchenko gives some homework to her fellow Jews and allies, “It’s crucial to highlight the contributions of Jews to non-Jews. For instance, the Lubavitcher Rebbe essentially created the food stamp system that now serves millions of impoverished Americans. Many scholars and philanthropists are Jewish, and it’s important to talk more about these contributions.

For now, I accept their challenge and add my voice to those calling for the end of antisemitism and will continue to work to bring awareness and context to relevant issues. Please join me.

About the Author
James Demmin-De Lise is a freelance writer and editor with a keen interest in Jewish culture and history. On a journey to convert to Judaism, he writes about navigating Jewish life with the eye for detail of a journalist and a dash of humor. When not writing, he’s likely exploring new destinations or diving into a good book.
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