The Ebb and Flow of American Anti-Semitism: Stay Calm and Carry On
Are we witnessing a new wave of anti-Semitism in the US? This question is being posed by many individuals around the globe and across the political spectrum, including journalists, academics, and members of governments. The jury is still out on the answer to this question, as we wait for the political scientists and other researchers to compile data and analysis in order to determine whether or not what the US is currently experiencing is in fact a full-blown tidal wave. In the meantime, however, the recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents has created the disconcerting impression that animosity toward Jews is on the rise again.
Since the beginning of 2017, anti-Semitism has manifested in many ugly forms, such as vandalism, bomb threats, and social media attacks. Targets have included synagogues as well as Jewish community centers, businesses, schools and cemeteries. Many U.S cities have experienced these frightening acts of aggression and sometimes violence, which evoke memories of a time in the not-too-distant past when Jews were treated as less than human by everyday citizens. I was especially dismayed to learn that even my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, was not spared the wrath of the anti-Semites. Last month, more than 100 headstones, some belonging to Holocaust survivors, in an historic Jewish cemetery were vandalized and desecrated. However, I was somewhat heartened by the outpouring of love and support that occurred after the horrific incident.
Across the pond in Europe, there recently has been an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism. At a time when anti-Semitic prejudice among the general population in Europe seem to be declining, adherents of some factions of radical Islam are acting on their strong anti-Semitic beliefs and have increased their attacks on Jews. In 2015, according to a poll conducted by the ADL that measured Muslim attitudes in a number of Western European countries, an average of 55 percent of Muslims hold anti-Semitic beliefs. Concurrently, the number of Muslim migrants and refugees arriving in Europe has increased at an exponential rate from Middle Eastern and North African countries (MENA), where, according to the same ADL poll, corresponding anti-Semitic attitudes hover around 75 percent. The failure by government leaders to address the concerns of the migration crisis in Europe has left a vacuum which is beginning to be filled by nationalist and radical-right parties – an outcome which, in the long-term, will also not bode well for Jews.
Finger-pointing in the U.S. has commenced regarding who bears the brunt of the blame for the recent anti-Semitic incidents. The truth, as is usually the case, falls somewhere in the middle. Many political pundits have placed the blame squarely on President Trump’s shoulders, charging him with emboldening and empowering the emerging alt-right, with some even accusing the president of being an anti-Semite himself. This accusation appears to be unfounded due to a lack of evidence, but such loose application of the term “anti-Semite” diminishes the meaning of the word.
President Trump’s half-hearted and ill-timed attempts to quell such arguments and accusations regarding the alt-right and anti-Semitism, however, are no one’s fault but of his own. His lack of success in this area can be attributed to the following examples of actions or inactions on his part: his initial failure to condemn support from white supremacist David Duke; his bizarre behavior and response to an Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked the president for his thoughts regarding the perceived resurgence of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and what his administration intended to do about it; his failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in his January 27 speech commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day; and his administration’s alleged plans to cut funding for the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
The president would be wise to make a concerted effort to appear less apathetic in addressing anti-Semitic concerns, and he should also spend less time polishing his good standing with Russia’s despotic leader Putin, berating the U.S.’s intelligence community, judicial system, and free press, and following his obsession with sending out “Mean Tweets” about celebrities, e.g. Meryl Streep, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the cast of the Broadway play “Hamilton.”
Despite Trump’s shortcomings in addressing anti-Semitism, critics need to redirect their attention. Anti-Semites do exist on the right, but they are the fringe of the fringe. Misplaced criticism towards Jews and Israel is also propounded by “knee-jerk” leftists, whose misperceptions and bigotry towards Israel seem to beget more bigotry.
Democrats seeking examples of anti-Semitism need to look no further than within their own party. For instance, Keith Ellison, an African-American Democratic Representative from Minnesota, nearly was elected as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Mr. Ellison is staunchly anti-Israel. He voted against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, which protects all residents of Israel from indiscriminate rocket attacks by semi-state terrorist actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and he had at one time close ties with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, one of the most outspoken anti-Semites in the U.S.
Another prominent anti-Israel provocateur from the hard-left is Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American progressive political activist and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, who uses the feminist and women’s rights platform as a way to advance her radical agenda against Israel and promote the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) movement on university campuses around the U.S.
Moreover, Black Lives Matter (BLM), the well-intentioned group and movement that was created initially to raise awareness of police brutality against African-Americans in the U.S., has jumped on the anti-Israel BDS bandwagon as well, creating and publishing an online platform accusing Israel of genocide and apartheid.
Speaking of apartheid, the 13th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) has begun this month on university campuses around the globe. According to the IAW website, the program “is an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” It is an allegedly hotbed of anti-Semitism, too. According to a study by AMCHA Initiative, an anti-Semitic watchdog group, “BDS activity strongly correlates with antisemitic activity.” There’s a fine line between expressing legitimate criticism of specific policies of Israel and supporting the delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist.
Members of the liberal left need to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and reevaluate the direction in which they are heading. They should avoid being so tolerant that they end up tolerating intolerance. As popular American astronomer Carl Sagan observed, “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”
In the final analysis, anti-Semitism of the far right and of the far left are two sides of the same coin. With all this fuss about a resurgence in anti-Semitism in the U.S., a timely study conducted a few weeks ago by the Pew Research Center, titled “Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups,” reminds us that Jews continue to evoke in Americans the “warmest ratings” of any religious group.
Until now, the U.S. has seemed to have largely avoided the sort of anti-Semitism occurring in Europe – and most likely will continue to do so. There very well may be an uptick in anti-Semitism at the moment, but statistically, the overall fluctuating pattern of anti-Semitism has been in decline for much of the last decade. Visually, it is difficult not to be affected when we witness the desecration of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, Jewish children being escorted out of schools due to bomb threats, and the ubiquitous hateful anti-Semitic bile that is being spewed by many anti-Semites on social media platforms. These sorts of eyebrow-raising tactics manipulate and heighten people’s anxieties, concerns, and fears.
It would behoove the ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt to refrain from such hyperbolic statements such as this: “The American Jewish community, our community, has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s.” Such restraint should also be utilized by Israeli Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, who, in response to a likely exaggerated perception of anti-Semitic threats in the U.S., called upon the Israeli government to “urgently prepare and establish an emergency national program for the possibility that [Israel] will see waves of our Jewish brothers immigrating to Israel.”
As to whether the current level of fear is warranted or not, only time will tell. Anti-Semitism has existed for over a thousand years and most likely will exist for another thousand. Threats should not be taken lightly. If there is anything that Jews have learned over the centuries, it is to take your enemies’ threats seriously.
The concern that anti-Semitism is on the rise may amount to something, or it may simply be much ado about nothing.
Therefore, my advice during these difficult times is to stay calm and carry on. This too shall pass.