The contemporary expressions of hate directed against the Jewish State and individual Jews worldwide represent a different and dangerous form of anti-Semitism. In this pandemic age and during the aftermath of the most recent Gaza conflict, a new set of destructive messages has been crafted directed to discount and discredit Jews, Judaism and Israel, while physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions abound.
While the rhetoric can be found across social media, on television and in public rallies, the actions directed against Jews are taking place on the streets of the world. The recently released Pew Study on America’s Jews confirms that this uptake in anti-Semitic expression is not lost on Jewish audiences.
75% perceive a rise in anti-Semitism over the last five years. Half of U.S. Jews (53%) say they feel less safe today than five years ago, while four-in-ten (42%) say they feel that not much has changed, and very few (3%) say they now feel safer.
In the past, the individual Jew was identified as problematic, today the collective story of the Jewish people is being challenged, just as the place and role of Jews in history is being minimized and distorted.
Today’s anti-Semitism is more violent and deadly than we have monitored in 50 years. Of particular note, over the past five years, much of hate expression has shifted from prejudicial words to overt violence.
By comparison, 20th Century anti-Jewish behavior centered on two core ideological measures: theological anti-Judaism and eugenics racial theory. The first viewed Judaism as a discredited faith system, while the second saw the Jew as humanly deficient as fostered by Nazi racial practice.
A year ago, I began to lay out the parameters of this emerging form of Jewish hatred. In that paper we concluded:
If in the past individual Jews were targets of hate expression, the new anti-Semitism is collective in character, as it seeks to address the actions and outcomes created by Jews as a people and the role of the Jewish State.
In this new age, we note the changing environment that is contributing to this round of anti-Semitic expressions:
In response to demographic shifts and changing economic conditions, there has been a significant growth in hate-based organizations, conspiracy-driven websites and media personalities expressing hostile views toward such ideas as pluralism, multiculturalism and globalism. This renewed focus on nationalism and race has given license to attacks on religious constituencies, ethnic groups and immigrant communities. The rise of factionalism and the politics of blame represent today the new political mindset.
This emerging framework of anti-Jewish hate is organized around five central messages:
- Intersectionality: This doctrine suggests that a common bond exists among disempowered victims who have experienced marginalization and persecution. But here, where Jews may have once belonged, due to their own history of persecution, today their perceived whiteness and their significant political influence disqualify them from such a status, and in turn in light of their achieved power, both here in the United States and within Israel, marks them for attack and criticism.
- Whiteness as the New Test: The new anti-Semitism reintroduces the issues of“race” and “nationality” into the mix, as Jews are being challenged in connection with their “whiteness” as well as their legitimacy as Americans. Jews are seen today as “white” pretenders. This is understood by the left who classify Jews as “too white.” The far-right defines Jews as seeking to “replace” authentic white people in positions of power. For the latter, Jews are seeking to reshape American values and social practices as part of their quest for power, while for the left, Jews are no longer to be defined as victims of history but as part of the “new oppressors”.
- Jewish Statehood: The State of Israel has replaced “the individual Jew” as the embodiment of contemporary anti-Semitism.Israel has become the collective Jew! Its actions reflect the Jewish people’s shared political and economic objectives. Israel’s conduct is being called out as oppressive and sinister, while the State’s very existence is being challenged and demonized as represented by the BDS Movement. The events over the past several weeks involving Gaza and Israel has escalated this assault on Jewish nationalism.
- Creating a New Image of the Jew — Conspiracy Theories: about Jews, Israel and Judaism are the new mantras. In the process, Jews are described as possessing characteristics that make them dangerously “super-human.” Their power and influence as disrupters is not merely understood to be greater than others but rather their practices are defined as diabolical. This pandemic moment affords anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists opportunities to continue their war against the Jews. Traditional haters are employing the virus as part of their battle plan against Jews, Judaism and Israel. From such expressions as “Jews created this pandemic” and now control its outcome, a new cynical belief code in the power and presence of Jewish power! And beyond, Jews are seen as the “Beneficiaries” of this virus, profiting from COVID-19 medicines and vaccines, etc.
- Legitimacy in Question — Denial as the New Core Symbol of Antisemitic Practice: The case against the Jews begins by denying them their historical claims, namely, the legitimacy of the State of Israel and the truths concerning the Holocaust. By employing these tools, the anti-Semite seeks to remove the two defining moments of 20th-century Jewish history. By neither acknowledging dead Jews (Shoah) or celebrating living ones (Israel), the 20th Century Jewish story of the Jewish people is without merit, legitimacy, or standing.
By employing these five criteria, Jews are being identified as problematically influential and destructively powerful, while at the same time being castigated for operating as “white” imposters. The new anti-Semite holds to the view that Jewish claims in connection with our historic ties to homeland and nation-state are disputed. Our global and philanthropic institutions are seen as threatening to the welfare and interests of others, serving only to accrue power to the Jewish enterprise.
Many of these themes are being simultaneously employed at both ends of the political spectrum, by the intellectual base that drives the far right and the political elites that shape the extreme left.
Delivery Systems of the New Hate: Two avenues frame how these new forms are being conveyed.
- Social Media: These ideas are being introduced on Twitter, Tik Tok, Facebook, YouTube, Messenger, and various other social media platforms. No longer understood as a set of confirmed facts, “truth” is now defined and established by its individual creator. Access to the internet offers to its users the power to define “the other.” Accordingly, these social networks now are the essential purveyors of the new hate and the arbiters of facts!
- The Street: The global street has become the current pathway for much of this contemporary hate to be expressed. Organized public rallies and street assaults on individual and small groups of Jews represent the new expressions of street hate.
Why Now? The veil of good feelings that dominated political and religious discourse for the past fifty years has given way to an underbelly of pent-up prejudice and residual hatred. An assessment of “why now, why here?” when addressing the rise in hate expression is being offered below:]
- The loss of trust in institutions and leaders has created a toxic environment of suspicion and hate.
- The weaponization of media where “truth” and facts as values are diminished, leaving open new platforms permitting hate expression and nurturing cultural wars.
- Many of the deep fissures and unspoken historical grievances on race, religion, culture and identity are only now emerging to the surface.
- The confluence of the pandemic and its corresponding economic dislocation has contributed to this new playing field. The current unsettled political minefield has given rise to a racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic environment where the tools of hate have become active ingredients in this contemporary setting.
In more specific Jewish terms, the new forms of anti-Jewish expression and action may be driven by these elements:
- The “cover” of the Holocaust as somehow silencing Jewish hatred has come undone! Since the end of the Second World War, a type of unwritten code of conduct has existed among many Western political and cultural sources. That doctrine of silence created an understood ban against public expressions of anti-Semitism. Over the past several decades, that code has all but disappeared, giving rise in this current climate to a new level of permission to critique and attack contemporary Jews and the State of Israel.
- Jews are again caught in the midst of a changing demographic and political scenario, and as historical “middle men” the infusion of hate, as in the past, is being directed from multiple sources. Elites and power brokers on the one hand and petitioners and activists on the other, each focusing on the “Jew in the middle” as a natural and ready political and/or economic target.
In response to this acceleration of political hate, we are seeing a corresponding rise in the various Jewish response mechanisms.
A major Jewish political reset is underway at this time, focusing on domestic affairs, foreign policy considerations and the increasing diversity that defines the Jewish communal orbit. When the political environment is as unsettled as we find today, such new structural initiatives to reframe the conversation, refocus policy options, and grow the diversity of the community ought be anticipated.
While the storyline behind anti-Jewish behavior has deep and troubling roots, the contemporary manifestation of hate reflects a number of new and troubling phenomena. The “Wars against Jews” has taken yet another historic turn!