Is a Jewish safe haven possible in the Diaspora; is America the “exception”?


When outgoing chairman of ADL Abe Foxman discussed the organization’s latest (2014) survey of antisemitism in America he assured Jews that, “The United States continues to be unique in history... It’s still different here than anywhere else.” But not even he, typically able to put a positive spin on even the bleakest of ADL survey results, was forced to add a caution to his assurance: “but don’t take anything for granted, and be concerned.” 2014, after all, was the year of Overland Park where a white supremacist targeted a Jewish community center building and a nearby Jewish senior residence leaving three, by chance non-Jews, dead. 2014 was also the year New York Rabbi Joseph Raksin was murdered in North Miami Beach a near-by synagogue recently defaced with swastikas.
When it comes to religious hate crimes, Jews and Jewish institutions were the biggest targets in America again last year, hands down… of the 1,014 [FBI] reported anti-religious hate crime incidents… slightly more than 60% targeted Jews.”
A cautionary: FBI statistics, most commonly assumed “authoritative” by ADL and other antisemitism-watch organizations, tend to grossly underestimate hate crime statistics. Not intentionally, just that their instrument for analyzing data is flawed. FBI data is collected through its Uniform Crime Report (UCR) which is anything but uniform. According to UCR all states are supposed to provide an annual report of hate crime data. But different states have different laws, different criteria governing data collection. And some states do not collect data specifically designated “hate crimes.” For those states that do report, different standards may color their determination of what defines a “hate crime.” The case of Rabbi Raksin’s murder provides just such an example. According to the lead investigator,
“No I don’t believe it was a hate crime, I definitely do not believe it was a hate crime,” he said. “I’m not even certain if it was completely a robbery, because I do know that based on the religious practices of the religion[?], they don’t even carry things of value. Again I’m not really sure what it was, but it definitely was not a hate crime.”
In this case it appears the death may have resulted from a robbery gone bad. But even so, why was a kippa-wearing orthodox Jew targeted outside a synagogue?
In other words FBI statistics, considered the gold standard for analyzing hate crimes, may be useful as a general guide; they do not warrant authority as an absolute measure, which many community agencies tend to assume they are.
With that caveat, according to the FBI’s latest (2014) report of hate crimes Jews are, in the United States, overwhelmingly the favorite target group at 56% of the reported total. As it happens this statistic is fairly consistent by FBI surveys year to year. It is also consistent with survey results of antisemitic sentiment found among the American public as far back as the Holocaust, and earlier. A Gallup poll from January 20, 1939 (among the earliest surveys of antisemitism in America) asked whether the United States should provide refuge for 10,000 Jewish children made homeless by Krystallnacht: 61% responded “no.” But when the same issue of saving children arose two years later, this time involving children facing London’s blitz (where refuge was available just miles outside of London) American’s opened heart and home: “The type of British child most typically requested by American families was "a six year old girl, preferably with blond hair."

Almost exactly two years ago the following headline described the state of antisemitism in Europe: “Antisemitism on rise across Europe 'in worst times since the Nazis.’” French Jews were threatened by crowd's shouting "Death to Jews" and "Slit Jews' throats" while in Germany Molotov cocktails targeted “the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal – previously destroyed on Kristallnacht... ” According to Dieter Graumann, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews,
"These are the worst times since the Nazi era. On the streets, you hear things like 'the Jews should be gassed', 'the Jews should be burned' – we haven't had that in Germany for decades.”
Clearly we Jews living in America are not facing anything approaching that described above, have not faced that level of antisemitism in the United States since the years surrounding the Holocaust. I agree with Mr. Foxman; not in his unwarranted rosy analyses of his organization’s statistics over the years, but in his immediate assessment: “It’s still different here than anywhere else.” And I also accept his caution to American Jews, “but don’t take anything for granted, and be concerned.” Jew-hatred in Europe and across the western Diaspora goes back a very long way, is deeply ingrained in western culture, tradition and history. It is also, as over the centuries, available to western society to take lethal form when social stress is severe enough to seek a victim on which to lay blame. The west’s traditional Victim has for centuries been the Jews.
The Holocaust was no anomaly; it was not a one-time and unique event in Jewish history in the Diaspora. As such, and as Mr. Foxman warns, “don’t take anything for granted, and be concerned.”
Before the Holocaust Jews in Germany insisted their country “exceptional.” We in America inherited the belief from émigrés from Germany in the late nineteenth century. Against the backdrop of two-thousand years history, and with the Holocaust no distant memory Jews should always be “concerned,” take nothing for granted. This is the take-away from that Fiddler on the Roof’s fictional shtetl, Anatevka: “Maybe”, muses Tevya, “that’s why we always wear our hats!”
Ain zo agada (it is not a legend) wrote Herzl predicting the future Jewish state. And neither is our Diaspora history which continues to make Israel relevant to Jewish identity, necessary as Jewish refuge.