Antisemitism in the US is a major issue - opinion

Hate crimes against Jews and against Jewish institutions have been on the rise around the world – and America is no exception.

 LORI GILBERT-KAYE, killed in a shooting at a Chabad synagogue, is laid to rest at an San Diego cemetery in 2019. (photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)
LORI GILBERT-KAYE, killed in a shooting at a Chabad synagogue, is laid to rest at an San Diego cemetery in 2019.
(photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)

Hate crimes against Jews and against Jewish institutions have been on the rise around the world – and America is no exception. The numbers astound. The crimes are heinous. Anything and everyone “Jew-ish” is a target. 

With this in mind, I reread the study “The State of Antisemitism in America” released by the American Jewish Committee. The numbers they report are staggering. These acts of hatred have hit all walks of Jewish life. Around synagogues. In cafes. On streets. Jewish-looking Jews have bullseyes on their back. 

In response to a question in the survey asking respondents if they have changed their behavior or their dress to avoid antisemitism, 39% of American Jews responded “yes.” They changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism. I find that number frightening. Nearly half of those questioned fear antisemitism to the point that they have changed their behavior in a decided attempt not to be subjected to antisemitic rebukes.

The study also reported that 24% of American Jews have been the target of antisemitism. Some have experienced physical attacks, others have been subjected to vocal antisemitism, and still others to online remarks. That is another stunning number. That means that, in one way or another, one in every four Jews has been personally and directly attacked for being Jewish.

The study took place over the period of a month, from September 1 through October 3.

People attend a march in New York against antisemitism wearing yellow stars which read never again, January 5, 2020.  (credit: JFNA)People attend a march in New York against antisemitism wearing yellow stars which read never again, January 5, 2020. (credit: JFNA)

A total of 1,433 Jews were questioned. The sample was representative of the entire US. And 90% of those questioned said that antisemitism was a problem.

HOW DO we make sense of this rise in antisemitism, what I call Jew-hatred?

Antisemitism in the US is a bipartisan issue. And political parties on both sides have stood united on the issue. Yet, at the same time, neither party has done enough to tamp down on extremists. Neither has done enough to stop the sizable, vocal, and involved segment of their supporters – the Jew-haters.

Right and Left, all along the political spectrum, there is an ugly strain of Jew-hatred. By all rights, US political leadership should mobilize, root out and call out the haters. Instead, and rather surprisingly, both sides have allowed the Jew-hatred to fester and even grow.

Much like crime and shoplifting and random attacks – all of which are rising throughout the US – Jew-hatred in America has become acceptable. Blaming Jews and Israel for oppressing Palestinians has become a standard canard. It is a trope. It is used in everyday parlance. The hatred of the Jew has become commonplace. Hating Jews and hating Israel in the guise of defending Palestinians have become a justification for Jew-hatred.

And – this is the most devastating and damning aspect of this horrific situation – one of the reasons Jew-hatred has become so prevalent and so acceptable throughout the US is that some of the purveyors of this hatred are themselves Jews.

Yes, Jew-hatred exists and is on the rise, but the attacks and the violence are sometimes carried out by bonafide liberals who fight racism when it attacks others. But it’s okay, it’s all right, it’s permissible when they carry it out because they don’t like the way they dress or the synagogue they attend, or because they support Israel. 

Those liberal and conservative extremists who perpetrate Jew-hatred need to be driven out of the mainstream and sent back to the margins. Their views cannot and should not be bantered about like other political ideas. They are guilty of hate crimes.

People should not be scared to be Jewish, to look Jewish, to act Jewish, in the United States of America. Nor, for that matter, any place in the world. And Jewish people should not be embarrassed because there are those who, unlike them, have not assimilated, do not blend in, specifically because they look and act Jew-ish.

FOR MANY people and for many years, Israel has been the safe haven. When life for Jews got tough, Israel was there. And it still is. But it was always people from other countries who ran to Israel out of the need for safety and a new life. Jews escaped pogroms and ran to Israel. But not Americans. Americans moved to Israel, Americans did not flee to Israel. It was a decision made out of desire, out of ideology and love, not desperation. 

One of the weapons in Israel’s diplomatic arsenal has always been the backing of the US. And one of the reasons for that backing was the strength of the Jewish world within the US. Jews need to feel safe in the US. Jewish leaders and political leaders need, squarely and resoundingly, to make this very clear. It is not acceptable to hate Jews.

And let’s hope that the reckoning comes soon. Actions against Jews must be thwarted. The American Jewish Committee has put the issue and the numbers in the spotlight. Now it is up to lawmakers, law enforcers and leaders to get those numbers down. 

It is up to them to restore the feeling of confidence that American Jews once had, living as Jews, in America.

The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator.