The development of antisemitism: Pittsburgh is not the last straw

The term “antisemitism” has always been somewhat amorphous for American Jews.

A POLICE barricade around the synagogue that was the site of the Pittsburgh massacre (photo credit: REUTERS)
A POLICE barricade around the synagogue that was the site of the Pittsburgh massacre
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the last decade American Jews have been concerned about Iran. They were concerned to the point of preoccupation about how, if unchecked, Iran would threaten Israel, the Middle East and the stability of the entire world.
Until Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh. That’s all you have to say. That one city name changed everything. The horrific antisemitic attack on Shabbat morning, Oct 27, 2018, in which 11 Jews were murdered and seven others wounded, was a cataclysmic event in American Jewish history. 
American Jews were not oblivious to antisemitism before Pittsburgh, but it was not all consuming. Older generations were more wary and younger generations more laissez-faire, but everyone knew that in some forms and in some places, antisemitism existed. Now, it’s all about the security and safety of the Jewish community, Jewish institutions and Jewish schools. It’s about relations with police and government security agencies. It’s about being identifiably Jewish.
The term “antisemitism” has always been somewhat amorphous for American Jews. There is no distinction in terminology between violent acts committed against Jews, ideas and words that are “anti” or insulting, and threats made against Jews. They are all bundled together under the same, very large, antisemitic umbrella. Threatening antisemitism is antisemitic. Violent acts against Jews that may accompany the threats, or shouts using dreadful antisemitic epithets are also antisemitism.  No distinction is necessary.
It all emanates from the very foundation and initiation of the term. 
In the late 1870s, Wilhelm Marr created the term “antisemitism” to differentiate his hatred of Jews from traditional Jew-hatred found in Christian religious attitudes toward Jews. That hatred was based on emotion and passion. That hatred came about because of the belief that Jews murdered Christ and therefore deserved to suffer. Christians created myths to justify their religious hatred: Blood libel, host desecration and the poisoning of wells, among others.
Marr and his compatriots created a new word to positively describe their philosophy of logical hatred. They were proud of their new idea. It was an outgrowth of newly emerging ideas on racism and nationalism. They were superior; Jews were definitely not.
THE MOVEMENT picked up momentum. It was not isolated to Germany where Marr lived. A very similar movement of antisemitism emerged in France where, in 1886, Edouard Drumont, a writer and journalist, wrote a book purporting how Jews were taking over France. Drumont called his book La France Juive, “Jewish France,” in which he bemoans the freedoms given to the Jews who were now in charge. He refers to the situation as “poor Judaized France.”
Marr and Drumont promoted a positivist ideology and description. Antisemites were proud of their new political philosophy. Antisemites wanted change. They demanded that their societies retract the freedoms given to Jews as an outgrowth of emancipation. For Marr and Drumont, the equality given to Jews transformed their society and countries into something different: places where Jews were welcome and allowed to share prominent cultural positions with historical Germans and Frenchmen.
They feared that Jews were diluting Germany and diluting France. They postulated that even if Jewish influences resulted in more creative, interesting and productive countries, it would no longer be their Germany and their France. 
These are the ideas that led to the rise of Nazism; to the thinking that led to the violent mass murder of the Jews of Europe; and to the doctrine of the Third Reich articulating the Final Solution as an answer to “the Jewish problem” of Jewish integration into society.
Hitler grew up in Austria just as Wilhelm Marr’s ideas were spreading and gathering traction there, in Austria and throughout Europe. There was another young man also in working Vienna at that time: Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. 
Nazi ideology and political Zionism emerged from the same seeds of antisemitism, which brings us back to Pittsburgh.
America has a long, proud history of protecting freedom of speech, even antisemitic speech. But when speech becomes action it must be shut down. The United States saw a nearly 60% increase in antisemitic violence in 2017 compared to 2016. Statistics already in for 2018 look as if they will dwarf 2017.  Antisemitic ideas are more prevalent than they have been for years, and acts of antisemitism are more and more commonplace.
Pittsburgh was not an isolated incident. It was the last straw.
The writer is a political commentator and the host of Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.