By David M. Greenwald
One of the lessons of the Holocaust was that Hitler quickly learned he could attack Jews, blame Jews, and turn them into second-class citizens with impunity. While the rise of anti-Semitism this year is unsettling, this month my heart has warmed by a perhaps surprising but welcomed pushback by the broader community.
According to numbers from the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), the number of “Antisemitic incidents” in the US reached an all-time high in 2021. Antisemitic incidents jumped 34% from 2020 to the highest number on record since the ADL began tracking them in 1979. Worse yet, 2022 is expected to exceed those numbers.
“While we have always seen a rise in antisemitic activity during periods of increased hostilities between Israel and terrorist groups, the violence we witnessed in America during the conflict last May was shocking,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director, said last May.
Nevertheless, the snapshot is particularly concerning.
New York (City) saw 260 antisemitic crimes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University, San Bernardino. That’s up from 170 in 2021.
Los Angeles saw 80 from January to October this year, up from 71 in 2021. Chicago saw 30 through the end of October, compared to just eight last year.
A big debate is what is driving this spike. The simple answer is probably Trump. Defenders of the former President will argue that he’s not anti-Semitic, he has a son-in-law who is in fact Jewish.
But that was before the former President was disclosed to be dining with rapper Ye (Kanye) after Ye’s slew of anti-Semitic tweets, and white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
It was Ye’s comments that drew a local antisemitic banner over Highway 113 and others in Southern California by white supremacists and Holocaust deniers proclaiming Kanye to be correct.
Even ignoring those highly publicized incidents, in general, Trump has emboldened extremist groups and white supremacists who have been increasingly active during and since his presidency.
During his presidency, he was criticized—frequently—for failing to call out white supremacy and, when he did, he often mucked up the message such as when he argued that there were “very good people on both sides.”
As Charles Sykes noted in a commentary earlier this month in Politico, “For most Americans, including Republicans, the resurgence of hatred against Jewish people is the return of an ancient evil. But Donald Trump, who has refused to disavow his dinner with two of the country’s most virulent antisemites, apparently sees it very differently.”
Arguing that Trump sees this group as one of constituencies, “Trump has been consistent in his reluctance to offend what he regards as a crucial part of the base that he has nurtured over the years. He is unapologetic about associating with overt neo-Nazis, and unwilling to issue full-throated denunciations of antisemitism.”
Sykes argues, “Trump is willing to draw this barrage of opprobrium for one simple reason: He believes that he has tapped into something in the American electorate, especially among evangelical Christians, who have ingrained — but complicated — attitudes toward Israel and Jews.”
I think that’s probably a fairly accurate assessment. Those who argue that he is not personally anti-Semitic miss the important point. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he considers these to be “his people.”
The good news is that while the spike in antisemitism is concerning, we are not in danger of heading down the road of Nazi Germany. The risk of authoritarianism in America has subsided, and the many decent people in the US have strongly pushed back.
That message was driven home when several NFL games last weekend lit menorahs, including during the highly watched Sunday Night Football game last weekend.
This was the first ever such lighting and it clearly sent a very strong message.
Unlike his predecessor, President Biden has not been shy about repudiating anti-Semitism.
And he used a Hanukkah celebration to call on Americans to “get off the sidelines and join the fight against rising anti-Semitism in the United States.”
“Today, we must all say clearly and forcefully that anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and violence in this country have no safe harbor in America. Period,” Biden said.
He added, “Silence is complicity.”
Once again, this included the first-ever official White House menorah. It is the first Jewish artifact to be added to the White House archives. A little surprising, but still a strong message.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, who is Jewish, warned against a “dramatic resurgence” of antisemitism spreading across the U.S. He slammed Former President Trump during remarks at a conference on combating antisemitism, for dining last month with antisemitic rapper Ye and white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
“When a former president of the United States welcomes at his own dinner table several vicious antisemites,” Schumer said, “and then rather than apologizing afterwards he lectures American Jewish leaders for insufficient loyalty, it is incumbent on all of us to speak out.”
Having the leadership call out anti-Semitism is huge. Having the community making symbolic gestures to the Jewish community in this time is a strong message that the haters are not dividing us, they are making us stronger and more unified.
There is plenty to be concerned about with rising hate incidents against Jews and the API community since the pandemic, but overall the public response has been strong and unequivocal.