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Alvin H. Rosenfeld: Antisemitism in Today’s America

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Leonard Dinnerstein’s Antisemitism in America, published in 1994, remains the most comprehensive and authoritative study of its subject to date. In his book’s final sentence, however, Dinnerstein steps out of his role as a reliable guide to the past and ventures a prediction about the future that has proven to be seriously wrong. Antisemitism, he concludes, “has declined in potency and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”[1] In the years since he formulated this optimistic view, antisemitism in America, far from declining, has been on the rise, as I will aim to demonstrate.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I begin with a personal anecdote.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 During a lecture visit to Boca Raton, Florida, in January 2017, I attended religious services at one of the city’s large synagogues and was surprised to see heavy security outside and inside the building. “What’s going on?” I asked a fellow worshipper. “Nothing special,” he replied, “having these guys here is just normal these days.”

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It didn’t strike me as normal, especially in America. From visits to synagogues in Europe, I am used to seeing security guards in place – mostly policemen but, in France, sometimes also soldiers. As targets of ongoing threats, Europe’s Jews need such protection and have come to rely on it. Why such need exists is clear: Europe has a long history of antisemitism, and, in recent years, it has become resurgent – in many cases, violently so.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 European Jews are doing, then, what they can and must do to defend themselves against the threats they face. Some, fearing still worse to come, have left their home countries for residence elsewhere; others are thinking about doing the same. Most remain, but apprehensively, and some have adopted ways to mute their Jewish identities to avert attention from themselves. For instance, they may feel it no longer prudent to wear Jewish skullcaps or other Jewish markers, like jewelry with the Magen David, in public. Some have removed the mezzuzot (the markers of a Jewish home that contain biblical verses) from their outside doorposts. It’s a nervous, edgy way to live, but for many, that’s Jewish life in today’s Europe.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 America, we have longed believed, is different — even exceptional — for being largely free of ongoing, serious anti-Jewish hostility. The great majority of American Jews go about their daily lives without encountering overt antagonism. Unlike Jews over the centuries who often suffered from intolerance and persecution as residents of Christian and Muslim lands, American Jews know that they live in a country that is free and democratic and upholds the values of religious and ethnic pluralism. They enjoy full civil and political rights, have not been subjected to federally imposed restrictive legislation that singles out Jews, and have never faced pogroms or other forms of mass violence, as their European ancestors did.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 At the same time, however, social antisemitism is part of the country’s history, and in earlier decades, American Jews experienced varying degrees of discrimination and exclusion in employment, residential neighborhoods, universities, resorts, social clubs, and even hospitals. A hard-edged antisemitism, at its most extreme reflecting Nazi views, was at times a prominent part of the public discourse of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and during these years Jews were frequently accused of disloyalty, economic profiteering, and war-mongering.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Acts of aggression against individual Jews and Jewish institutions have also occurred over the years. Some of these acts have been lethal, but they have been largely episodic and not chronic or continuous. So, while the United States has hardly been free of antisemitism, American Jews, for the most part, have long felt generally accepted, and the great majority are fully integrated in virtually all strata of American life. The Jewish presence in the arts, entertainment, education, business, medicine, science, politics, and other spheres of American life has been prominent and productive for decades. When it comes to having to contend with antisemitism, then, America, in comparison with Europe and parts of the Muslim world, looks far better; and, over the past half-century or more, most Jews have felt secure and at home in this country and have prospered in it.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Recent events, though, have begun to rattle these feelings of safety and belonging. Beginning in early January 2017, and continuing on an almost daily basis for over two months, bomb threats were made against over 150 American Jewish community centers, schools, civil rights agencies, homes for the elderly, and other organizations across 38 states.[2] In this same time frame, several Jewish cemeteries were desecrated; synagogues were attacked; and swastikas were scrawled on Jewish property in numerous places. Believing their communities to be under assault by newly emboldened right-wing activists, many American Jews were unnerved by the rapid surfacing of such hostility. They sensed that America was entering a new and more threatening era, one marked by the emergence of a reenergized antisemitism together with overt forms of intolerance, bigotry, and hostility directed against others. While much of their anxiety diminished when the perpetrator of most of the bomb threats turned out to be a troubled Israeli teenager, many nevertheless began to feel that they could no longer take their safety for granted.[3] Aware that anti-Jewish hostility has been on the upsurge globally since the turn of the millennium, Jews everywhere have begun to feel more vulnerable.[4] Would these feelings of unease begin to reshape the lives of American Jews into a more wary and defensive posture? Or would the country’s traditions of freedom, tolerance, and respect for pluralism and diverse cultural and religious traditions be resilient enough to allow American Jews to go about their lives more or less normally?

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 It is still too early to answer these questions clearly, but it is possible to observe certain developments in recent years that have introduced new sources of concern for American Jews. I will devote the remainder of this paper to briefly discussing three prominent areas of American social and political life that seem especially hospitable to today’s antisemitism. Each of these needs to be taken seriously in its own right, and the synergy among them is potentially highly destructive. I will also briefly propose some of what needs to be done to counter these troubling developments.

Terror Attacks and Jews as Targets

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Unforeseen at the time when Dinnerstein was writing his book, terrorism and the need to guard against it have become defining features of American life. In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11/2001, Americans in general are more apprehensive about their security than they had been before. Jews may feel this disquiet more than most, and for several reasons: (1) Jewish populations in the United States are densest on the east coast, where the attacks took place. In the Jihadi imagination, New York City, the country’s financial center, is a “Jewish” city; it may have been targeted for that reason, and it is feared that it will be again. (2) At the time of the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, rumors started up that the Israeli Mossad was behind these assaults and that Jews who worked in the Twin Towers had been tipped off ahead of time not to come to work on the day when the planes hit; reasonable people know this story is absurd, but it persists to this day in parts of the Arab world and elsewhere and signals to Jews that, in a time when conspiracy theories about covert Jewish power are in wide circulation, their innocence cannot be taken for granted. (3) A third reason Jews are worried today is that in a number of cities, including Paris, Toulouse, Brussels, and Mumbai, there has been a close link between Jihadi terror attacks in general and the choice of Jews as targets in particular; in the United States itself, attacks against Jews have sometimes been precursors to larger attacks against American institutions, as in the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane by El-Said Nossair, two of whose accomplices then participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.[5] There have been other incidents of this kind as well, some of them successful, others foiled before they could take place. (4) A final cause of Jewish unrest comes with the recognition that ideological antisemitism, in both its neo-Nazi and Jihadi forms, is one of the motivators for terror attacks against American targets, including American Jews and Jewish institutions.[6]

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 To illustrate ideological antisemitism as it manifests in Jihadi attacks, I quote from Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the American Public,” issued one year after his deadly attacks on 9/11/2001. In his message, bin Laden denounced America as “the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind” and singled out the Jews as the source of the country’s wickedness: “Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people . . . Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media, and economy.” He excoriated America for its support of Israel, whose creation, he declared, “is a crime which must be erased.” If America continues to back Israel, he warned, “this will result in more disasters for you . . . Do not await anything from us but Jihad.”[7]

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 This notion that America and other countries have “surrendered to the Jews,” who are said to control their economies, media, and “all aspects” of their lives, making non-Jews the servants of the Jews, is a prominent feature of today’s antisemitism, especially among Jihadis. So, too, is the charge that the Jews are an age-old and still-abiding threat to Islam and that the existence of Israel is an intolerable offense against Muslims. Such ideas are recognizable features of a widespread strain of contemporary thinking about Jews that sees them as a sinister, manipulative, and predatory people conspiratorially organized to seize power on a transnational scale. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, has long given voice to these views and made repeated warnings to Jews that the end of their time is near. On May 26 of this year, in a sermon given in Chicago, Farrakhan spoke of “Satanic Jews who have infected the whole world with poison and deceit,” warning his listeners that “the false Jew will lead you to filth and indecency.”[8] And Farrakhan is not alone in spewing such hatred against Jews. More and more, violent threats are being voiced in America by radical Islamic preachers.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In July 2017, for example, at two different mosques in California, prominent imams called from their pulpits for the slaughter of the Jews. One of these preachers, Sheikh Ammar Shahin, of the Islamic Center of Davis, California, included in his prayers an appeal to Allah to put an end to the Jews: “Count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any one of them.”[9] Similar exhortations were voiced by Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush: “Allah wants us to have jihad in our lives, no matter what and where we are and what is happening . . . Oh Allah, destroy them. They are no match for you. Oh Allah, disperse them and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”[10] In December 2017, at the Islamic Center In Jersey City, New Jersey, Sheikh Aymen Elkasaby referred to the Jews as “apes and pigs” and likewise called for them to be destroyed.[11] At about the same time, at an Islamic institute in Houston, Texas, Sheikh Raed Saleh Al-Rousan, invoked a familiar hadith to call for the death of Jews.[12] The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) monitors sermons of this kind and has identified others like them. How representative these hate-spewing imams are among those who preach in America’s mosques is unknown, but the fact that they are heard at all is enough to make American Jews uneasy about what may lie ahead for them.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 It is little wonder, then, that Jews, like others in America, have begun to take elaborate measures to secure their buildings and personnel against future acts of aggression. Shootings, arson attacks, and bombings against Jews and Jewish institutions have already been perpetrated or attempted in recent years by neo-Nazis and Jihadi Muslims.[13] In the current climate, overwrought as it is with the passions that drive these people, other acts of anti-Jewish violence can be expected in the period ahead. In response, a defense organization, Community Security Services, has trained some 4,000 Jewish volunteers to protect synagogues and other Jewish institutions in America.[14]

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 According to the 2017 report by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents in America increased by 57% this past year, with almost 2,000 antisemitic events and activities recorded. Antisemitic incidents in schools and on college campuses doubled in 2017, as did such incidents in non-Jewish elementary and high schools.[15]

Campus Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Most Americans, it is safe to say, are not antisemites. A recent Pew poll, in fact, reports that Jews are the most admired religious group in the United States.[16] These positive attitudes toward Jews also carry over to American attitudes toward Israel, which are largely favorable (although variables appear when political party affiliations, race, and generational differences are factored in).[17] On the whole, then, both Jews and Israel look good in the eyes of most Americans. Exceptions exist, however, and within segments of the country’s African-American communities, gay community, certain liberal churches, and a few labor unions, negative attitudes toward Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish state are evident. In its 2016 platform, for instance, Black Lives Matter, a popular coalition of African-American and other politically active groups on the “progressive” left, denounced Israel as an “apartheid” state and accused it of carrying out a program of “genocide” against Palestinians. A much-publicized “Dyke March” in Chicago on June 24, 2017, initially banned the participation of Jewish women who were identified as “Zionists” and thereby were accused of serving as apologists for Israeli “pinkwashing.”[18] In January 2014, the Presbyterian Church USA published an unusually hostile booklet, “Zionism Unsettled,” which vilified Israel and denigrated both Zionism and Judaism.[19] (The booklet has since been removed from the Presbyterian Church USA website.) These hostile trends have become especially acute on some American college and university campuses, where anti-Israel sentiments run deep and can provoke words and deeds that are indistinguishable from antisemitism.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 America has over 4,000 colleges and universities. The great majority of these are generally free of ongoing anti-Israel and antisemitic activities. At some universities on both the west and east coasts, however, and often at more elite universities, such antagonisms are ongoing and have become a regular part of the campus scene. AMCHA Initiative, an organization that investigates and combats campus antisemitism, carried out a study to determine the prevalence of antisemitic activity and the factors that affect it on more than 100 US campuses with the largest Jewish student populations. They found that on close to half the campuses, students were threatened because of their Jewish identity: they were harassed and intimidated, their places of residence defaced with swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti, the events they organized disrupted and shut down, their participation in campus activities shunned, and more.[20] The political passions that animate these activities are not campus-wide but usually find a voice among some students and student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as individual faculty members in certain humanities and social science departments and in some national scholarly organizations.[21] Politically motivated actions of this kind take several forms – most notoriously the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which rallies people on and off campuses to engage in widespread educational, cultural, and economic boycotts of Israel; encourages divesture from companies that deal with Israel and from certain Israeli firms; and seeks to impose political penalties and otherwise bring about sanctions against Israel. Some campuses are also venues for the annual spring hate-fest called Israel Apartheid Week. Other events include anti-Israel “die-ins,” in which students feign victimization by other students pretending to be Israeli soldiers; the construction of fake Israeli check-points and other hostile acts of open-air political theater; courses, lectures, and conferences on Israel and the Middle East that may reflect anti-Israel biases and pursue anti-Israel agendas; efforts to constrain, silence, or disrupt speakers invited to campus who are judged by Israel’s adversaries to be Zionist advocates; and frequently heard “intersectional” arguments that draw ties between Jews, Israelis, and others denounced as “racists,” “white supremacists,” and “oppressors.”

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Those who engage in many of these activities tend to justify them on the grounds that they advance the progressive goals of peace, justice, civil rights, and the rights of indigenous and minority peoples while opposing forces that supposedly work against those goals – namely, racism, fascism, imperialism, settler-colonialism, and, of special interest to us, Zionism; and it is Zionism that, in the antisemitic political imagination, incarnates all of the oppressive ideologies just named. Most of this activity is fueled by ill will and is poorly informed about the historical and political complexities of the Israeli-Arab conflict and of Israel itself; yet, on numerous campuses these trends are now well established and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Among the initiatives described above, BDS is the best organized and most dynamic. As a movement that seeks to marginalize and isolate Israel, it is not a new phenomenon, for boycott movements against Israel date back at least to the 1940s. BDS is a continuation and intensification of this trend. It originated in resolutions formulated at the 2001 UN World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa; these resolutions were then taken up in 2004 by the “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)” and the 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.” While BDS has diverse supporters, its chief advocates on American campuses include Students for Justice in Palestine, various Muslim student associations, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other groups active on the anti-Israel political left. They claim to stand for non-violent resistance, but their ultimate goals are destructive – foremost, the end of Israel as a sovereign, Jewish-majority state. In the words of Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS: “A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically . . . Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”[22] Barghouti’s words are echoed in countless other statements by BDS advocates, most of whom oppose a two-state solution and do not recognize the legitimacy of the existing State of Israel. Here, for instance, is As’ad Abu Khalil, another spokesman for BDS: “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel . . . That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”[23]

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Those who embrace these views do not see the Jews as a people entitled to the rights of national self-determination, and they discount the validity of any Jewish historical, political, and moral claims to the land. Alone among the world’s countries, Israel, as they see it, is undeserving of a future. Through boycotts and other strategies of opposition, advocates of BDS aim to delegitimize and, ultimately, bring about the end of the State of Israel.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 In a practical sense, BDS partisans have won almost no victories, for not a single American university to date has followed their calls to divest from companies that deal with Israel. In a propagandistic sense, however, the constant vilification of Israel as a “colonialist,” “apartheid,” “Nazi” state has no doubt eroded the country’s image in the eyes of some people on America’s college campuses. Moreover, a politics of delegitimization, carried on and intensified over time, takes on dimensions of dehumanization that can be detrimental to Jewish students and faculty members.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Here are just a few examples of hundreds that might be cited. In March 2016, at Claremont College in California, “Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine” placed mock eviction notices on the doors of dormitory rooms where Jewish students resided. Similar notices appeared in the residence halls of Harvard University, New York University, Scripps College, Pitzer College, and elsewhere.[24] In February 2017, a student at McGill University recommended in a Twitter post that his fellow students “punch a Zionist today.” When others warned that his call for violence could be directed against Jews indiscriminately, he held his ground, arguing that Jews are not a “legitimate ethnic group.” His campus’s newspaper, The McGill Daily, endorsed a policy to ban articles from its pages that “promote a Zionist worldview.”[25] In September 2017, the organizers of a student demonstration at the University of Illinois called “Smashing Fascism: Radical Resistance to White Supremacy” released a statement, in the name of “movements for mass liberation,” in which they expressed disgust at “the unholy union of American fascists, white supremacists, and Zionists.”[26] Add to this aggressive student behavior the presence of faculty members at various universities, including Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and elsewhere who have unashamedly transmitted hard-core antisemitic messages about Jews and Israel over social media, and the campus scene becomes even more toxic.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Not surprisingly, all of AMCHA Initiative’s studies have found a clear and robust relationship between anti-Zionist expression and acts of anti-Jewish aggression: schools with BDS activity, the presence of anti-Zionist student groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, and faculty who support BDS are 3 to 8 times more likely to show evidence of incidents that target Jewish students for harm, and the stronger the presence of these factors, the more incidents of anti-Jewish hostility are likely to be found.[27]

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 In short, at numerous universities, the American campus scene has become a venue for chronic anti-Zionist and antisemitic agitation. It’s unlikely to ease up anytime soon.

Rise of the alt-right, white nationalism, and armed militias in the Trump era

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Shortly after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, a group of his supporters assembled at the Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. to celebrate what they saw as a victory for their cause. They were addressed by Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist, who called out “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” His words, echoing familiar Nazi chants, were greeted by some in the crowd with stiff-armed salutes right out of the Hitler era.[28] Many Americans were shocked, for they are not used to seeing neo-Nazis gathering for a convention just a few blocks from the White House. Even more startling were subsequent displays of white supremacist and antisemitic fervor, culminating in the infamous rally of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and others belonging to the hardcore right in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Posters that circulated in advance of that rally urged people to come to Charlottesville to help “Unite the right” and “End Jewish influence in America.” Many responded enthusiastically and joined in a much-publicized street demonstration at which the words “Jews will not replace us” were repeatedly shouted out.[29]

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 One looked on with a deepening sense of dismay, especially considering that these events might not be aberrant, one-off happenings but could herald the revival of re-energized passions on the extreme right. Such feelings and the politics they give rise to have long existed on the margins of American society. Decades ago, for instance, they found expression in Henry Ford’s The International Jew and other antisemitic publications. Father Coughlin’s antisemitic radio broadcasts and populist rallies organized by the America Bund and Silvershirts also gave sanction to antisemitic sentiments. In more recent times, however, such views were regarded as beyond the pale and had no presence in the country’s respectable mainstream.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 What, then, explains the surprising appearance this past year of swastika flags, Nazi slogans, and antisemitic chants in the halls and streets of American cities, including the nation’s capital and a university town closely associated with an icon of America’s most hallowed democratic ideals, Thomas Jefferson?

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Numerous factors are no doubt involved, but one is the influence of an amorphous, previously obscure movement, the alt-right, most of whose active life until recently took place on the Internet and not in the public square. A collection of diverse, counter-cultural types on the reactionary right, the alt-right resists easy definition, but its main ideological thrust is populist and nativist, and its most radical elements include vehement white supremacy and antisemitism. Many of the alt-right’s members call for the end of a United States they regard as a “Zionist Occupied Government,” which they refer to as “ZOG.” They aim to either replace this version of America, which they no longer regard as their country, or carve out of it a racially pure, white ethno-state. They were prominently represented on the streets of Charlottesville, some of them in battle fatigues and armed with heavy weapons. Eric Ward, who has studied the white nationalist movement, finds antisemitism at the core of the group’s beliefs and mission. As Ward writes, in the alt-right mind, Jews are seen as “the absolute other, the driving force of white dispossession . . . [They] are a different, unassimilable, enemy race and must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated.”[30] Alt-right publications, websites, and popular music give ample evidence that Ward is correct in seeing antisemitism as “the lynchpin of the white nationalist belief system.”

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 How many Americans find this “belief system” appealing is unknown, but the Charlottesville march numbered an estimated 500-600 people, including a sizable group of militant types on the extreme left that considers itself “anti-fascist” and came to Charlottesville to oppose the “Unite the Right” rally and to do battle with its organizers.[31] The organizers were an assortment of people on the hard right, some of whom populate Nazi websites like The Daily Stormer or belong to a small group that calls itself the “1488ers.” The name needs decoding: the number 14 points to a 14-word white supremacist slogan: “We must assure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The numbers 88 are a coded reference to “H,” the eighth letter in the alphabet, which, when doubled, as in 88, signifies “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.”[32] Once they are understood, the Nazi references leave no doubt about the extreme thinking that inspires those who identify as 1488ers.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 The number of people who identify with hard right groups is probably small and, until recently, their influence has been negligible. Some find affiliation with such groups to be a desirable bonding experience. They gain a new sense of belonging in a virtual – and increasingly real – social climate, with its own language, dress code, and rituals. They feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, believe they have a friend in the White House, and can now step out of the shadows and proudly make their case to the American public. They favor the President’s America First rhetoric and see some of his daily tweets and other statements as conveying only thinly coded antisemitic sentiments. They also identify with negative views he has expressed about Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities. They took well to the President’s ambivalent response to the events in Charlottesville: there are “very fine people on both sides,” he said, puzzling and upsetting those who find nothing “very fine” about neo-Nazis and Klansmen. One of the alt-right’s most extreme voices, the former KKK leader and far-right politician David Duke, in fact, publicly thanked the President for his “honesty and courage in tell[ing] the truth about Charlottesville and condemn[ing] the leftist terrorists” who fought against the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and others on the streets of the Virginia city.[33]

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Some in this diverse collection of right-wing activists look favorably upon the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the White House and see him as something like the second coming of Adolf Hitler. Hence their fondness for Nazi signs and symbols. Many of the opponents of these groups on the left also look upon Trump in Hitlerian terms, but they denounce him as a racist and antisemite. Debates about President Trump’s personality, politics, and opinions, as well as the degree to which he may be responsible for an increase in racial, religious, and ethnic tensions in America, are intense and ongoing. Whatever else these sharply polarized views of the American President may reveal, they point to a new and troubling moment in America’s social and political life – one in which antisemitism as well as other forms of racial and ethnic bias are far more prominent in the country’s public life than they have been for a number of years.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 The last few months have seen some small white supremacist rallies by groups like Identity Evropa, but they have not attracted the numbers of loyalists or displayed the kind of aggressive rhetoric or violent action seen in Charlottesville. In addition, one of the alt-right’s principal architects, Stephen Bannon, used his position at Breitbart News to elevate and spread the alt-right’s ideological platform. Bannon is neither an antisemite nor a white supremacist, but his strong advocacy of populist and nativist views appealed to people of such leanings. He lost his post at Breitbart in January, however, and before then he also lost his powerbase at the White House where, for a time, he played a key role as chief strategist to Donald Trump. The President fired him in August 2017 and has since derided him as having lost not only his job but also his mind.[34] With Bannon’s fall and no doubt also for other reasons, the alt-right’s advance into the American mainstream seems, at the moment, to have slowed down, but events can change quickly, and the potential danger that the alt-right represents should not be discounted. [35]

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 In short, America is in a phase of social, political, and ideological tumult, in which extreme views of many kinds have come prominently to the fore. Antisemitism flourishes in such an unsettled climate, as do other kinds of racial, ethnic, and religious hostility. President Trump’s comment on January 10, 2018, against people who are seeking to come to the United States from “shithole countries” in Africa demonstrated how unrestrained racist rhetoric has become in the country’s political discourse.[36] In such a time, it may be revolting but it is not surprising to learn that the person running uncontested as the Republican candidate for a Congressional seat in Illinois’ third district, Arthur Jones, is an avowed white supremacist, openly declared antisemite, and former leader of the American Nazi party. A notorious denier of Nazi crimes against the Jews, he has called the Holocaust nothing but “an extortion racket” and the “biggest, blackest lie in history.” Jones has run for public office before and attracted few followers and almost no notice. His chances of winning this time in the overwhelmingly Democratic district in which he lives are virtually non-existent, but the fact that he is in the race as the sole Republican candidate for Congress gives his toxic views far greater visibility than they otherwise would have. [37]

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Jones is an extreme case but not an isolated one. Freddy Burgos, a member of Virginia’s Republican Party State Committee, has been sidelined by his party for encouraging voters to support Christian candidates over non-Christians. Burgos claims that “nobody loves the Jewish people and Israel more” than he does. He just doesn’t want his fellow Virginians to vote for Jewish representatives.[38] Paul Nehlen, who identifies with the alt-right and, at the time of writing, is the only Republican candidate running in Wisconsin’s Republican primary race, has just been disowned by his political party for disseminating racist and antisemitic messages.[39] Patrick Little, a republican who is challenging Diane Feinstein for a United States Senate seat in California, is a white supremacist and Holocaust denier whose campaign rhetoric includes the statement that he “woke up to the Jewish question and [has] dedicated my political life to exposing these Jews that control our country.” He has denounced Feinstein as a “Zionist bitch,” called the Nazi slaughter of the Jews a “propaganda hoax,” and will work for an America “free from Jews.” He’s also on record as wanting to introduce a death penalty for any American politician who proposes foreign aid to Israel. Despite his extreme views, he has been garnering about 18% of likely California voters, according to one poll.[40]

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 What is new here is not the persistence of antisemitic passions but their public airing. At their most extreme, a small but increasingly vocal minority of Americans now feel free to declare themselves “Proud to be an Antisemite.” I take these words not from one of Jones’ speeches, although they accurately represent his sentiments, but from a bumper sticker on a car seen driving in the streets of New York. With the appearance of this strain of antisemitic triumphalism, the United States has reached a new low in the nation’s history.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 What’s needed in such an environment is for people in positions of leadership in America’s cultural, educational, political, and religious life to speak out against these ugly developments forcefully and unambiguously. But more than words are needed. Countries around the world, including the United States, need to recognize antisemitism as a persistent social pathology and develop much more systematic methods of monitoring it in all of its manifestations. As is, such efforts take place, if at all, inconsistently and, in most places, without reliable results. Scholars need to study anti-Jewish hostilities as seriously and comprehensively as they do anti-black racism, anti-feminism, homophobia, and other chronic societal ills. As is, only a single university in the United States sponsors a research institute devoted to the study of contemporary antisemitism, and that is my own institute at Indiana University. In addition, careful scrutiny needs to be given to the use of the Internet to spread antisemitism and other kinds of hate speech. In whatever ways possible that are consistent with the need to protect free speech, hateful, threatening words against Jews and others, including on social media, need to be discouraged and curtailed. Also, critiques need to be regularly offered of otherwise reputable institutions, such as the United Nations, certain NGOs, and certain churches, labor unions, and universities that help to foster antisemitism, often through wildly disproportionate attacks on Zionism and Israel.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 In addition to all of the above, legislation should be instituted to put checks on these problems before they get still worse. This fact was recognized on March 7, 2017, when all 100 members of the United States Senate put forward a strong appeal to the leading law enforcement officials in the Trump administration. They drew explicit attention to the upsurge of antisemitism and called for “swift action” against the rapid and intensifying spread of threats against Jewish community organizations across the country. “This is completely unacceptable and un-American,” the senators wrote.[41] They are right, and if their words are heeded and practical and effective initiatives are taken to check this hatred, we will all be better off for it. If today’s antisemitism grows worse, however, America will no longer be the America we have known.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 This dismal prospect calls to mind an especially memorable response to the escalating growth of antisemitism abroad. In January 2015, during some of the worst violence directed against Jews and others in Paris, the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, spoke words that bear remembering. Fearing that French Jews, then under attack, might decide to leave the country in large numbers – and over the past 10 years, almost 40,000 of them have left for Israel (numbers for those who have migrated to other countries are unavailable) – Valls urged his countrymen not to remain indifferent to the emergence of lethal Jew-hatred in their country. He wanted to awaken their consciences to this peril not only for the sake of the Jews but also for that of the entire country. For, as he put it, “France without Jews is not France.”[42]

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Nor can America be America without its Jews. President Trump should know that and, with others, do all that he can to prevent such harm from growing. He need not fear that large numbers of Jews are about to exit American shores. They will not. But if their safety is constantly threatened and they begin to feel that their lives are destined to be harassed and disrupted, they will, for the first time for most, sense that they are living under a state of siege. They will then install more protective fortifications in and around their communal institutions, hire more guards to secure their synagogues, schools, community centers, cemeteries, homes, and businesses, and begin to follow the European model of muting their identities to avoid calling unwanted attention to themselves.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Nothing would be more out of step with the self-confident and generally successful lives that most American Jews have enjoyed until now. But if, in heretofore unexpected and unprecedented ways, antisemitism takes hold more deeply in the United States, Jews will adapt, as European Jews have, by devoting more of their time, energy, and money to shoring up their defenses. They will see such moves into a warier and more protective lifestyle as necessary and, in time, it will become part of American Jewry’s own “new normal.”

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 That is the situation I encountered at the heavily guarded synagogue in Florida and that Jewish friends elsewhere tell me has become more and more part of their own experiences. In fact, though, this new, defensive posture is nothing other than a normalization of the abnormal, a condition that no free and self-respecting people should have to endure.


Notes

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 [1] L. Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 250.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 [2] “Bomb Threats to Jewish Institutions in 2017,” Anti-Defamation League, https://www.adl.org/news/article/bomb-threats-to-jewish-institutions-in-2017 (accessed December 21, 2017).

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 [3] T. Pileggi, “Jewish Israeli-US teen arrested to phoning in JCC bomb threats,” Times of Israel, https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-israeli-teen-19-arrested-over-jcc-bomb-threats/ (accessed December 21, 2017).

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 [4] For more on the recent upsurge of antisemitic hostility, see Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, ed. A.H. Rosenfeld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), and Deciphering the New Antisemitism, ed. A.H. Rosenfeld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 [5] For a detailed, clarifying study of these and other such incidents, see Y. Barsky, Terror Incidents and Attacks against Jews and Israelis in the United States, 1969-2016 (New York: Community Security Services, 2016). Online: https://european-forum-on antisemitism.org/file/95/download?token=rRLPN3ds

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 [6] Ibid., 16-25.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 [7] “Full text: bin Laden’s ‘letter to America,” The Guardian, November 24, 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver (accessed December 21, 2017).

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 [8] Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Louis Farrakhan warns against ‘Satanic Jews’ in Chicago speech,” The Times of Israel, June 5, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/louis-farrakhan-warns-against-satanic-jews-in-chicago-speech/ (accessed June 8, 2018).

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 [9] “More on Imam Ammar Shahin And Islamic Center of Davis, California: Teaching Wahhabi Islam, Hosting Sheikh Who Supports Death Penalty For Homosexuality,” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), https://www.memri.org/reports/more-imam-ammar-shahin-and-islamic-center-davis-california-teaching-wahhabi-islam-hosting (accessed December 21, 2017).

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 [10] “California Imam Mahmoud Harmoush Prays for Allah to Destroy the Jews: They Are After Mecca and Medina,” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), https://www.memri.org/tv/california-sermon-jews-plotting-mecca-medina-allah-wants-jihad/transcript (accessed December 21, 2017).

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 [11] “Friday Sermon at Jersey City, NJ: Imam Aymen Elkasaby Prays to Be Martyred on the Threshold of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Which Is ‘Under the Feet of the Apes and Pigs,’” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), https://www.memri.org/tv/antisemitic-sermon-jersey-city-imam-aymen-elkasaby/transcript (accessed December 21, 2017).

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 [12] “Houston Imam Raed Saleh Al-Rousan: ‘Good Tidings’ — Muslims Will Kill Jews On Judgment Day; ‘Do Not Tell Me That Palestine Is The Country Of The Jewish [People],’” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), https://www.memri.org/tv/houston-imam-raed-rousan-muslims-kill-jews-palestine/transcript (accessed December 21, 2017).

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 [13] See Y. Barsky, Terrorist Incidents and Attacks.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 [14] J. Dolsten, “This organization has trained 4,000 Jewish volunteers keep synagogues safe,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), November 6, 2017, https://www.jta.org/2017/11/06/news-opinion/united-states/this-organization-has-trained-4000-jewish-volunteers-to-keep-synagogues-safe (accessed December 22, 2017).

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [15] “Anti-Semitic incidents soared in 2017, ADL says,” Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), February 26, 2018, https://www.jta.org/2018/02/26/news-opinion/united-states/anti-semitic-incidents-in-2017-more-than-double-the-us-total-from-2015-adl-says?utm_source=JTA%20Maropost&utm_campaign=JTA&utm_medium=email&mpweb=1161-3106-17640 (accessed February 27, 2018).

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [16] Pew Forum, “How Americans Feel About Religious Groups,” Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2014/07/16/how-americans-feel-about-religious-groups/ (accessed December 21, 2017).

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [17] L. Saad, “Americans’ Views Toward Israel Remain Firmly Positive,” Gallup News, http://news.gallup.com/poll/189626/americans-views-toward-israel-remain-firmly-positive.aspx (accessed December 21, 2017). See also report on Pew Center survey, “Republicans and Democrats Grow even Further Apart in Views on Israel,” http://www.people-press.org/2018/01/23/republicans-and-democrats-grow-even-further-apart-in-views-of-israel-palestinians/ (accessed January 26, 2018).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [18] “Chicago ‘Dyke March’ Bans Jewish Pride Flags: ‘They Made People Feel Unsafe,’” Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.797650 (accessed December 21, 2017).

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [19] “ADL voices Anger Over Presbyterian ‘Zionism Unsettled’ Study Guide,” Anti-Defamation League, https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/adl-voices-anger-over-presbyterian-zionism-unsettled-study-guide (accessed December 21, 2017). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is another Christian denomination that, as an institution, promotes the boycott of Israel. During a conference promoting “free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social debates” at the St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community, Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor, gave a speech entitled “Religious Diversity, Political Conflict, and the Spirituality of Liberation.” In it, he proposed ideas of Christian supersessionism – to great audience acclaim – and cited an American scholar who also promotes the notion that Jews have no legitimate claim to the land of Israel. For more on this speech, see R. Benne, “Political Supersessionism,” First Things, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/03/political-supersessionism.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [20] “Report on Antisemitic Activity in 2015 at U.S. Colleges and Universities with the Largest Jewish Undergraduate Populations,” AMCHA Initiative, March 2016, https://www.amchainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Antisemitic-Activity-at-U.S.-Colleges-and-Universities-with-Jewish-Populations-2015-Full-Report.pdf (accessed February 15, 2018).

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [21] See the American Studies Association’s stated position on boycotts of Israeli academic institutions (https://www.theasa.net/about/advocacy/resolutions-actions/resolutions/boycott-israeli-academic-institutions); the American Anthropological Association’s actions regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict (http://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/AdvocacyDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=20835&navItemNumber=592); the Critical Ethnic Studies Association’s endorsement of BDS (https://criticalethnicstudies.org/content/bds); and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s declared support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (http://www.naisa.org/declaration-of-support-for-the-boycott-of-israeli-academic-institutions.html?highlight=YToxOntpOjA7czo2OiJpc3JhZWwiO30%3D).

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [22] “Analyzing Palestinian Propaganda on CNN: Rashid Khalidi on ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS,’” Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_print=1&x_context=55&x_article=3574 (accessed December 22, 2017).

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [23] S. Azani, “Facing the truth about BDS,” The Times of Israel, June 5, 2015, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/facing-the-truth-about-bds/ (accessed December 22, 2017).

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [24] A.D. Sharon, “Campus eviction notices are fake, but their anti-Semitism is real, experts say,” Jewish News Service, June 22, 2014, http://www.jns.org/latest-articles/2014/6/22/campus-eviction-notices-are-fake-but-their-anti-semitism-is-real-experts-say#.Wj1e3bQ-dsM= (accessed December 22, 2017).

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [25] For more on The McGill Daily’s anti-Zionist views, see “McGill Student Newspaper Under Fire for Refusing to Publish Pro-Israel Op-eds,” The Tower, November 17, 2016, http://www.thetower.org/4174-mcgill-student-newspaper-under-fire-for-refusing-to-publish-pro-israel-op-eds/ (accessed December 22, 2017). For more on the student’s plea to “Punch a Zionist today,” see “McGill student leader doubles down on ‘punch a Zionist today’ message,” The Times of Israel, February 13, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/mcgill-student-leader-doubles-down-on-punch-a-zionist-today-message/ (accessed December 22, 2017).

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [26] M. Vadum, “A Smash Zionists Rally at the U of Illinois,” Frontpage Mag, September 8, 2017, https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/267820/smash-zionists-rally-u-illinois-matthew-vadum (accessed December 22, 2017).

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [27] See: “Report on Antisemitic Activity in 2015 at U.S. Colleges and Universities With the Largest Jewish Undergraduate Populations,” http://www.amchainitiative.org/wp- content/uploads/2016/03/Antisemitic-Activity-at-U.S.-Colleges-and-Universities-with-Jewish-Populations-2015-Full-Report.pdf; “Antisemitism: At the Epicenter of Campus Intolerance: Antisemitic Activity in 2016 at U.S. Colleges and Universities With the Largest Jewish Undergraduate Populations,” http://www.amchainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Antisemitism_At-the-Epicenter-of- Campus-Intolerance_Report-2016.pdf.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [28] D. Lombroso, “‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President-Elect,” The Atlantic, November 21, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/ (accessed January 13, 2018).

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 [29] For more about the origins of numerous neo-Nazi slogans, see D. Neiwert, “Explaining ‘You Will Not Replace Us,’ ‘Blood and Soil,’ Russia is Our Friend,’ and other catchphrases from torch-bearing marchers in Charlottesville,” Southern Poverty Law Center, October 10, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/10/when-white-nationalists-chant-their-weird-slogans-what-do-they-mean (accessed January 13, 2018).

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 [30] E.K. Ward, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism,” Political Research Associates, June 29, 2017, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/06/29/skin-in-the-game-how-antisemitism-animates-white-nationalism/ (accessed January 13, 2018).

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 [31] “Have Hate, Will Travel: the Demographics of Unite the Right,” The Anti-Defamation League, October 8, 2017, https://www.adl.org/blog/have-hate-will-travel-the-demographics-of-unite-the-right (accessed January 13, 2018).

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 [32] B. Palmer, “White Supremacists by the Numbers,” Slate, October 29, 2008, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/10/white_supremacists_by_the_numbers.html (accessed January 13, 2018).

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 [33] Z.B. Wolf, “Trump’s defense of the ‘very fine people’ at Charlottesville white nationalist march has David Duke gushing,” CNN.com, August 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/15/politics/donald-trump-david-duke-charlottesville/index.html (accessed January 13, 2018).

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 [34] P. Baker and M. Haberman, “Trump Breaks with Bannon, Saying He Has ‘Lost His Mind,’” The New York Times, January 3, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/us/politics/trump-bannon.html (accessed January 13, 2018).

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 [35] And even now, incidents occur of the most extreme kind. In January 2017, Samuel Woodward, an avowed antisemite and member of an armed neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division, was charged with murdering a Jewish college student, Blaze Bernstein. Atomwaffen is a small but extreme white nationalist group that openly declares its affinities with Nazism. For more, see The Forward and S. Kestenbaum, “What is Atomwaffen Division, The Nazi Group Tied To The Murder Of Blaze Bernstein?” Haaretz, February 4, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/what-is-atomwaffen-division-1.5788573 (accessed May 15, 2018).

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 [36] J.H. Davis, S.G. Stolberg, and T. Kaplan, “Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa,” The New York Times, January 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-shithole-countries.html (accessed January 13m 2018).

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 [37] “Holocaust denier poised to claim GOP nomination in Illinois race for Congress,” Chicago Sun-Times, February 6, 2018, https://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/holocaust-denier-arthur-jones-republican-3rd-congressional-district-lipinski-newman/ (accessed February 12, 2018).

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 [38] A. Olivo, “Va. Republicans move to dump controversial leader over anti-Semitic online post,” The Washington Post, February 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-republicans-move-to-dump-controversial-leader-over-anti-semitic-online-post/2018/02/12/acdcb4c0-1011-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.afcc57ac3af5 (accessed February 15, 2018).

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 [39] “GOP Dumps Candidate Over anti-Semitic Statements,” Haaretz, February 14, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/gop-dumps-candidate-over-anti-semitic-statements-1.5822216 (accessed February 15, 2018). In January 2018, during a guest appearance on former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s podcast, Nehlen stated that “Jews control the media” (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/13/585339969/twitter-bans-gop-contender-for-racist-tweet-targeting-meghan-markle).

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 [40] A.K. Sommer, “The GOP’s ‘Nazi Problem’ Comes to California With anti-Semitic Holocaust Denier Candidate,” Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-republican-front-runner-for-california-senate-seat-is-holocaust-denier-1.6040713 (accessed May 15, 2018).

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 [41] L. King, “All 100 senators press Trump administration to help communities fight anti-Semitism,” USA Today, March 7, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/07/senators-press-trump-administration-help-communities-against-antisemitic-threats/98851406/ (accessed January 13, 2018).

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 [42] “French PM: France without Jews would be a failure,” The Times of Israel, January 11, 2015, https://www.timesofisrael.com/french-pm-france-without-jews-would-be-a-failure/ (accessed January 13, 2018).

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/confronting-antisemitism-through-the-ages-a-historical-perspective/alvin-h-rosenfeld-antisemitism-in-todays-america/