Antisemitism: A Growing American Problem

The Anti-Defamation League's new report reveals an alarming spike in antisemitic attitudes and hate – which can lead to more anti-Jewish harassment and violence.
Image courtesy of UC Berkeley.

Antisemitism is a scourge that led to the persecution of Jews for two millennia and to a 20th Century genocide in Europe that killed some 6 million. Though Jews enjoy great prosperity and security in the United States, even here they are nervous. Hence the classic Jewish telegram: “Start worrying, details to follow.” Now, two major Jewish organizations have come forward to provide the details. 

We just marked the one-year anniversary (January 15) of the 10-hour hostage standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Fortunately, all the hostages managed to flee unharmed when the synagogue’s rabbi threw a chair at the gunman, which opened an opportunity to escape. In a public opinion survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee to coincide with the anniversary, 54 percent of American Jews  said they heard a lot or some about Colleyville. Of those, 87 percent said they felt a great deal less safe, a fair amount less safe or a little less safe. Of course, other attacks on synagogues did not end well. Eleven Jewish worshippers were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation in 2018, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. And there was a deadly attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, on the last day of Passover in 2019. These tragedies have left scars on the Jewish community’s psyche that will take a long time to heal.

READ: The Status Quo Isn’t Working: We Need to Evict Hate and Extremism from Bucks County

When it comes to documenting trends in antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is the “go-to” organization. It has been monitoring this issue for many decades, so we are able to track increases and decreases over time. In its most recent report released last week, the ADL concluded that antisemitic attitudes are “widespread” and “likely increasing.” 

Eight-five percent of Americans, the report maintains, believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, compared to 61 percent in 2019. Twenty percent, or more than 66 million Americans, believe six or more anti-Jewish tropes, compared to 11 percent in 2019. In addition, young people, who previously held less animus toward Jews, now hold similar levels of belief in anti-Jewish tropes compared with their elders.

Among the antisemitic tropes that, according to the ADL report, Americans believe are mostly or somewhat true: “Jews stick together more than other Americans” (70 percent); “Jews always like to be at the head of things” (38 percent); “Jews do not share my values” (36 percent); “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind” (21 percent); and “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today” (20 percent). 

“Those of us on the front lines have expected such results for a while now – and yet the data are still stunning and sobering: there is an alarming increase in antisemitic views and hatred across nearly every metric — at levels unseen for decades,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt. “From Pittsburgh to Charlottesville to the near-daily harassment of Jews in our greatest cities, antisemitic beliefs lead to violence. I hope this survey is a wake-up call to the entire country.”

The ADL study also examined the nexus between antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes. Let us be clear. Criticism of Israeli government policies is not synonymous with anti-Israel, and certainly is not antisemitic. The line gets crossed when anti-Israel attitudes are based on antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as “Israel and its supporters are a bad influence on our democracy,” or “Israel can get away with anything because its supporters control the media,” two beliefs measured in the ADL survey. Significant percentages of Americans hold these and other anti-Israel attitudes that cross the line into antisemitism. On a related question, the survey found that 39 percent of Americans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. 

While the Tree of Life and Poway murders are the most dramatic examples, anti-Jewish violence, especially coming from the radical right, has spiked since 2016. This should not come as a surprise since former President Trump (“There are fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville and the host of a Mar-a-Lago luncheon with antisemite Kanye West and the prominent white supremacist Nick Fuentes) has created a climate conducive to extremism. 

The growth in antisemitism has not evaded the attention of the Biden administration and Congress. Last month, second gentleman Doug Emhoff convened a summit of Jewish leaders to discuss the issue, and the administration followed up by establishing an inter-agency task force to address it. A bipartisan group of House members also urged Secretary of State Tony Blinken to request $2 million in 2024 for the Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, up from $1.5 million in 2023 which itself was a 50 percent increase from 2022. 

On the other hand, do Americans have a love-hate relationship with Jews? Maybe. 

Ironically, the highly respected PEW Research Center, in its 2019 survey, found that the American public feels more positively toward Jews than any other major religious group. 

 The PEW finding notwithstanding, whether because of the reality of rising antisemitism or hypersensitivity to it, American Jews are so uneasy that some have even begun contemplating emigration. This is the disturbing situation according to recent articles, including a December 29, 2022, article in the Washington Post, “‘When was it too late?’ Some U.S. Jews wonder about their place in America.” Hebrew Union College political scientist, Professor Steven Windmueller observed “Folks are talking about what if Trump had won in 2020, or if the GOP had swept the 2022 midterms? These are people who say they’ve thought about moving out of this country, whether they should raise kids here.” Jewish conversations about even the possibility of leaving, he said, have “intensified.” 

As an American Jew, am I worried? Sure. Here is an admission; sometimes when I look at my 8-month-old granddaughter’s sweet little face, I cannot help but think of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. I guess that is an expression of my own hypersensitivity. But leave the United States because of antisemitism? The thought has never crossed my mind.

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Martin J. Raffel

Martin J. Raffel

Martin J. Raffel, resident of Langhorne, is on the board of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. Before his retirement in 2014, he served as senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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