Antisemitism is suddenly a media obsession — though it is not a new problem.
About 100 Jewish community centers and organizations have received bomb threats in recent weeks, and graves in St. Louis and Philadelphia have been desecrated.
The media are apparently convinced there is a link between President Donald Trump — or his supporters — and the rise of antisemitic threats, despite there being no evidence at all to substantiate the claim, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.
(Update: Ira Stoll of the Algemeiner points out the hypocrisy of the New York Times‘ politically convenient coverage: having ignored antisemitic vandalism for years, it is not only focused on it, but eagerly blaming it on the Trump campaign.)
Here is the truth about antisemitism: it is a problem in the United States, but less of a problem than anywhere else in the world outside Israel. That is because Americans are a tolerant people — and, on a deeper level, because America’s Puritan forefathers were profoundly philosemitic.
I have experienced sporadic antisemitism personally — including from other Jews — and I studied the subject en route to a master’s degree in Jewish studies, so I have some authority to speak on the topic.
Generally, there are five kinds of antisemitism:
- Elite antisemitism (exclusion of Jews from jobs, universities, and social clubs)
- Right-wing antisemitism (white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the like)
- Left-wing antisemitism (anti-Israel radicals, anarchists and communists)
- Jewish antisemitism (irrational hostility towards expressions of faith or Zionism by fellow Jews)
- Bizarre antisemitism (crazy people)
The first kid of antisemitism, elite antisemitism, has almost disappeared (and Trump has a record of fighting it). Right-wing antisemitism persists: though there are few people in the category, they are capable of deadly violence (as in a 1999 shooting spree that tore through my hometown). Left-wing antisemitism is more widespread — it is present at an alarming number of college campuses, for example — but, so far at least, less physically dangerous (aside from property crimes like vandalism).
There are Jewish antisemites, one of whom caused a minor scandal for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year. And then there are simple cases of bizarre antisemitism, such as an incident in which a black man burst into my synagogue and gave a “Heil Hitler” salute while miming a shooting motion, evidently unaware or unconcerned about Hitler’s racial views.
“False flag” operations — antisemitic attacks deliberately staged so that a political target can be framed and blamed — cannot be ruled out, but they are rare, and probably rarer than other kinds of faked hate crimes. (Real antisemitic attacks are far more common, unfortunately.)
It is difficult — for now — to categorize most of the antisemitic attacks that have sprung up in the last several months, or to explain them. Some are almost certainly right-wing antisemitism, such as the vandalism of Chicago’s Loop Synagogue. Others remain unexplained — and hopefully the perpetrators will be identified and caught soon.
The current situation, while disturbing, is not unprecedented. There was a surge in antisemitic attacks in 2009, after the Gaza War of that winter, and after President Barack Obama took office. It lasted through 2010 and then receded, rising again in 2014, when there was another war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. There is a strong correlation between left-wing antisemitism and events in the Middle East, but it is more difficult to pin right-wing antisemitism to specific political events.
One of the world’s leading authorities on antisemitism is Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism. Here are relevant excerpts from its annual reports on global antisemitism from 2009 through 2015:
Extremist-related violence rose sharply in the United States in 2009, with acts ranging from hate crimes to terrorism. The number of such murders in 2009 more than doubled the 2008 totals; the majority were perpetrated by right-wing extremists. A dismaying trend in 2009 was the rise of “lone wolf” incidents, in which the perpetrators were individual extremists unconnected to any organized group. There were a number of such murders in 2009, some of which were directed at Jews or Jewish-related targets, and others of which included Jews among their intended victims. “Lone wolf” incidents are among the most frustrating type of extremist-related criminal acts, because they tend to be exceptionally violent and are very hard to prevent.
A significant decline in the level of antisemitic incidents was recorded in 2010 compared to 2009, a peak year. … However, the 2010 total is the third highest since worldwide recording of antisemitic incidents began at the end of the 1980s. Moreover, it represents an alarming continuation of the high level of antisemitic activity in some major countries during recent years. It should be emphasized that harassment, which includes verbal threats, insults and abusive language, has increased dramatically in recent years and constitutes a major disturbance to the daily lives and well being of Jewish individuals and communities. … A trend of decline, particularly in violent incidents, compared to 2009 was observed in data available from the USA.
In the United States a number of serious incidents of vandalism of community and private property, apparently perpetrated by racist neo-Nazis, were registered in 2011. In Queens and Brooklyn the cars of Jewish residents were set alight in November, and antisemitic graffiti made the motive clear. In New Jersey and other states, synagogues were desecrated and sprayed with racist and antisemitic slogans.
While anti-Israel events across the United States often focus on Israeli policy, opposition to the occupation, and support for Palestinian rights, more extreme expressions of vitriol against Israel, including antisemitic narratives, continue to seep into anti-Israel academic programs. In some cases, antisemites are invited to university and college campuses under the guise of their anti-Israel activism. … One of the major sources of antisemitism in the United States continues to be white supremacy. Since 2009, the US has been experiencing a resurgence of rightwing extremist activity.
The total number of antisemitic incidents in the United States fell by 19 percent in 2013, continuing a decade-long downward slide and marking one of the lowest levels of incidents reported by the Anti-Defamation League since it started keeping records in 1979.
The total number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 in a year marked by a violent anti-Semitic shooting attack targeting Jewish community buildings in Kansas and anti-Jewish expressions linked to the war in Gaza.
… it appears the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2015 will be lower than the 921 incidents recorded by ADL in 2014.
This is partially because 2015 was a relatively quiet year for anti-Israel activity in the public sphere compared to the previous years when military conflicts involving Israel, such as the 2014 military campaign in Gaza to thwart Hamas rocket attacks, spurred demonstrations in major cities across the U.S. that sometimes featured blatantly anti- Semitic slogans, signs and rhetoric.
Though 2016 figures are not yet available, there was a surge of online antisemitism, often by people purporting to support Trump. Trump’s critics in the mainstream media have sometimes amplified and exaggerated that antisemitism for political reasons, however. Last year, Breitbart News requested a retraction by the Daily Beast after it published an article suggesting that the former was responsible for antisemitic “hate mobs” on Twitter (the request has been ignored).
Since Trump’s victory, various left-wing and left-leaning organizations have made false accusations against Breitbart News and especially its former executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, who now works as President Trump’s chief strategist. The claims are uniformly false, and those that are not politically motivated are poorly informed.
Arguably, such false claims make it more difficult to combat real antisemitism, as even genuine fears risk being misinterpreted as politically motivated.
Many Jewish community institutions have responded to the threats of recent years — which began long before the 2016 presidential campaign — by arming themselves or hiring armed guards, and by living as proudly and openly as possible.
Though some Jewish “social justice” groups favor gun control, other Jewish groups are firm Second Amendment supporters.
Either way, the liberties of this country remain its best defense against antisemitism and the extremist politics that produce it.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.