February 13, 2023 — New York
This piece originally appeared in Newsweek.
Do you go through a metal detector before entering your house of worship? Are you worried about being verbally or physically assaulted if you wear meaningful jewelry that your grandmother gave you? Likely, your answer is no. But for an alarming number of American Jews, this is what life is like today in America.
The newly released State of Antisemitism in America Report by American Jewish Committee (AJC) shows that nearly four in 10 Jews surveyed changed their behavior at least once this past year out of fear of antisemitism. Forty-one percent of American Jews believe the status of Jews in the United States is less secure than a year ago, a 10-percentage-point jump from 2021.
The virtual world is even worse. Eighty-five percent of American Jews, ages 18-29, have experienced antisemitism online. A stunning 26 percent of those young Jews told us they feel physically threatened by these incidents.
Jews should not be afraid to be Jewish in America. But here we are.
What seemed unimaginable just a decade ago has now become a cruel reality. Last year began with an armed individual holding a rabbi and three worshippers hostage in a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue and ended with rounds of outrageous antisemitic rants by the famous rapper Kanye West.
Anti-Jewish hate is no longer operating on the fringes; it has moved to the center of American society, politics, entertainment, and sports. Its impact on the Jewish community is terrifying.
Before coming to AJC, I spent more than 12 years in Congress fighting against antisemitism. We launched the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism in 2014, when antisemitism was becoming increasingly common and violent in Europe. Murders in Jewish institutions there led to the normalization of armed guards protecting synagogues and Jewish schools.
At the time, it was inconceivable that the U.S. would one day face a similar experience. After the horrifying attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, others have followed in Poway, Monsey, Jersey City, and countless attacks against visibly Jewish members of our community, 90 percent of Jews across the country now say antisemitism is a problem in America. Despite the growing regularity of visible security, one in five American Jews feel unsafe even in Jewish institutions.
The White House has acted, announcing on Dec. 12 the creation of a federal interagency group to tackle antisemitism in America and design a national strategy to safeguard the Jewish community. The U.S. has much to learn from its European counterparts, many of whom have developed and implemented their own national strategies to combat antisemitism and foster Jewish life. AJC will be bringing together European experts with those in the White House tasked with creating an American national action plan. We must learn from the experiences of the global Jewish community.
This plan will require good data. But the latest FBI hate crimes statistics report was woefully incomplete. Some 7,000 law enforcement agencies failed to feed information into the FBI’s new National Incident-Based Reporting System, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and other major cities. Still, we know what’s happening; in AJC’s State of Antisemitism Report, we learned that one in four American Jews were the personal target of antisemitism. We need a thorough understanding of the problem to find solutions.
Elected officials should speak out loudly and clearly wherever and whenever antisemitism occurs, raising awareness that it is not just a Jewish problem; it is an American problem. Here the AJC survey found overwhelming agreement. Over nine in 10 U.S. adults (91 percent) said antisemitism is a problem for everyone and affects society as a whole. Everyone has a role to play in this fight.
AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism in America lays out a comprehensive society-wide plan that should serve as a model for American leaders in government, business, media, law enforcement, and education to understand, respond to, and prevent anti-Jewish hate.
Our State of Antisemitism in America Report makes clear that many in the Jewish community now feel uncomfortable and unsafe at work or on campus simply because they are Jews. Urgently creating and implementing the first-ever national action plan to effectively combat antisemitism in the U.S. is essential. The safety of Jews and the health of our society are at stake.
Ted Deutch is CEO of American Jewish Committee.