October 26, 2021 — New York
This piece originally appeared in USA Today.
In May, as Hamas rockets exploded in Israeli cities and Israeli aircraft targeted terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, thousands of miles away, American Jews were under attack.
A young man wearing a kippah in Midtown Manhattan was beaten by a mob shouting antisemitic slogans. Minutes later and just a few blocks away, a 55-year-old Jewish woman was burned when a group of men exploded fireworks.
Jewish diners at a Los Angeles restaurant were assaulted by men from a pro-Palestinian caravan. A Jewish family in Bal Harbour, Florida, was attacked by men who pelted them with garbage, shouting “free Palestine” and “die Jew." They also threatened to rape the wife and daughter.
A large majority of American Jews say they heard about the attacks in the United States and elsewhere, and most said they made them feel less safe as Jews in America.
But while American Jews were taking steps to conceal their Jewishness for fear of attack, most Americans of other faiths said they heard little or nothing about the attacks – or about the sense of insecurity they engendered among their Jewish neighbors.
These are a few of the disturbing findings of the American Jewish Committee’s 2021 State of Antisemitism in America report, released Monday – just before the third anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack.
The overall picture that emerges from the report, which is based on the largest-ever surveys of American Jews and the U.S. general public on antisemitism in America, is grim.
One in four American Jews has been targeted by antisemitism over the past year, including 17% who were subjected to antisemitic remarks in person and 12% who experienced antisemitism online or on social media.
One in four also said their Jewish institutions have been the targets of antisemitism over the past five years. A stunning 4 out of every 10 American Jews have changed their behavior for fear of antisemitism, with 22% saying that they have refrained from wearing or displaying items that might reveal their Jewishness.
Awareness of antisemitism grows
Americans of other backgrounds have noticed some antisemitism, too. Four in 10 Americans say they have witnessed an antisemitic incident over the past year, and 3 in 10 say they’ve seen more than one. But while 90% of American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in the United States and 82% say it is increasing, those numbers drop to 60% and 44% among the general public.
There are some encouraging signs: 65% of Americans say they know what the word “antisemitism” means, compared with only 53% who said so a year ago; 85% of the U.S. public now say the anti-Zionist statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic, a jump from the 74% who said so last year.
Respondents who know Jews personally were far more likely to view antisemitism as a problem, suggesting that efforts to familiarize Americans with their Jewish neighbors may be part of the solution.
But the events of this past spring may well come to represent a watershed moment in how Americans – both Jewish and non-Jewish –perceive antisemitism.
Large majorities of American Jews continue to view the far right and extremism in the name of Islam as representing serious antisemitic threats, at roughly the same levels as they did last year. But though only 61% said the far left was a threat to American Jews a year ago, that number jumped to 71% this year.
That shift, along with the fears that arose from the antisemitic attacks in May and the American public’s growing realization that anti-Zionism is antisemitic, should change the way we think about antisemitism.
The deadly attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh three years ago was perpetrated by a right-wing extremist, as were other recent attacks, including the shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, six months later. Far-right antisemitism remains a grave threat today.
But to focus on it to the exclusion of other forms and sources of antisemitism is to ignore what American Jews are telling us – and what recent events clearly reveal.
Hatred festers on political extremes
Hatred of Jews has long been the point at which the extremes of the political spectrum meet. It is what populist movements on both the right and the left have had in common from the 19th century until today.
The time has come for Americans of all backgrounds and persuasions to realize that antisemitism is multifaceted and multiform, and that no group or community is immune to it. Our leaders must denounce antisemitism even – especially – when it manifests in their own political camps.
Only after antisemitism is tackled resolutely, no matter its form and source, can we have any hope of eradicating it.
Avi Mayer is managing director of public affairs at the American Jewish Committee.
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