BY JILL BAYER CIPORIN | BIGTENTUSA
Last week, at a holiday luncheon, one of my BigTent friends showed me a Star of David around her neck – much like the necklace I’ve also been wearing since October 7th. It brought me to tears. Why? Because she isn’t Jewish.
And, because she is not one of the stunning 18 percent of Americans who are “uncomfortable spending time with a person who supports Israel!”
Antisemitism is on the rise both in America and worldwide. Since October 7th when the Israel-Hamas war began, the Anti Defamation League has reported over 2000 antisemitic incidents in the US – a 337% increase. In late October, I attended an ADL workshop at my Temple, and I was struck by the chart below. It illustrates how biased attitudes and insensitive remarks that are overlooked or normalized can ultimately lead to the breakdown of a society. Put your own religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity as the target population in this chart, and you will understand why we MUST pay attention.
The ADL comments on this idea in a report titled Antisemtism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era,
“While antisemitism has sometimes escalated to violent or genocidal levels, it more often appears in subtler ways, such as insensitive remarks that are brushed off, or negative stereotypes that go unchallenged. We must never normalize even seemingly harmless forms of hate-based prejudice; this is what strengthens dangerous social attitudes, which can erode the values of even the most just society. Silence and complacency in the face of biased remarks or actions permit others to internalize harmful messages, making such messages commonplace. Antisemitism is unique in many ways, but, like other forms of hate, it grows in silence and blossoms in acquiescence.”
The ADL Pyramid of Hate
“If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or “normal,” it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted.”
© 2018 Anti-Defamation League
What is Antisemitism?
As explained in the same ADL report,
“Antisemitism encompasses hatred of Jews on the basis of their existence as human beings, not simply as followers of the Jewish religion. It does so through contradictory logic that envisions Jews as both excessively powerful and as weak or even subhuman. In this respect, antisemitism departs slightly from racism. Racism often involves a clear power dynamic in which a privileged group believes itself to be naturally superior and attempts to retain its social advantages by persecuting or discriminating against other racialized groups. While most forms of racism focus on emphasizing the perceived weaknesses of another group, antisemites tend to portray Jews as both too strong and too weak, as well as the cause of all social problems.”
Tropes such as “Jews have horns,” “Jews have too much power,” “Jews are greedy,” and “Jews killed Jesus,” have endured for centuries and are surprisingly gaining popularity in American society today. Read More About Tropes and American Attitudes About Them
When did Antisemitism begin?
Antisemitism is considered one of the oldest forms of bigotry. Ranging from religious persecution in ancient times, shifting to racial and ethnic prejudice in more recent centuries, it has endured for thousands of years and has undergone changes in how it is manifested and vocalized.
In biblical times, Abraham led his family into Canaan, made a covenant with God, and established a new nation – the people of Israel. These Hebrews (the ancient Jews) worshipped one god and were often persecuted because they refused to worship local kingdoms’ idols or follow their religions. During Roman rule, Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Christ. In medieval times, Jews were referred to as a “race” of people who were inferior to white Christian people and were ostracized. Barred from universities and most professions, Jews worked in the margins of society, often becoming moneylenders – something that was demonized by the Church. Expressions describing Jews having horns and tails and engaging in ritual murder of Christians began to take hold. Later in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jews were given new freedoms; and because education and literacy are of utmost importance in the Jewish tradition, they entered and succeeded in business, finance, law, and science – but used as scapegoats when societal crises arose. In the 19th century, millions of Jews were expelled or forced to leave their homes in Russia, Europe, and many Arab countries. Read More About Antisemitism in Global History
What Does Antisemitism Look Like Now?
Today, antisemitism has risen from the extreme ends of both US political parties. In one, it is more obvious. In the other, it is far less so. Though different in the way they are voiced, each manifestation supports the huge increase in the number of assault, harassment, and vandalism cases against Jewish people and institutions in America today. The far-right is naked in its hatred of Jews. The far-left cloaks this hatred in the language of freedom and the oppressed, but equally encourages antisemitic acts.
The far-right version, exemplified by events in Charlottesville, is the much more obvious. Far-right antisemitism stems from individuals who openly embrace the Replacement Theory, chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us.” This conspiracy theory asserts that there is a deliberate plot by Jews to replace white Americans, and this is all orchestrated by clandestine Jewish groups and the deep state. They use this belief to bolster their prejudices and justify their discriminatory actions.
The less obvious version, stemming from the far-left, comes from people committed to champion the marginalized and fight those they perceive as oppressors. This sentiment, while outwardly a noble one, veers clearly into antisemitism when it singles out ALL Jews as the “oppressors,” and consciously ignores and challenges any evidence that might contradict this viewpoint. A standard antisemitic trope is the chant “from the river to the sea” – ostensibly framed as a call for freedom, but in fact, it is a dressed-up call to eliminate the state of Israel which has the largest Jewish population in the world at 7.2M (the U.S. having the second largest at 6.3M with only 15.7M Jews worldwide. As of this writing, the world population is over 8B – and 46% of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel.) Those protesting in the streets and on college campuses today are either completely ignorant of this cloaked call to action, or, do indeed call for the destruction of Israel and elimination of the Jewish people. It then follows that. to these people, the actions of Hamas or any other terrorist group that attacks Israel, no matter how horrific the actions, are justifiable – as are any antisemitic actions taking place around the world.
To be clear, criticizing the Israeli government is not antisemitic, but advocating for the elimination of the only Jewish state in the world, clearly is – and borders on calling for the actual genocide of the Jewish people.
A recent article from the American Jewish Committee states,
“There is of course nothing antisemitic about advocating for Palestinians to have their own state. AJC itself is an organization that believes in a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, calling for the elimination of the Jewish state, praising Hamas or other entities who call for Israel’s destruction, or suggesting that the Jews alone do not have the right to self-determination, is antisemitic.”
Watch this short video post on the American Jewish Committee’s website explaining what this kind of antisemitism looks like.
I’m not Jewish. Why Should I Worry?
Antisemitism poses a growing threat to our democracy. When individuals tolerate or conduct acts of antisemitism, persecution and bias against other groups begin to become normalized, increasing the risk of societal breakdown. Like ALL forms of intolerance and hatred, antisemitism encourages the suppression or even the extinction of the “other,” whoever that might be. Examples of this include the mass shootings in the El Paso Walmart targeting Black and LatinX individuals, the African American church in Charleston, and the LGBTQ+ club in Florida. Democracy falters when there is blatant disregard for respecting diverse opinions and building bridges.
What Can You Do?
The ADL instructs addressing an antisemitic remark immediately by asking, “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean – I’d like to understand your reasoning.”
Follow accurate reporting with often overlooked stories about Israel and the war on The 10/7 Project website and subscribe to their daily newsletter.
Help stop the spread of conspiracy theories on social media & report acts of antisemitism you witness. Contact the social platform directly and report posts/vandalism/actions you see to the ADL and/or StopAntisemitism.
Urge Congress to pass Emergency Security Funding for Houses of Worship with pre-populated letters to your lawmakers here.
Sign a petition urging social media platforms to follow better content moderation practices related to the crisis in Israel here.
Support Holocaust Education in all 50 States. Write your members of congress urging them to cosponsor the Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act here.
Visit Stand With Us to learn about antisemitic misinformation and how to fight antisemitism.