By Jordana Green

Regardless of political leanings, the rise of anti-Semitism on a national level is a concerning and bipartisan issue.

In a viral Facebook post written on February 4th, a New York City subway rider recounted how he and his fellow passengers worked together to erase Nazi symbols scrawled across the subway car using Purell hand sanitizer and tissues. This particular anecdote has a happy ending, but it exemplifies a concerning trend:  New Yorkers worked together- in a city where people notoriously keep to themselves on public transit- and did not let hate win, but few expected swastikas and “Jews belong in oven” to be scribbled all over a public train in one of the most diverse cities in the world. In 2017.

It is no secret that anti-Semitism is at an all-time high, likely in part because anti-Semites feel safe expressing their horrific opinions given the current political climate. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) website lists numerous reports from 2015 demonstrating the rise of anti-Semitism on both a national and global level. Although they have not yet published reports from 2016, it is likely that the numbers will continue to rise.

Over three separate days in January, 57 bomb threats were called in to 48 Jewish community centers (JCC) across the country; another 11 hoax bomb threats occurred on February 20. Under-reported by mainstream media, the coordinated threats were often called in at the same time or within hours of each other.  The JCCs followed proper procedures- calling the police, informing the ADL, and evacuating the premises- and Jewish institutions across the country are re-evaluating their security measures and assisting the FBI and the ADL in investigations. While bomb threats are a tactic often used to incite fear, they still need to be taken seriously. That these threats were coordinated speaks to the likelihood that they were premeditated and the fact that only Jewish buildings were targeted indicates an anti-Semitic undertone.

A quick perusal of headlines from Jewish newspapers reveals similar stories that also flew under the radar. In a strip mall in Philadelphia, a mikveh, Jewish ritual bath, was vandalized with illegible graffiti and while the area’s security cameras were all damaged, the other storefronts were unscathed.  In Washington, D.C., the police are investigating a litany of anti-Semitic threats made against a family who voiced support for Black Lives Matter, including a letter with the notorious yellow “Jude” star.  At Hebrew Union College, the Reform affiliated rabbinical school in Cincinnati, a sign was spray-painted with a swastika. So many hate crimes have been reported since November that it would take pages to list them all.

While many incidents were perpetrated by anonymous vandals, others were organized and supported publicly.  A neo-Nazi group organized (and later cancelled) a march against the Jewish community in Whitefish, Montana, aiming to recruit a Hamas member to speak at the armed march.  The coordinators further encouraged attendees to bring copies of Mein Kampf for a neighborhood kid’s “story hour.” March organizer Andrew Anglin originally picked January 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as the “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza.” This event was created specifically to target Jews, Jewish businesses, and everyone who supports the Jews. The names, photos, phone numbers, and addresses of the town’s Jewish residents have been made public by an alt-right and white supremacist website, The Daily Stormer.

Worthy of note is that this rise in anti-Semitic incidents is not confined to the United States.  In the United Kingdom, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by 36 percent in 2016, the highest numbers since the Community Security Trust charity started keeping records in 1984. On average, there were more than three incidents per day, ranging from vandalism and property damage to hate mail and graffiti.

Anti-Semitism has persisted through the ages and Jewish history is littered with attempts to hurt, defile, embarrass, and exterminate the Jews. During late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the Romans first expelled the Jews and later classified them as second-class citizens. Hundreds of years later, Jews were massacred in the name of the Crusades. By the 15th century, the Jews had been banished from England, France, and Austria; many of these Jews settled in Eastern Europe.

The Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century and the Reconquest in the 16th century expelled the Jews again, forcing them to either convert or face punishment. In the Italian Papal States, Jews were forced into specific neighborhoods called ghettos and the pogroms of the late 19th century were often backed by the Russian tsars, and continued through the rise of Nazi-Germany. The Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe once again found no escape from persecution.

It is a sad world we live in when we must question whether the vandalism of headstones in a Jewish cemetery was a hate crime, and when our college students are afraid to express their Judaism on campus. Often, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment bleed over into anti-Semitism rhetoric, and many on college campuses seem unable to tell the difference.

On September 6, 2016, the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) released its annual report for the 2015-2016 academic year. ICC observed that anti-Israel activists have refocused their efforts on displays of anti-Israel sentiment, heckling, and disruptions of Israel-related events that attempt to frighten and silence guest speakers. Conversely, ICC noted that despite these attempted intimidation tactics, there has been a 151 percent increase in pro-Israel activities and rallies on campus overall.

At the United Nation’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day gathering on January 27, new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told attendees that “a ‘new normal’ of public discourse is taking hold, in which prejudice is given a free pass and the door is opened to even more extreme hatred” due to the rise of xenophobia.  We must work fervently to reject this trend to the annals of history.

If you, someone you know, or your community experiences anti-Semitism, the ADL has a secure form on its website (adl.org) to report the incident. Call the police and filed a detailed report, and be sure to let us know by emailing jwv@jwv.org.

Volume 71. Number 1. Spring 2017

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