If you look ever so carefully, after taking a step or two back to gain some distance and perspective, you will see it. It might appear blurry at first, somewhat amorphous and not readily identifiable, like a dot on a screen that hardly seems to warrant much attention.But instead of going away, it grows ever larger and more threatening, as more blips join the fray, suddenly transforming that tiny speck into a mass that cannot be ignored and must surely be reckoned with.
That, my friends, in a nutshell, is an apt description of rising antisemitism in the United States. If you put aside the wishful thinking and denial that so often colors our perspective, and take a cold, hard look at the facts, then the conclusion that something is wrong – terribly, awfully wrong – is simply inescapable.
Antagonism and loathing towards Jews, a hatred seemingly as old as the Jewish people itself, is sadly spreading like wildfire across the civic and social horizons of America, seeping into everything from politics to popular culture. It is time to be worried. Very, very worried.
If you don't believe me, just look at the data. Simply put, the numbers speak for themselves.
On November 16, 2020, the FBI released its annual report on hate crimes across the United States, compiling statistics from 15,588 law-enforcement agencies across the country. The document makes for sobering reading. It found that whereas 20.1% of hate-crimes in America in 2019 were religiously motivated, over 60% of such attacks targeted Jews. This marked an increase of 14% over the previous year.
In other words, even though Jews barely account for 2% of the US population, they are the target of 6 out of 10 of all crimes driven by religious hatred.
This harrowing tidbit, of course, only represents those incidents that we know about and that people bothered to report. And there are compelling reasons to believe that the scope and extent of anti-Jewish acts in the US is actually far worse.
Indeed, just a few weeks before the FBI report was published, the American Jewish Committee issued its first-ever State of Anti-Semitism in America on October 16, 2020, which offered a revealing glimpse of just how bad things have gotten.
An astonishing 88% of Jews said that antisemitism is either somewhat of a problem or a very serious one in the US and 82% believe that Judeophobia has worsened in the past five years.
And yet, a whopping 76% of Jews who were on the receiving end of antisemitic verbiage or violence admitted that they did not report any of the incidents to authorities.
So as grim as the statistics are regarding the increased targeting of Jews, they do not tell the full story, which is clearly more appalling than many of us would like to believe.
Another survey, released by the Anti-Defamation League last month, confirmed this, finding that 63% of American Jews – nearly two-thirds! – said they had personally experienced or witnessed antisemitism in the past five years. At the same time, 59% of those questioned said that Jews are less safe now in America than they were a decade ago, while 49% said they are fearful of violent attacks against synagogues.
So not only is antisemitism clearly on the rise from sea to shining sea, but we only have a faint idea of its magnitude and breadth.
And it isn't only the numbers that are troubling. Unlike other forms of bigotry against ethnic or religious groups, which are usually confined to one side or the other of the political spectrum, antisemitism is a great unifier in that both left-wing and right-wing extremists deploy it with glee.
While they might disagree on just about everything else, there is one subject on which both white nationalists and black supremacists seem to concur: hatred of the Jews. In a sense, then, antisemitism is the most combustible form of hatred out there, one that can sweep up large and disparate swathes of the population.
Add to this the tepid reaction with which antisemitism is often greeted by the larger population as compared to other forms of bigotry, and you have the makings of potential calamity.
Consider the following:
Last July, a US television personality named Nick Cannon, who hosts a popular program called The Masked Singer, was interviewed on a podcast and spewed forth the most vile forms of Jew-hatred imaginable. Declaring that antisemitic speech is "never hate speech," he insisted that blacks are the "true Hebrews" whereas Jews are phonies, and then ranted about how Jews control banking "and everything, even outside of America." Had his remarks been directed against Hispanics, Asians or just about anyone else, it would have meant the end of his career. But after going on a brief "apology tour" and muttering a few words of regret, his fame remains undiminished.
A month ago, Meyers Leonard, a player on the Miami Heat, was caught using an antisemitic slur while playing a video game online, referring to an opponent as a "kike bitch." He was promptly suspended for a grand total of one week and levied with a $50,000 fine, which considering the fact that he is earning $10 million this year on the basketball court, is unlikely to make much of a mark on his psyche. He continues to be a popular player.
And on and on it goes. Back in February, NBC was forced to pull an episode of its medical drama Nurses after a scene portrayed Orthodox Jews in a hateful light, and Saturday Night Live's Michael Che accused Israel on air of vaccinating only "the Jewish half" of its population. Both Che and the writers for Nurses remain at their posts.
VIEWED IN isolation, it is easy to dismiss each of these incidents as insignificant. But when considered as a whole, they should be keeping American Jews up at night.
As Meghan McCain, the late senator John McCain's daughter, recently pointed out, "Antisemitism is still the last form of passable bigotry in America." She also offered a spot-on rhetorical question, one that Americans, and especially American Jews, need to confront: "Why do we, as Americans, seem to find more forgiveness in our heart for antisemitism than we do racism of any kind?"
I do not write these words gleefully and I am certainly no alarmist. I am proudly pro-American and cherish the freedom and opportunity that the country gave my forebears and me.
But the sharp rise in antisemitism across the US, combined with the violent attacks that targeted synagogues in Poway, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, cannot and must not be ignored.
The sad truth is that all the millions of dollars that have been poured into education, promoting tolerance and combating antisemitism have failed to stem the surging tide of hatred, one that seems poised to grow still worse.
If Jewish history is any guide, then what the future may hold for American Jews is hardly encouraging. Perhaps, we like to convince ourselves and others, America is different. Perhaps it is one station of the Exile that will prove to be the exception, offering Jews a long-term respite from persecution and fear. But if the storm clouds on the horizon are any indication, it may be time for American Jews to start rethinking their prospects. Before it is too late.