It seems like every day brings a new anti-Jewish incident in the US. Journalists are harassed by anti-Jewish Twitter trolls, cemeteries are desecrated and Jewish organizations receive bomb threats. Of course it is not like Jew-hatred in France, where Jewish fingers are sawed off, but it is still shocking. People expect it in Europe, much of which agreed with Hitler that the Jews were the misfortune of the countries they lived in, but America since WWII has been the one place in the world other than Israel where a Jew could forget (most of the time) to watch his back.
The ADL and FBI maintain statistics on anti-Jewish acts. The FBI’s “hate crimes” numbers are available from 1996 to 2015, and show a steady decline in anti-Jewish crimes from over 1100 in 1996 to 664 in 2015. The ADL keeps track of “incidents” which may or may not be crimes, and statistics have been presented in annual “audits” since 1979. The recent trend is similar to the FBI statistics, although the numbers are somewhat higher (for example, they report 941 incidents in 2015). The peak year was 1994, in which the ADL reported 2,066 incidents, including 25 arsons, 10 attempted arsons, and a mass shooting in which one person was murdered (by a Lebanese immigrant as revenge for the Baruch Goldstein massacre). One of the changes over the years is an increasing number of incidents on college campuses, mostly on background of the Middle East conflict.
But with the 2016 presidential campaign, it seems as though there has been an explosion of Jew-hatred. Is this true? Who is responsible?
It seems to me that there are three kinds of perpetrators of anti-Jewish acts. First there are the organized neo-Nazis, skinheads, white supremacists, and so forth. Then there are anti-Israel “activists.” Finally, there is the kind of Jew-hatred that I remember from my childhood, ordinary people who express their dislike of Jews in the context of neighborhood disputes, teenage bullying, or petty crime.
Has there been a sudden increase in membership among neo-Nazi groups? I doubt it. And I think that the “ordinary people” category has been becoming smaller in recent years. On the other hand, anti-Israel activity, especially on campuses, has grown rapidly. Radical delegitimization of Israel in the alternative media (and even in the left-leaning segments of the mainstream media) has motivated and excused extremist activists to express themselves in anti-Jewish ways. It really doesn’t make sense to hate Israel and love Jews, as some suggest they do, and how better to support the Palestinian people than by drawing a swastika on someone’s door?
There is also a revival of traditional anti-Jewish attitudes on the Left, such as appeared in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which liked to talk about Jewish control of banks and media. And more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement’s “intersectional” embrace of the Palestinian movement has given impetus to already simmering black antisemitism.
But despite all this, the “explosion of Jew-hatred” associated with the election has been blamed on Trump and the Right.
In 2016 a very well-publicized anti-Jewish event occurred: Jewish journalists were harassed by thousands of hateful tweets. Interestingly, while they included the usual traditional memes (banks, Holocaust, media control, etc.) the most common subjects had to do with Zionism and Israel. The ADL’s analysis showed that 68% of some 20,000 anti-Jewish tweets directed at journalists came from only 1,600 Twitter accounts, illustrating the force-multiplier effect of social media. And since journalists were targeted, we were guaranteed to hear about it. Much of the activity could have been automated. We saw a technically similar (but far less vicious) phenomenon when Ron Paul ran for president in 2012, and online polls and website comments sections were inundated with pro-Paul material. A small group was able to have a disproportionally large effect.
The campaign against the Jewish journalists was related to the campaign of Donald Trump, both as a trigger (journalists who criticized him were targeted) and in content (anti-Jewish tweeters suggested that Trump was on their side). The tweeters were encouraged by white supremacist web sites, and it is clear that this element has adopted Trump as its champion. I don’t intend to try to analyze Trump’s thinking and motivations here, but I do not believe that he shares their ideology. And he definitely does not benefit from the association.
The public manifestation of Jew-hatred by white supremacists adds to the anti-Jewish signals coming from the pro-Palestinian Left. The fact that people now hear and see this stuff all the time legitimizes it and emphasizes it. Just as words can be said on television today that once were never heard at all in polite society, ideas that were considered too ugly to be expressed in public have become not just thinkable, but sayable. Many Americans have always held classically anti-Jewish beliefs (see Tuvia Tenenbom’s book The Lies they Tell), but the public expression of these ideas has always been socially unacceptable – at least until recently. This adds to the impression that Jew-hatred is at an all-time high.
Now we come to the latest manifestations of Jew-hatred in America, the bomb threat campaign in which at least 100 threats have been made against Jewish institutions in 5 waves (as of Wednesday), and the damaging of headstones in two Jewish cemeteries.
The bomb threat is one of the easiest and most inexpensive means imaginable to create chaos – and get media attention. In about 10 seconds of googling, I found countless websites that offered services and applications to make anonymous phone calls. Some bragged that they don’t log IP addresses and some were outside of the US. Some offered text-to-speech conversion, so the perpetrator doesn’t even have to disguise his or her voice. The use of a VPN with such a site would make it doubly hard to track down the caller (although there are ways…).
Something which in the past was risky – I remember “bomb scares” at my middle school in which the perpetrators were caught the next day and expelled, sent to what was called “reform school” – is now trivial and safe. Any 14-year old can do it and not get caught, at least for a while. All 100 calls could easily have been made by one or two persons. It is not indicative of a wave of Jew-hatred.
The cemetery vandalism has also been given publicity far beyond its importance. Cemetery vandalism happens all the time, including to Jewish cemeteries. Sometimes it’s anti-Jewish and sometimes not. According to a blog written by Emily Ford, who owns a company that provides planning, maintenance, restoration and research services to cemeteries, there were 127 incidents of vandalism affecting “at least 1,811 individual markers … costing at least $488,000” in the US in 2016. And this is a conservative estimate, because much vandalism isn’t reported. Three Jewish cemeteries were among those hit last year, but so was a cemetery containing the graves of notable Confederate figures, which were tagged with “anti-racist” graffiti. “Vandalism is almost inevitable in any sparsely-staffed cemetery,” Ford writes. “If 2016’s data is any indicator, nobody should be shocked by cemetery vandalism.” Indeed, and normally it is not of interest to the media.
- With the exception of certain highly publicized events, there are fewer anti-Jewish hate crimes and incidents than in the recent past.
- Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are still around, but more and more of the Jew-hatred is coming from the pro-Palestinian extreme Left.
- A smallish group of provocateurs was responsible for the massive anti-Jewish harassment of journalists on Twitter.
- It has become more acceptable to publically express dislike or even hatred of Jews, but there’s no reason to think these attitudes have suddenly gotten stronger or more popular.
- The bomb threat calls could have been made by one or two people and have no real significance as an indicator of a “spike” in Jew-hatred.
- Cemetery vandalism is common. There is nothing out-of-the-ordinary in two Jewish cemeteries being vandalized, except the media attention. Usually it’s teenagers that knock down headstones.
So, should we just say “nothing to see here, move along?”
No, I don’t think so. The country is probably not becoming more anti-Jewish. There is not a real spike in anti-Jewish incidents or behavior. But there may be something else.
Trump has claimed that “the other side” is responsible for the bomb threats. Ha ha, that crazy narcissistic Trump. But what if he’s right? What if the tweets and bomb threats were part of a plan, a plan that may just be getting off the ground, to delegitimize him and destabilize his administration? What if the idea is to make it impossible for him to make appointments or to get congressional support for his initiatives? To build an increasingly numerous and vociferous group of protestors that won’t give him a moment’s rest?
Add to this the fabrications against Bannon and Gorka throughout liberal media. If it’s possible to tar Trump and his key people with the brush of antisemitism, it will go a long way toward destroying him.
They don’t need a complicated conspiracy. Just the ability to do a few simple dirty tricks and to use fortuitous events, perhaps like the cemetery vandalism, to amplify the effect. And a media “echo chamber.” Sound familiar?
I have no idea who “they” might be – his domestic opposition, people in the intelligence community, or even an international actor. Maybe I’m as hysterical as the rest, and there are no connections between events, just a few delinquent teenagers making sophisticated prank calls.
But if there is something to it, then – whatever you may think about Trump – it is one of the most profoundly anti-democratic maneuvers in American history.
This is by far the most clear comprehensive and accurate analysis of the wave of American anti- Semitism that I have seen.
It does not however address the issue of anti- Semitism becoming such a high priority issue in overall public attention. This must certainly increase the disquiet of American Jews. I also wonder how this is influencing parents who bring their children to Jewish community centers. All of it is sending the message that it is perhaps not so wonderful to be Jewish in America as was thought even a short time ago.