The Ugly Reality of American Anti-Semitism

There is nothing new about anti-Semitism in this country; it has a long history here. But just as anti-Semitism has crept back into public view in France and other European nations, it is experiencing a public resurgence in the U.S. as well.
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Concept of inquiry against anti-Semitism, Jews, Israelis
Concept of inquiry against anti-Semitism, Jews, Israelis

There is nothing new about anti-Semitism in this country; it has a long history here. But just as anti-Semitism has crept back into public view in France and other European nations, it is experiencing a public resurgence in the U.S. as well. This vocal, brazen brand of bigotry is coming in part from the alt-right, from a subset of Trump supporters who attack Jewish journalists through social media with regularity and viciousness. And by proxy from Trump himself, who never condemns the attacks -- allowing others to feel comfortable expressing their anti-Semitism. But it's also coming from the left -- rearing its ugly head on some famously liberal, elite college campuses. And while it's often disguised in academia as anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian, there appears to be something more insidious at work.

Anti-Semitism may be the one most obvious intersection point in the Venn diagram linking the hard right and the hard left.

Strangely enough, I've encountered anti-Semitism on my own Twitter account, despite having identified myself as coming from a Protestant background. After I wrote a Huffington Post blog called "The Newly Emboldened American Racist," which asserted that Trump had enabled racists to be loud and proud, I received a series of angry tweets from a few different alt-right Trump supporting camps, some of them including anti-Semitic messages. I made a rookie Twitter mistake: I blocked senders - deleting the tweets - rather than keeping them for the record. I did hold onto one, in part because it was so ridiculous:

"So Jennifer, you sure you're a "white protestant" and not a Jew? Your name is kind of Jewy. Guess you just take their money."

That is quite mild in comparison to what Jewish writers are encountering. Last week Jonathan Weisman wrote a disturbing piece in The New York Times called "The Nazi Tweets of 'Trump God Emperor,'" about the barrage of hate he has been receiving since tweeting an article by Robert Kagan on the rising fascism in this country. Like Julia Ioffe, the journalist who was hit with horrific tweets after she wrote an unflattering article about Melania Trump, Weisman received sickening visuals to accompany the vitriol.

"Trump God Emperor sent me the Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hooknosed Jew. I was served an image of the gates of Auschwitz, the famous words "Arbeit Macht Frei" replaced without irony with "Machen Amerika Great." Holocaust taunts, like a path of dollar bills leading into an oven, were followed by Holocaust denial. The Jew as leftist puppet master from @DonaldTrumpLA was joined by the Jew as conservative fifth columnist, orchestrating war for Israel. That one came from someone who tagged himself a proud future member of the Trump Deportation Squad."

And there was this. "'I found the Menorah you were looking for,' one correspondent offered with a Trump-triumphant backdrop on his Twitter profile; it was a candelabrum made of the number six million," Weisman writes.

Many of the haters identify themselves specifically as Trump supporters, as was the case with Ioffe.

Though given multiple chances, Trump has never condemned the Ioffe attacks. In fact Melania told Du Jour magazine that Ioffe was partly to blame. "She provoked them."

And of course Trump will never stand up for Weisman or Jeffrey Goldberg or Bethany Mandel or anyone else who receives hate mail in his name. He despises most journalists, unless they kiss his ass. He'll never publicly condemn his own supporters. This is the same man who selected a white nationalist to be a delegate to California. It doesn't seem to matter that his beloved Ivanka is married to an Orthodox Jewish man and has herself converted to Judaism. Where is her calm voice in all of this?

It's how Trump's own silence is translated by his extremist supporters that's most chilling. Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, told Huffington Post, "We interpret that as an endorsement." Anglin explained why his group stands behind Trump.

"We support Trump because he is the savior of the White race, sent by God to free us from the shackles of the Jew occupation and establish a 1000 (year) Reich."

I'd like to think that most of the haters are extremists like this guy, and losers living in their mamas' basements, hiding behind Twitter handles and photos that reveal nothing of their true identities. But I'm not so sure.

The college students spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric aren't living in their parents' basements. They've left home - purportedly to be enlightened in a progressive academic setting.

It's not just students either. Oberlin Assistant Professor Joy Karega posted on Facebook hateful and historically inaccurate commentary about Jewish links to 911, ISIS and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, among other things. The memes she posted and then took down are undeniably anti-Semitic. She is still a member of the faculty.

There's been a lot of talk about micro aggressions on college campuses. But I would call what's happening around Judaism at places like Oberlin, macro. And the great irony is that while many of these students are likely Bernie supporters or Libertarian voters, they are, perhaps unwittingly, lining up with some Trump supporters in their common antipathy.

According to Nathan Heller's New Yorker article, "The Big Easy," Oberlin student Aaron Pressman told him, "I've had people respond to me, 'You could never understand--your culture has never been oppressed.' Pressman laughed. "I'm, like, 'Really? The Holocaust?'"

Other students have talked about the idea on campus that all Jewish students are perceived as white and rich, and therefore have no claim to any kind of oppression. Even at small Oberlin, there are Jewish students who are neither white nor wealthy. Some students have heard people call the Holocaust "white on white" crime. The list of anti-Semitic offenses is pretty long, and students are feeling it.

Earlier this year, more than 200 people formed Oberlin Alumni and Students Against Anti-Semitism, in response to the growing frequency of anti-Semitic events on campus.

Anti-Semitism has been reported at many of the nation's most elite and most liberal institutions. It's not just Oberlin, but schools like UC Berkeley and UC Irvine, Northwestern, University of Michigan and some of the Ivy League schools, among others, where students are reporting an uptick in threats, intimidation, and distribution of anti-Semitic literature. Much of it is an outgrowth of the movements BDS, which calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

It is one thing for students and professors to question and debate and disagree with Israeli politics, Israeli settlements and the level of Israel's responses to Palestinian attacks - and in fact some of the BDS and SJP protestors are Jewish students. But too often, those students and professors are not talking about a two-state solution, but rather the right of Palestinians to control all of Israel. And once people say Israel has no right to exist, or when they conflate the politics of Israel with all Jewish people, when they shout "Nazi" and "fascist" at students who support Israel, when they downplay the horrors of the Holocaust, or purport that all Jews are white and privileged and therefore unentitled to claim their oppressive history or even the current anti-Semitism, then they have entered another realm - the realm of pure, unadulterated bigotry.

In an essay in The New York Post in April, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and President Emeritus of Harvard University - now a professor there - wrote of the environment on many campuses: "There is hypersensitivity to prejudice against most minority groups but what might be called hyper-insensitivity to anti-Semitism."

Many schools are creating safe spaces for minorities, and elevating the comfort of students over free speech. That's to be debated in and of itself. But there's another issue at work - the issue of equality. "Unfortunately," Summers says, "there is a clear exception made on most university campuses for anti-Semitic speech and acts."

If Summers is right, then college administrations must examine why this is so, and figure out how to fix it expediently. Keeping professors like Joy Karega in the classroom in the name of free speech certainly isn't helping.

There's no fixing what's happening in the Trump camp, where anti-Semitism is part of a wider collection of bigoted ideas, some of which are voiced publicly by the candidate himself - while others are supported by his silence.

In the comments on the Weisman article in The New York Times, some readers complained about the author making the leap from his fans being racist to accusing Trump of racism. But if we are to believe that Trump does not hold the views of his supporters, he must disavow them. He must speak up. Absent such clarity, we are forced to believe he is one of them.

In anti-bullying education in schools, kids are always taught that it's not enough to be on the sidelines. When you don't speak up, you become a bystander bully. At the very least, Trump is a bystander to American anti-Semitism. I would argue that with her comments about Ioffe, Melania has already shown herself to be worse.

When a Palestinian or Iranian spews hatred for Jewish people, it's de rigueur. But to hear it, and read it coming from Americans in 2016 is another thing. It's an alarm sounding, and Americans must stand up to it - expose it at every turn and fight it head on. The resurrection of the ease with which people equate Jews with money lust and other ideas that hark back to the sentiments of vengeful Germans in World War II must always be condemned loudly and forcefully.

That surely won't happen if Donald Trump is president. Instead, those voices will grow ever louder and more confident.

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