Why anti-Semitism?

As of this writing, 100 anti-Semitic threats had targeted institutions in the U.S. and Canada in 2017. On Monday, February 27, alone, there were 30 bomb threats in 18 states called into Jewish community centers and schools. Local institutions were among them.

We struggle to understand the threats.

Why us? Why now? Is anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head in response to anything in particular, or is it just being reported more?

In the words of Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine, “According to the FBI, Jews in the United States are annually subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite constituting only 2 percent of the American population. The picture is considerably darker in Europe, where Jews were the target of 51 percent of racist attacks in France in 2014, even as they made up less than 1 percent of that country’s population. In recent years, synagogues and Jewish schools and museums have been subject to terrorist attacks in France, Denmark and Belgium. A 2013 E.U. survey found that nearly 40 percent of European Jews fear to publicly identify as Jewish, including 60 percent of Swedish Jews. Non-Western examples abound as well. Populations of Jews in Arab lands, which once numbered nearly 1 million, have been reduced to only a few thousand, having been persecuted to the point of expulsion or flight in the past century.”

Rosenberg’s article went on to say that anti-Semitism can be found on both the left and the right. While some people are quick to point out the anti-Semitic tweets of the alt-right, there have been instances of negative comments about Jews at left-leaning institutions as well. Surveys in different parts of the world have shown that people associate anti-Semitism with extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.

In reporting on a Congressional measure dealing with anti-Semitism, the Jewish Insider quoted Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as saying that the bill was important because he thought that most American universities have “either closed their eyes to the problem (of anti-Semitism) or given a wink and a nod” to the issue. However, not all Jewish organizations are on the same page about the bill. While most support it, some organizations believe that it targets “university debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

It is worth noting that anti-Semitism long predates the creation of the state of Israel. Manis Friedman, writing in Chabad.org, said, “From one country to another, from one culture to another, from one religion to another — although lifestyles, philosophies, and so forth are extremely different, there is one thing all of the peoples of the world had in common: They all, at one point or another, included individuals, and even large segments of their populations, who did not like Jews.”

Jews are known for studying hard, working hard and becoming successful. They tend to enjoy a lifestyle and a sense of community that might elude their neighbors. While they fit in, blend in and encourage respect for diversity, they are still resented for being the chosen people. The possible reasons for anti-Semitism are so complex and so disturbing that many great Jewish thinkers have simply said that the phenomenon was “baseless and unreasonable,” according to Mark Weber, writing in the Institute for Historical Review.

We have to continue being vigilant while remembering who we are. We have to be strong while remembering that we will continue to overcome baseless prejudice, as we have always done.

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