The article American Jews don’t want to read

Published February 25, 2024

Jewish News Syndicate

The recent surge in American antisemitism is particularly alarming because of its sheer immensity. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has recorded a staggering 3,291 antisemitic incidents in the U.S., a 360% increase. They included 1,347 cases of harassment, 554 acts of vandalism, 56 assaults and 1,307 rallies featuring antisemitic tropes.

Equally troubling for American Jews is that the sources of antisemitism in the U.S. have evolved. Traditionally, antisemitism was considered the domain of right-wing extremists. Now, it is increasingly popular among left-wing and Islamic extremists.

This shift can be seen very clearly in American academia. The recent controversy surrounding former Harvard University president Claudine Gay was particularly telling. Gay became a lightening rod after refusing to say that calling for the genocide of Jews violates her school’s code of conduct. Gay resigned, however, not because of this, but because she was exposed as a serial plagiarist.

This raises serious questions about the institutional response to antisemitism. The fact that academic indiscretions like plagiarism are dealt with more severely than antisemitism suggests a troubling tolerance for or indifference to Jew-hatred in academic circles. It underscores the need for a more robust institutional stance against antisemitism.

Young Americans’ attitudes towards Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also significant. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 20% of respondents under 40 supported Israel in the current war, compared to 53% of older respondents. Moreover, 40% of respondents under 40 said the U.S. should be a neutral mediator in the conflict, which was double the number of older respondents.

This data appears to be part of a larger trend. Young Americans, despite being aware of Hamas’s atrocities, still tend to support the terrorist organization or at least refrain from blaming it entirely for the war. This attitude indicates indifference to or even acceptance of violence against Jews.

Demographic trends in the US being what they are, it is not difficult to envision a future in which antisemitic or anti-Israel politicians like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold the highest offices and use their power to radically alter the direction of U.S. domestic and foreign policy to the Jews’ detriment. 

This is no exaggeration. A Harvard/Harris study published after Oct. 7 asked, “Do you think that Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors or is that a false ideology?” Only 9% of respondents from President Joe Biden’s generation agreed that Jews are “oppressors.” However, 36% of respondents from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s generation agreed with this antisemitic canard, while a whopping 67% of Gen Z respondents did so as well. 

Given these numbers, it is not only possible but entirely likely that a new generation of progressive leaders will seek to force the U.S. to take a more critical approach towards Israel and a more sympathetic one towards the Palestinians. This could have far-reaching implications for the dynamics of the Middle East, international relations, and the global perception and treatment of Jewish communities.

Moreover, it would be overly optimistic to assume that American Jews’ civil rights are safe even now. Abuses that seemed to be things of the past, including hiring discrimination and limits on admissions to elite universities, have made a comeback. According to a Resume Builder poll, 26% of hiring managers say “they are less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants; top reason for negative bias is belief Jews have too much power and control.” The percentage of Jewish students at elite universities has dropped by as much as half in recent years. Given American Jews’ academic achievements, it is all but impossible that this is not the result of deliberate policies.

Legal protections may not be enough to protect American Jews against these kinds of abuses. For example, after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action, universities began to explore ways to circumvent the decision in order to retain their capacity to discriminate according to race and ethnic origin. In a country that has seen illegal discriminatory practices as severe as Jim Crow, it should be clear that legal systems can fail to safeguard minority rights. Jewish communities are more vulnerable than we might think, especially in times of social and political stress, in which public sentiment may overpower the law.

American Jews have several ways of responding to the challenge of a resurgent antisemitism.

The first is to adopt the victim narrative and attempt to align themselves with other marginalized groups. However, Jews must recognize that they may not succeed in doing so. It is possible, even likely, that the marginalized will marginalize them.

A second option is to try to erase American Jewish identity, assimilating as quickly as possible in hopes of becoming indistinguishable from the majority. But in a world of universally accessible data, in which the internet and social media are forever, the identity of even the most assimilated Jews will eventually be uncovered.

A third option is relocation to Israel.

Lastly, American Jews can fight for the soul of American society. If they want to succeed in doing so, however, they do not have the option of burying their heads in the sand and saying, “It can’t happen here.”

Dr. Ronen Shoval is a Visiting Fellow in Jewish and Political Thought at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the deep interplay between theology, politics, and society.

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