People marching from Manhattan to Brooklyn to protest the rise in antisemitism in New York, Jan. 5, 2020. Photo by Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
People marching from Manhattan to Brooklyn to protest the rise in antisemitism in New York, Jan. 5, 2020. Photo by Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
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Background

American Jews are increasingly afraid to show their identity

Half of Jewish fraternity and sorority members feel the need to hide their Jewish identity while on campus, in person or online, according to the AJC.

An alarming 41% of American Jews feel less safe in the United States today than they did a year ago. A combination of extremist influencers and social media are creating an environment increasingly hostile to the U.S. Jewish community, often resulting in attacks. Jews are feeling more and more unsafe in a country where hatred of Jews is growing.

The American Jewish Committee recently released a deeply disturbing report. More than 80% of American Jews feel anti-Jewish hatred has been a growing problem over the past five years. Half of U.S. Jews believe antisemitism is being taken less seriously than other forms of hatred. A startling 63% of religiously-motivated hate crimes targeted Jews—who represent only 2.4% of the U.S. population—according to an FBI report.

Americans overwhelmingly recognize that hatred against Jews is a problem that affects society as a whole. Americans also believe the virulently anti-Israel BDS movement has antisemitic elements and that opposing Israel’s right to exist is also antisemitic. However, the general public does not feel the same way about classic anti-Jewish tropes, with 85% of Americans believing in at least one, such as “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S.”

Surveys from both the AJC and The Louis D. Brandeis Center For Human Rights Under Law revealed that American Jews under the age of 30 are even more fearful than previous generations. Half of Jewish fraternity and sorority members feel the need to hide their Jewish identity while on campus, in person or online. More than half are concerned about being verbally attacked, 37% fear social exclusion, 30% do not want to be penalized by a professor and 19% are afraid of being physically assaulted. A University of California at Santa Barbara Israeli politics class recently moved online because of concerns for student safety.

Concerns regarding American Jews in the workplace are also rising. Recently, a federal jury awarded $1.1 million in damages to an Ohio Jewish magistrate who was fired for observing a Jewish holiday. According to the AJC study, 26% of university students stated they had trouble taking time off from class, or have been told they could not miss class, for the Jewish holidays.

Younger generations of Americans are being radicalized online by hate groups and the influencers they follow. Combat Antisemitism Movement’s new report details how Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has become a launching pad for Generation Z neo-Nazis and Kanye “Ye” West’s ability to spread anti-Jewish hate. Two 2020 surveys revealed shocking ignorance among American Millennials and Gen Z respondents on Holocaust education compared to all U.S. adults.

While Kanye and Kyrie Irving continue to garner headlines, popular podcast host Joe Rogan also has joined the chorus of hate. Reaching an average of 11 million listeners, Rogan invoked the “Jews are Greedy” anti-Jewish trope when he stated, “The idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous.” His “spewing of antisemitic misinformation to his millions of followers” was swiftly condemned by the director or StopAntisemitism. The ADL CEO condemned Rogan for using his “immense platform to spew antisemitic tropes about Jews and money.”

Points to Consider: 

Influencers and celebrities are normalizing hatred

Whether it’s athletes, actors, comedians or politicians, anyone who holds a mic, has a fan following or a platform of influence must understand the importance and potential danger of their words. Several influential entertainment icons at the top of their industries use their social platforms and traditional media to perpetuate age-old stereotypes against Jews to millions of impressionable followers. While Sportswear brand Adidas is on the hook for $1.3 billion in inventory after cutting ties with Kanye, Rihanna sang one of his songs during the Super Bowl halftime show—earning him yet another royalty check. An influencer in any capacity has a solemn responsibility to carefully consider the impact of their words and actions.

Words can be weapons and must be wielded carefully

Conspiracy theories about Jews are pervasive, and can have deadly consequences. Examples of radicalized terrorists include the hostage taker at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue and Tree of Life Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. The terrorist in Texas “literally thought that Jews control the world,” and the Pittsburgh terrorist shared the same belief. People of all ages turn to the internet—especially social media—to read, watch and listen to popular celebrities and influencers. Some personalities have more social media followers than there are Jews in the world! Too many susceptible followers think what they hear is a green light for them to commit assaults against Jews. U.S. Rep. Gottheimer condemned Joe Rogan’s anti-Jewish comments, drawing a direct line between inciteful rhetoric and attacks on Jews: “It’s despicable language like this that leads to attacks and threats against Jewish people.” Hate creates a vicious cycle.

Americans must confront anti-Jewish hatred, not remain silent

A long history of silent “bystanders” do not speak up or intervene when Jews are the subjects of hate. Today’s bystanders help fuel antisemitism, and their silence has not served Jews well. Americans in positions of power have a civic responsibility to take a forceful stance against Jew hatred. Verbal and physical assaults against Jews must be called out quickly—on campus or in the workplace, on social media or in conversations. The American Bar Association took a strong stance against anti-Jewish hatred in a recently passed resolution. While Jewish organizations were disappointed with the exclusion of the IHRA definition, lawyers at the largest U.S. bar association gave impassioned speeches in support of the resolution. Americans have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and deploy the courage to say what is wrong. Left unchallenged, anti-Jewish rhetoric can lead to violence.

Jews should not be forced to conceal their identity for their own safety

American Jews should feel safe to publicly express themselves in an open and pluralistic society. It is a startling reality to acknowledge that half of university students and one-quarter of adult American Jews hide their Jewish identity. This includes a Star of David necklace or Israeli shirt, or hiding that they are Jews. Jewish students feel alienated and are afraid of “outing” themselves as Jews on campus. Worse, when an overt act of antisemitism does happen, it is too often dismissed. An Oregon university fired a professor who reported antisemitic incidents—ultimately settling with him for $1 million.

The far-left, far-right and radical Islam all spew hatred against Jews

Jew-hatred becomes even more threatening and dangerous when it unifies organizations and individuals with otherwise dramatically opposing views. White supremacists are championing Kanye’s rhetoric, hosting “Ye is right, change my mind” events on university campuses. Anti-Jewish bigots often substitute “Zionists” for “Jews” to mask their hatred. Neo-Nazi KKK leader David Duke shares anti-Israel content—falsely accusing Israel of committing “genocide.” The Mapping Project targets Jewish organizations for their presumed Zionism and implies that all Jews are fair game for violence. Extremist Islamic rhetoric continues to incite terrorist attacks on Jews both in Israel and in America. Recently, the imam and director of an Anaheim, California, mosque asserted that “Jews will be annihilated” at the End of Times (video).

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