Antisemitism steals our freedom: How can we respond?

How can “regular” Jews respond to this ominous sea change in American culture?

People marching from Manhattan to Brooklyn against the rise in antisemitism in New York, Jan. 5, 2020. Photo by Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
People marching from Manhattan to Brooklyn against the rise in antisemitism in New York, Jan. 5, 2020. Photo by Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

Many American Jews identify as Americans first and Jews second. This means, for example, that they vote for politicians who support their views on many issues, not just issues related to Jews or Israel. 

Yet, since Oct. 7, Jews are increasingly being forced to address the importance of their Jewishness—because increasingly they are being targeted precisely for being Jewish. 

Jewish college students are prevented from joining certain clubs or serving on certain boards. In fact, the proportion of Jewish students admitted to elite American universities is dropping precipitously. Attacks on Jewish institutions have skyrocketed, as have verbal and physical assaults on Jews. 

But this antisemitic cancer is rapidly metastasizing throughout American society. Identifying yourself as Jewish anywhere in the United States dramatically increases your chances of attracting scorn, curses or physical attack. Israel-haters generate much of this hate, but even Jews who shun Israel are not safe. In short, as it was in 1930s Germany, it’s time today for all Jews to acknowledge the mighty tide turning against us. 

History reminds us that those who deny the danger—or their Judaism—will likely ignore the problem. But like millions in the Third Reich’s darkest days, few deniers will escape the storm. 

Rather, it is for Jews who proudly embrace their Jewishness, especially those who support Israel, for whom the question looms: How can we respond to the alarming infringements on our rights to religious and other civil freedoms, as well as our physical safety? 

Antisemitism is inescapable for American Jews. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the number of antisemitic incidents recorded between Oct. 7—the day of the Hamas massacre in Israel—and Jan. 7 surged 361% compared to the same period one year prior. During the October 2023 to January 2024 period, 3,291 incidents were recorded throughout the United States—56 physical assaults, 554 incidents of vandalism, 1,347 incidents of verbal or written harassment and 1,307 rallies that included antisemitic rhetoric, expressions of support for terrorism against Israel and/or anti-Zionism. 

Antisemitism in the U.S. threatens Jews in meaningful, sometimes painful ways—from loss of civil liberties and ability to pursue happiness to abject physical danger. Critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, for example, have made antisemitism not just acceptable but fashionable, especially on college campuses but also in elementary classrooms. CRT sees Jews as white oppressors and Israel as a colonial state. Students or parents who disagree are routinely—sometimes even violently—silenced by left-wing extremists, who are often joined by Islamists in so-called red-green coalitions.

Recently, Young Republicans in Houston, Texas cancelled an event where an Israeli consul-general was to speak, due to threats made by pro-Palestinian activists. Late last month, an event at UC Berkeley, at which an Israeli attorney was scheduled to speak, was shut down by pro-Palestinian protesters, who broke into the event building, forcing an evacuation. 

Even speaking out against antisemitism and/or anti-Zionism is risky. Columbia University professor Shai Davidai, for example, spoke out against antisemitism and anti-Zionism on his campus, only to be put under investigation himself.

Simply identifying oneself as Jewish can be perilous. According to the American Jewish Committee, 46% of American Jews have “changed their behavior” for fear of antisemitism. This includes 25% who have avoided wearing, carrying, or displaying things identifying them as Jewish. Not being able to safely express one’s Jewishness in public presents an affront not just to freedom of religion, but also security of person. Indeed, more than 6 in 10 Jewish Americans feel “less secure than a year ago”—a more than 20% increase from the previous year. 

When should committed Jews respond to this growing threat? Every Jew has a choice: Sit idly by and do nothing…or fight back. Many Jews in 1930s Germany, for example, ignored the signs, disbelieved them, or underestimated their danger. Initially, they did nothing; eventually, it became impossible to resist. 

As the Third Reich gained steam, many Jews denied the significance of their Jewishness as a social or personal issue. Their “lack of Jewishness,” they thought, protected them. But the Nazis cared nothing for such distinctions, just as the Hamas barbarians who raped and beheaded kibbutz peaceniks on Oct. 7 didn’t. All Jews were targeted. It’s equally safe to say now that no Jew in America is immune from antisemitism. 

Millions of proud American Jews do, however, take seriously the commitment to “Never Again.” We will oppose our persecution with urgency and undaunted determination. As Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” 

How can “regular” Jews respond to this ominous sea change in American culture? First, at a minimum, speak up: Write letters to the editor, our elected representatives, corporations, media and other bodies—protesting and holding them accountable for allowing any form of antisemitism, from DEI to CRT, from negligence on college campuses to hateful bias against Israel. 

Second, support—financially and vocally—individuals and organizations fighting antisemitism and advocating for Israel.

Third, vote for politicians who support Israel and fight antisemitism, regardless of party affiliation. In the past, it may have made sense to put Judaism and Israel further down our list of priorities. But now the freedom we cherish as Jews is being stolen from us precisely because we are Jews. That changes all the political rules. 

One thing is clear: If we fail to address skyrocketing antisemitism, the problem will worsen. Remember: First, they come for the Jews. When the Nazis took control of Germany, they didn’t just target Jews. They also targeted “deviants”—those who cherished and promoted civil liberties. Antisemitism not only threatens Jews—it threatens all who cherish freedom and the American way of life. 

We have an obligation, not just as Jews, but as Americans, to work to stem the rising tide of antisemitism. The United States remains a free and democratic society only if we stand up, raise our voices and our fists. Now is the time.

Originally published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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