It’s time for a new approach to antisemitism

The old policies have failed. We must adopt new procedures of punishing antisemites, reforming education and ostracizing hateful ideologies.

Hamas supporters protest in New York, May 15, 2021. Credit: Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.
Hamas supporters protest in New York, May 15, 2021. Credit: Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.
Avi Goldwasser. Credit: Courtesy.
Avi Goldwasser
Avi Goldwasser is a social activist, film producer, co-founder of the David Project and the Jewish Leadership Project, and a former member of the Boston Board of Directors of the American Jewish Committee and Jewish Community Relations Council.
Tony Katz. Credit: Courtesy.
Tony Katz
Tony Katz is a Jewish civil rights activist and advocate. In 2020 he founded the Confronting Antisemitism Network.

American Jewry is under assault both physically and ideologically.

Not since the 1960s, when bigots tried to prevent racial integration, has America seen such raw hatred.

But this time, elite institutions and civic leadership have responded with moral confusion, indecency and ignorance of the nature and history of Jew-hatred. For example, in their recent congressional testimony, the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania displayed an obscene indifference to Jewish lives. This reflects the toxic ideology that dominates our universities and ruling elites.

Today’s Jew-hatred is multiethnic, reflecting in part a large influx of Muslim immigrants. It goes beyond bigotry, often promoting outright genocide.

The Oct. 7 massacre was followed by a global explosion of tribal hatred as Muslim and progressive tribes united in a coordinated assault on Israel and Jews. This was the logical consequence of identity politics, which promotes the idea that your virtue is dependent on whom you hate in the name of utopian fantasies of world peace and global justice.

This toxic politics is driven by academic ideologies, principally Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). These movements divide people into evil oppressors and the saintly oppressed. They view Jews as a privileged class whose success has been achieved at the expense of “oppressed and marginalized” communities. Thus, Jew-hatred is transformed into a righteous battle for justice.

For a half-century or more, conventional wisdom has held that education is the cure for antisemitism. Given that antisemitism today is promoted in educational institutions, including high schools, it has become painfully clear that this approach has failed. We are facing a harsh reality: Facts, reason and logic alone have not and will not diminish Jew-hatred. Dealing with irrational behavior by rational means simply doesn’t work.

The reason for this is likely hardwired into the human mind. Humans generally need to belong to a group for protection and survival. Thus, tribalism became an evolutionary advantage. The desire to protect our group from real or perceived threats is the product of thousands of years of human evolution.

This desire, not ignorance, often leads to the demonization and dehumanization of a perceived enemy. Leaders often stoke this hatred to rouse their followers to action, particularly against those who are falsely perceived to be powerful threats—like the Jews.

Identity politics is thus a manifestation of our tribalist impulses. The simplistic binary view of humanity as divided between oppressor and oppressed, combined with a Marxist understanding of power relationships, leads many to believe that there is a moral imperative to punish perceived oppressors—like “privileged” Jews.

This has fostered the sickeningly violent concept of “by any means necessary,” which justifies the use of any and all means, including genocidal violence, to destroy the “oppressor.”

One of the greatest achievements of civilization is the inhibition of humanity’s evolutionary tribal impulses. Without it, civilization cannot survive. Therefore, to fight antisemitism effectively, we must identify and implement strategies that take this into account and inhibit politically and ideologically driven tribal hatred.

Civilization uses many means to counteract tribalism. One of the oldest and most effective is simple: The rule of law and punishment for violating the law.

Perhaps nothing encourages antisemitism more than the impunity enjoyed by today’s antisemites. This is the result of a pervasive and systemic failure to enforce laws, prosecute violations and punish the Jew-haters for their crimes. For example, out of 118 antisemitic hate crimes in New York City brought to trial between 2018 and 2022, the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to significant prison time only once. In this context, is it any wonder that during the same period, there was a huge jump in antisemitic hate crimes in the city?

This is unacceptable. Consequences matter. We need to change the calculus for the antisemites. We must impose painful social consequences on those who engage in hate crimes and violence. We must identify and restrain those who promote an ideology of Jew-hatred, including in universities and the media. Many might not want to hear it, but punishment is far more effective at curbing bad behavior than education.

We propose a new approach to fighting antisemitism that draws on strategies that have effectively curbed hatred of other minority groups, such as the black and LGBT communities.

Almost anyone who explicitly speaks or acts in a racist or anti-LGBT manner quickly faces punishment in the form of social and cultural ostracization as well as legal sanctions. Society has come to recognize that unless these haters are punished, they rarely stop. Similarly, society must enforce existing laws—especially civil rights laws—and arrest, prosecute and severely punish antisemitism and antisemites. Antisemites must also face social and cultural ostracization.

In the educational system, the U.S. government must adopt the same approach it uses to protect blacks and sexual minorities. Jewish students must receive equal protection. Institutions and especially their leaders that fail to give them equal protection must face severe consequences. 

An initial step would be requiring the educational system—including K-12—to cleanse itself of hateful ideologies. Additionally, high school and college curricula must include an honest examination of our tribal nature, recognizing that we are not exempt from evolution and identifying how we can restrain its negative impulses.

As a society, we cannot afford to wait any longer. Today’s epidemic of Jew-hatred requires immediate action based on fresh thinking. Continuing to pursue failed policies is no longer acceptable.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates