Political inaction fuels rising antisemitism

While we hear condemnation from both sides of the aisle, concrete action is conspicuously absent.

An anti-Israel mob in Brooklyn. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
An anti-Israel mob in Brooklyn. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Steven Burg
Rabbi Steven Burg

Rabbi Steven Burg is CEO of Aish. He serves on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency as an executive board member of the Rabbinical Council of America. Prior to Aish, he was eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he oversaw the Museum of Tolerance in New York City and contributed to the center’s fight against antisemitism.

As second gentleman Douglas Emhoff joined the groundbreaking ceremony for the Tree of Life Synagogue memorial in Pittsburgh, his presence highlighted a stark contradiction: While government officials pay lip service to combating antisemitism, their actions—or lack thereof—tell a different story.

The same day as this solemn event, antisemitic violence struck the Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles. This juxtaposition encapsulates a troubling reality: While we commemorate past tragedies, new ones unfold before our eyes, often met with political indifference or inadequate response.

The surge in antisemitism across North America is not merely anecdotal; it is a statistical fact.

In Montreal, police reports show a dramatic rise in antisemitic incidents throughout 2023, with a further spike following Oct. 7. Toronto has witnessed a staggering 93% increase in reported hate crimes since the Israel-Hamas war began, with Jewish people being the target of 56% of all reported hate crimes in 2024.

Statistics in the United States are similar. The ADL tracked a reported 3,283 antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7, 2023 and Jan. 7, 2024, marking a 361% increase in reported antisemitic incidents when compared to the 712 incidents the organization said were reported during the same period the year before.

Yet despite this overwhelming evidence, there seems to be a systemic failure to address these crimes with the seriousness they deserve. Time and again, we witness acts of violence against Jews being downplayed, charges dropped and the “hate crime” designation avoided.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office, led by Alvin Bragg, recently dropped charges against most pro-Palestinian protesters arrested at Columbia University. This decision sent shockwaves through the Jewish community, effectively signaling that there are no consequences for the relentless persecution of Jews on campus.

Adding insult to injury, leaked text messages from Columbia University deans revealed a dismissive and sarcastic attitude towards the concerns of Jewish students and staff. Some of the deans mockingly referred to the Hillel director who had attempted to raise an alarm against antisemitism on campus, his warnings falling on deaf and mocking ears. These messages expose a deeply troubling bias within the very institutions meant to protect and educate our youth.

This pattern of leniency and indifference extends beyond academia. In Los Angeles, Paul Kessler was killed by a pro-Hamas professor during a protest, yet the attacker wasn’t charged with a hate crime due to an alleged “lack of evidence.” In New York, when a Jewish family was physically assaulted by Arabic-speaking attackers during a public school graduation ceremony in Brooklyn, police refused to classify it as a hate crime.

The political response to these incidents has been woefully inadequate. While we hear condemnations from both sides of the aisle, concrete action is conspicuously absent. The reluctance to prosecute antisemitic acts as hate crimes stands in stark contrast to how other forms of bigotry are treated. It’s a painful irony that in a society that prides itself on protecting minorities, Jews find themselves increasingly vulnerable and unprotected.

The roots of this problem run deep. There’s a growing trend of minimizing or outright denying the reality of antisemitism. Some journalists such as Talia Jane from The New Republic go so far as to suggest that what we’re witnessing isn’t really antisemitism at all. This gaslighting of the Jewish community only adds insult to injury and emboldens those who seek to harm us.

We must recognize that rhetoric has consequences. Dehumanization of a people is where it starts but it rarely ends there. The relentless anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric we’re seeing in political discourse is not harmless debate—it’s fueling real-world violence against Jews.

What’s particularly alarming is how our cherished democratic values are being weaponized against us. Free speech, a cornerstone of our democracy, is being twisted to shield those who spread hatred and incite violence against Jews. Our political leaders seem paralyzed, unable or unwilling to confront this perversion of our ideals.

The situation at Columbia University serves as a microcosm of this larger political problem. Despite pleas from major donors and clear evidence of a hostile environment for Jewish students, the administration has failed to take meaningful action. The leaked text messages reveal a level of institutional antisemitism that demands immediate political intervention.

As a community, Jews have contributed immensely to the fabric of American society. We have thrived here, believing in the promise of equality and justice for all. But today, that promise rings hollow. It seems that despite all our contributions and our deep roots in this nation, we cannot get justice when we need it most.

The time has come for a serious political reckoning. We need more than just memorials and words of condemnation from political figures. We need action.

Law enforcement must be empowered and directed to treat antisemitic crimes with the full weight of the law. Educational institutions must be held accountable for fostering environments where Jewish students feel unsafe.

Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem—it’s a societal one. When the rights and safety of any minority group are threatened, the very foundations of our democratic society are at risk.

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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