Last year, at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, a pro-Palestinian student threw a rock at Jews standing by Hillel, the Jewish students’ organization. At the University of Oregon Hillel, vandals left an illiterate, hate-filled message: “Free Palestina You genocidal rasist f..ks.” At an unnamed college, a student tried blocking a Jewish student from her friend’s dormitory unless she said “Free Palestine.”
These were among the 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism directed against American Jews in 2021. America’s small Jewish community endures nearly two-thirds of all anti-religious hate crimes annually. Few criminals who have attacked visibly Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have been imprisoned. Paul Pelosi’s hammer-wielding attacker spread antisemitic conspiracy theories. And on Nov. 3, the FBI issued a rare warning against New Jersey synagogues being targeted.
In this age of outrage, the once-clear distinction between the left-leaning Jew-hatred of the salon and the right-leaning Jew-hatred of the street may be breaking down. The Jew-hatred of the salon is now increasingly violent, while the Jew-hatred of the street is now increasingly ideological, “justified” by theorists of white supremacy or black power. But regardless of the source or the forms of expression, the target remains the same: Jews, individually or collectively—making it imperative to reject all manifestations of this Jew-hatred of the sewer.
Beware: The broad-based repudiation of Ye, the bigot formerly known as Kanye West, is well-deserved, most welcome, but misleading. Like the cliched “Not Dead Yet” surprise in Halloween horror movies, Jew-hatred is nowhere close to being vanquished, even though West lost friends, fans, endorsement deals and his billionaire status. In fact, all the virtue-signaling around the Kanye West and Kyrie Irving denunciations risks distracting Jews and non-Jews from the spread of more insidious and violent expressions of Jew-hatred.
While the Twitter-verse and corporate America denounced Ye, as headlines screamed and essayists agonized, American society overlooked what the Odessa-born Zionist thinker Ze’ev Jabotinsky called the more entrenched “anti-Semitism of things.” Most of the street bullies who have attacked black-hatted Jews in Brooklyn roam free, emboldened by the prosecutorial “discretion” soft-pedaling their crimes. The new Republican hyper-partisans refuse to condemn any of their fellow Republicans who rub elbows with Jew-haters or dog-whistle against Jews. And last month, as Ye’s tweet-tantrum cascaded, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a sobering analysis detailing 359 acts of abusive campus Jew-hatred last year, which the media and most universities ignored.
There is no stupider debate in the American Jewish community today than the one asking “which is worse, right-wing Jew-hatred or left-wing Jew-hatred?” It’s like debating whether you would rather be run over by a truck or killed by poison. All forms of Jew-hatred are unacceptable, even when our political allies perpetuate it. Jewish conservatives waste their breath railing against university Jew-hatred, just like Jewish liberals waste their breath railing against MAGA bigots. And we all delight our enemies by fighting one another rather than uniting against them. It is increasingly obvious that in an increasingly polarized America, Jewish Trumpians have to call out right-wing Jew-hatred, while Jewish Progressives have to call out left-wing Jew-hatred.
It’s an old story. Beyond being, in the words of the late historian Robert Wistrich, “the longest hatred,” Jew-hatred is also the most plastic hatred: moldable, adaptable, artificial and occasionally toxic. Over the millennia, antisemites have attacked Jews for fitting in and standing out, as too capitalist and too Marxist, too universalistic and too nationalistic, too deferential and too aggressive. Some blame Jews for all that is wrong with society; others blame Jews for all that society believes is wrong with the world. Today, the children of Abraham and Sarah perform an important service for a divided America: the far right and left share at least one nemesis—Jews.
That both are equally contemptible doesn’t mean that right-wing and left-wing Jew-hatred are the same. Right-wing Jew-hatred is the antisemitism of the street. It’s usually more thuggish, more violent, more brazen. It most targets the Jewish body, and rarely disturbs the Jewish soul because it’s so extreme, so cartoonish, so intellectually disreputable. True, extremists from Louis Farrakhan to the leading white nationalists try to give their particular forms of Jew-hatred some rationale, but the claims are so outlandish as to be laughable.
This kind of goonish Jew-hatred requires very few paragraphs to dismiss. And it’s the kind of Jew-hatred easiest for most Jews and most decent Americans to denounce. It’s the traditional, made-in-Europe, currently most-popular-in-many-Muslim-circles variety, caricaturing Jews as big-nosed, greedy, powerful, power-hungry and endlessly responsible for whatever is going wrong at the moment. Unfortunately, the rise of social media has brought this kind of bile from sewers to servers, and then into too many minds via too many screens.
Especially since the Holocaust, and in an overwhelmingly-liberal American Jewish community, this is the Jew-hatred most American Jews love to hate.
Today’s Jew-hatred of the salon, however, lurks under the radar—or behind a mask of social-justice talk. It’s far more subtle, insidious and disturbing because it comes with mortar boards, tweed jackets and hipster tattoos. And it launches a series of guided missiles aimed at the Jewish soul, making too many of us feel guilty for being attacked and too many others feel ashamed of our identity or our homeland. That’s why the silence that greeted the ADL analysis amid the Kanye West shout-storm is so disturbing.
The report, “Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses, 2021-2022,” cataloged nearly 400 moments on American campuses, in one academic year alone, when criticism of Israel crossed the line into aggressive and intimidating Jew-hatred. The always-cautious ADL did not assess the thousands of professorial sneers, pseudo-scholarly tweets and student snubs against Israel and against Zionist students that feed the lynch-mob atmosphere on too many campuses. Instead, ADL researchers emphasized harassment, from physical bullying to verbal browbeating, that often started with disdain for Israel but ended by targeting that oldest, most adaptable and useful scapegoat, the Jew.
These attackers reject Israel for what it is, not what it does—often blaming every Jew for Israel’s existence. “Our goal is not to document or quantify routine criticism of Israel’s actions or policies,” the ADL authors explained, “but to provide a snapshot of a more radical activist movement which places opposition to Israel and/or Zionism as core elements of campus life or as a prerequisite for full acceptance in the campus community.”
It’s stunning. If Catholic students on dozens of universities across America found themselves “cancelled” and sometimes physically threatened by pro-choice activists because the Vatican remains anti-abortion, wouldn’t there be an outcry? What if African-Americans were targeted because of some African dictator? Wouldn’t college presidents, alumni, donors, parents, professors and students rally to their side? Wouldn’t inter-university task forces be established, responding to indignant editorials nationwide? And wouldn’t fighting such hatred become a top priority for all these new Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity administrators draining money from traditional university activities like teaching?
Instead, worse than silence, there is often annoyance. On campuses hypersensitive to micro-aggressions, Jews are expected to swallow macro-aggressions. In a universe privileging certain victims’ “lived experiences,” Jewish victims are gaslighted, told their supposed “white privilege” means any harassment cannot be harassment. Jews are bombarded with justifications for this obsessive assault on the world’s only Jewish democracy. Even victims of violence have been assured that their assailants were not anti-Jewish, “merely” anti-Israel.
The problem, alas, is not new enough to attract headlines. It is just more widespread, worming its way into the woodwork of university life. This new Jew-hatred risks becoming as standard on many campuses as grade inflation, binge drinking, carefully-sifted recycling and woke posturing. The report, “Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses, 2021-2022,” commendably focuses on just the facts. It catalogs the rocks thrown, insults launched, lies spread, abuse endured and violence against Israel and Jews advocated.
It’s worth exploring how Jew-stalking became a campus craze.
Clearly, as universities have become more fanatically progressive, anti-Zionism has progressed from the margins of campus life to its center. The turn from truth-seeking to virtue-signaling, from transcending victimhood to wallowing in it, and from cultivating independent individual expression to imprisoning people in particular identities, followed its Marxist logic. Once various “out” groups are designated as the “oppressed,” destined to become the new “in” groups, they seek new “out” groups to ostracize as “oppressors.” As always, finding a common enemy is the best way to impose groupthink on your own followers.
In the 1970s, the Palestinian scholar Edward Said attacked “Orientalism,” scholars’ supposedly “crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world.” Such cultural imperialism, he argued, exposed the “Orientalists’” prejudices. Today, the illiberal liberalism and unscholarly scholarship spreading crude, essentialized caricatures of Israel, Judaism and Zionism could be called “DisOrientalism.” DisOrientalism misreads Israel through a partisan Western prism, in a true act of cultural imperialism. Forgetting that Judaism and the Jewish people never fit easily into neat modern categories of “religion” and “nation,” DisOrientalists treat Judaism and Zionism as Western transplants lacking authentic Middle Eastern roots.
These Bash-Israel-Firsters then dismiss the Jewish national liberation movement, Zionism, as “settler colonialism,” negating Jews’ 3,500-year-old ties to the land of Israel. They call little, multicultural, polychromatic Israel racist and imperialist, although Israel has no empire and is fighting a national battle with Palestinians, not a skin-based color war. And they accuse pro-Israel Jews of promulgating “Jewish supremacy,” a term wrenched from the Nazi handbook for demonizing Jews.
Many anti-Zionists also appear disoriented—supporting feminism and gay rights everywhere, yet overlooking Palestinian society’s rampant sexism and homophobia. They champion democracy and dissent worldwide, yet excuse the autocracy and oppression committed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza. They claim to pursue peace everywhere, yet endorse Palestinian terrorism anywhere.
With these distortions mainstreamed, no wonder so many professors who could make anything sound complicated oversimplify about Israel. Better to trash Israel blindly than analyze the Middle East subtly. Better to sling slogans than risk ostracism. Many students then parrot the distorted Israel critique, romanticizing the Palestinians, following the trend. Since Communism collapsed, pro-Palestinianism has become the ultimate left-wing virtue-signal, qualifying anyone for membership in an anti-Western woke world. Said charged that Orientalism affirmed European identity; DisOrientalism affirms modern Progressive identity in its most illiberal forms.
This anti-Israel mania reflects the deeper rot of American universities. Our society spends billions, alumni contribute millions, and parents bankrupt themselves subsidizing centers of education that are degenerating into propaganda factories. Every semester, thousands of professors, especially in the humanities and social sciences, commit educational malpractice brazenly, intentionally, by hijacking their lecture podiums and transforming them into political platforms. The essential professorial mission has changed, especially in the social sciences and humanities. Many enter academia to mobilize legions of social justice warriors, not nurture critical thinkers. Echoing the anti-Israel orthodoxy, they project every Western flaw onto Israel.
Having cast the Jewish state as “the Jew” of the world, deemed to be the source of so much evil, the haters naturally spill over into hating the Jews in today’s world. Given Zionism’s centrality to modern Jewish identity, all Jews are found automatically guilty, co-conspirators in Israel’s alleged crimes—unless they make loud, flamboyant declarations of anti-Zionism.
That’s why the Jewish Journal’s report of nine Berkeley Law School student groups banning Zionists from speaking about any topic is so disturbing. It takes cancel culture to an extreme and essentially asks Jews and only Jews for loyalty oaths affirming they are not—God forbid!—Zionists.
This trend of demonizing Jews, and accusing little democratic Israel, whatever its shortcomings, of committing every major Western sin, from imperialism and settler colonialism to racism and white supremacy, rings Jews’ atavistic alarm bells.
In the late 1800s, years before he helped launch the modern Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl noticed how scholarly Jew-haters updated and prettified the ancient scourge. Herzl was particularly dismayed that Eugen Dühring’s 1881 screed “Die Judenfrage als Racen, Sitten und Kulturfrage” (“The Jewish Question as a Racial, Moral, and Cultural Question”) was “unfortunately so well-written, not at all as if base envy had guided the poison pen of personal revenge.”
“When such infamous nonsense is presented in so straightforward a manner,” Herzl wrote, “when so well-schooled and penetrating a mind, enriched by scholarly and truly encyclopedic knowledge … can write this sort of stuff — what then can one expect from the illiterate mob?” Watching this elegant, well-educated, academic Jew-hater replace medieval Christian blood libels with new, pseudoscientific, race-based hierarchies, Herzl sighed: “He has kept pace with the times. He knows that one can no longer dish up these stupid old lies that have led to so much bloodshed, and so he thinks up more plausible new ones.”
The problem is daunting. Ending academic malpractice in the universities will take decades, while Jew-hatred has been mutating for centuries. But no solutions will ever emerge without first recognizing that there is a problem.
Without stifling debates about Israel’s rights and wrongs, it’s time to put this new Jew-hatred on every college leader’s agenda. Ultimately, it is a consumer protection issue: Last spring, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Law found that 65 percent of students who feel proudly Jewish and committed to Israel report feeling unsafe on campus, while 50 percent felt compelled to play down their Jewish identities. That is far too many students left feeling uncomfortable, singled out, battle-fatigued, with some, as the ADL report details, bullied and traumatized. If campuses are “safe spaces” for all students, they must be welcoming to Jews too.
We also know that this academic Jew-hatred is particularly unsettling for American Jews because American Jews worship academia more than perhaps any other American institution. More than in most households, the typical American Jewish childhood revolves around college-worship. Jewish high schoolers are constantly asked by every significant adult in their lives “Where are you going to go to school?” until they are asked “Where did you get in?” until they are asked “What are you studying?” With all that pressure to get in and do well, it is no wonder that many American Jewish students not only choose to overlook the Jew-hatred but internalize it, excuse it—and sometimes help peddle it.
Hate breeds hate. Like all thought-viruses, Jew-hatred fuels other bigotries and respects no boundaries. Progressive antisemitism may begin with Zionophobia, disdaining Israel as too conservative; right-wing antisemitism may begin with Judaeophobia, disdaining Jews as too liberal. But, feasting on millennia of the same misanthropy, the same lies, they meet in exaggerations about Jewish money, power and evil.
These prejudices must be fought simultaneously, with partisans cleaning their own camps. Limiting your battleplan to confronting only right-wing Jew-hatred or left-wing Jew-hatred is as futile as fighting pollution over Beverly Hills and not Beverlywood.
Moreover, while rooting out the rot, refusing to settle for cheap, symbolic victories, we also have to fight the growing despair. America still is different. Unlike in Medieval Christian Europe or today’s Muslim world, most incidents of Jew-hatred in America have happy endings—with broad condemnations from neighbors, co-workers, celebrities, politicians and thought-leaders. I still lead students in singing “There are no cats in America,” along with Fievel Mouskewitz from “An American Tail.” We still need to define America by its majority of decent-people rather than its shrill minority of haters.
But the haters are both ever-louder and ever-more subtle. Without a united, multi-pronged front, glued together by zero-tolerance for the Jew-hatred of the street and the salon, this Jew-hatred of the sewer will get more toxic, will spill over more broadly, and become harder to combat.
Professor Gil Troy is the author of The Zionist Ideas and the editor of the three-volume set Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of the Library of the Jewish People, to be published this August marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress.
This article was originally published by The Jewish Journal.
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