Twenty years ago, the phrase “Never Again” still meant something, at least in the United States. Yet awareness of the Holocaust and the six million European Jews murdered—the culmination of 2,000 years of brutality towards the stateless Jewish people—has fallen among the youngest generations of Americans.
A 2018 survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 31% of Americans and 41% of millennial and Gen Z respondents believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust. A further 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was. No fewer than 11% of Millennial and Gen Z respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust, including 19% of the 18-39-year-old subsample from the State of New York. Something has certainly gone wrong when American public education doesn’t provide basic historical literacy.
Is it any coincidence that the Anti-Defamation League reported an all-time high of 2,107 anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2020? This figure then increased by 34% to a mind-blowing new high of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to the ADL in 2021—more than seven such incidents per day.
One study found that, based on data from 2018, Jews per capita were by far the targeted group in the U.S. and the most likely to suffer from hate crimes. That’s 2.7 times more likely than Blacks and 2.2 times more likely than Muslims. Yet often the villains who commit these crimes go entirely unpunished, with one shocking scoop finding that “of the hundreds of hate crimes committed against Jews in [New York City] since 2018, many of them documented on camera, only a single perpetrator has served even one day in prison.”
If violent crime against Jews has no discernible deterrent, can anyone really feign surprise that ugly speech towards Jews is increasingly normalized in certain quarters? Many took note when Kanye West, now calling himself Ye, one of the country’s most popular musical artists, went on a weeks-long social media attack on Jews generally. Among other things, he threatened to “go death con 3 on Jewish people” while saying it was not antisemitic for him to say so because “black people are actually Jew also.”
Of course, lowbrow antisemites have embraced this amplification of their hateful rhetoric, as a banner reading “Kanye is right about the Jews” was hung over a busy Los Angeles freeway. That same message was mysteriously displayed on an electronic video board at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida following a college football game between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. More recently, a Jewish cemetery in suburban Chicago was vandalized on Nov. 14 with swastikas and the misspelled phrase “Kanye was Rite” spray-painted on Jewish tombstones.
This would be troubling enough without the support that West and his hateful message have received from more highly placed and celebrated figures. Tucker Carlson, the most-watched cable news host in U.S. history, gave West a primetime interview that was heavily edited to conceal antisemitic claims from the artist, including that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah involves “financial engineering” and “the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ, [are] who the people known as the race Black really are.” The Washington Post reported that “Carlson mostly nodded along with Ye’s commentary [with] no obvious effort to question Ye’s assertions.”
Notably, Carlson himself has indulged in the antisemitic “Great Replacement” theory, a claim that originated with neo-Nazis and alleges a Jewish conspiracy to replace America’s white majority with groups from other countries by promoting immigration and interracial marriage.
West was briefly removed from Twitter, but returned days later to support the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving’s promotion of a film that accuses Jews of worshipping Satan, masterminding the trans-Atlantic slave trade and controlling the media and other industries—literally quoting from the famous antisemitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a forgery by Tsarist Russia’s secret police that purports to describe the Jewish plan for global domination.
West’s claims were further legitimized by famed comedian Dave Chappelle in a “Saturday Night Live” monologue, in which he alluded to tropes of Jewish secrecy and illicit power, saying, “I’ve been to Hollywood. … It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot.” Chappelle continued, “You could maybe adopt the delusion that Jews run show business. It’s not a crazy thing to think. But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.” ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that it was “disturbing to see [‘SNL’] not just normalize but popularize #antisemitism.”
Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn? Why does our trauma trigger applause? As Yair Rosenberg put it in The Atlantic, “The problem … is that as anti-Semitism and related conspiracy theories become more normalized in our discourse, laughing about them becomes harder, because you never know who might not get the joke.”
But perhaps it’s also the difficulty of understanding antisemitism for what it is. It’s not racism, but a different sort of hatred. As Hannah Arendt clearly described it, antisemitism, unlike other forms of bigotry, does not seek to enslave the Jewish people. Instead, “antisemitism’s end goal is genocide.”
There are many vectors for the rising Jew-hatred in America, including far-right neo-Nazis, white supremacists, far-left anti-Israel voices, radical Islamists and increasingly high rates of antisemitism among some racial minority groups.
It has long been argued that manifestations of anti-Jewish hate are a “canary in the coal mine,” indicating that tolerance and democracy itself are in severe distress. Now is the time for leaders from all sectors of American society to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with Jews and against hateful speech and violence, wherever they originate.
If society, Heaven forbid, crosses a tipping point into mass violence against Jews, history shows that it will not stop with them. While the present wave of intolerance promises catastrophe for the American Jewish community if left unchecked, it is a dire threat to us all.
Hen Mazzig has been named among the top 50 LGBTQ+ influencers and as one of Algemeiner’s top 100 people positively influencing Jewish life. His award-winning articles have been published by The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Haaretz, The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, The International Business Times and more. He serves as a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute and is the host of the podcast Fresh Look.
Originally published by Jewish Journal.