Just as we are reaching the point where very few Holocaust survivors are still living, hate akin to the rise of Nazi-ism is surfacing. The ADL and FBI have seen a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents in the US since Oct 7th. Jews are 2.4% of the population but the recipients of 60% of religious hate crimes. Since October 7th, Jewish day schools have canceled classes, synagogues have been locked, homes have been graffitied with Swastikas, mobs have attacked Jewish students on campuses, and social media has boomed with antisemitism.
Until October 7th, the majority of American Jews have been able to ignore antisemitism blissfully. Many read when it happened to someone else in another city or state, or they did not hear about it at all. Even the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre was not a wake-up call for most of us.
So, many Jews are asking, where do they turn for support? Who are their friends? Bridgette Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian who spent her teen years in a bomb shelter in Beirut hiding from Hezbollah and ultimately rescued by the IDF, is an outspoken Israel and anti-Islamic terrorism activist. In a video, she noted that most people are seemingly peaceful. During the Holocaust, it was a minority that drove and executed the ethnic cleansing. The peaceful majority was irrelevant. They did not stand up.
According to Dr. Zohar Raviv, International Vice President of Educational Strategy for Birthright, Jews are also fighting “the silent majority who thinks that they are the silenced minority.” Antisemitism is no different from the bullying that everyone is taught to be so aware of in school. The bully always seems larger than life, and those not being bullied, but witnessing it (which is generally the majority of the kids), are afraid to intervene, or don’t feel as if it is their fight. Because they don’t speak about it, they also often assume that they are the only ones bothered by this. They sympathize with the person, or people regularly attacked and intimidated, but feel unable to assist. With respect to Raviv’s quote and the current crisis, the Pro-Palestinian/Pro-Hamas rallies are large and relentless like any effective bully. Since non-Jews are less likely to have conversations about or post in support of Jews or Israel, they likely have the impression that they are in the minority in their support. Moreover, they are made to feel by these groups that if you support Jews and/or Israel, you are an oppressor and equally culpable.
What most non-Jews don’t realize is that antisemitic violence has been shown to be a precursor to deeper divides between people and government. In an article for CNN, Stephen Collinson noted that “outbursts of antisemitism have often been harbingers of societies in deep trouble and omens that extremism and violence are imminent.” Look at Germany in the 1930s: the economy was struggling deeply, and there was political instability. During this time, antisemitism spiked. Additionally, in the years leading up to the French Revolution, Jews had begun to gain more rights and in some cases establish themselves in society while at the same time, there was growing political unrest. People were looking to blame and to lash out and Jews were a small but visible minority, so they were a good target.
In the last 20 years in the USA, there has been a growing polarization within political parties and their ideologies. A significant segment of the Republican party is leaning very conservative. The Democrats have a notable left-leaning faction that has aligned with the ideals of the Democratic Socialists of America, including the very vocal members of “The Squad”: Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Cori Bush. Organizations and groups that oppose the U.S. government and sometimes its democratic way of life have also been behind vocal and often violent incidents. BDS and Black Lives Matter have become political forces. These groups have been known to use democratic values such as freedom of speech, expression, and the right to peaceful assembly to justify words and actions which many believe cross the lines into hate speech and incitement. Many Jews protested with the Black community after the death of George Floyd and even posted Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns and bumper stickers on their cars. However, after multiple antisemitic actions and most recently, a post on their social media of a silhouette of a Hamas Paraglider to stand with Palestine, BLM has subsequently hindered its relationship with many Jews.
Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. “The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hate. It would be the greatest mistake for Jews to believe that they can fight it alone. The only people who can successfully combat antisemitism are those active in the cultures that harbor it,” according to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Interestingly, the climate has awakened many Jews who had been sitting on the sidelines of Judaism. Even though social media is spreading hate faster than we can counter it, it is also building strong communities of Jewish activism. Jews are coming together and sharing information, then reaching out to universities and signing petitions to remove antisemitic professors and staff. Simultaneously, social media has aided in stopping antisemitic protests, speakers, and films from being shown, as well as pulling donations. In October, spearheaded by the head of Yeshiva University, a coalition of more than 100 public, private, faith-based, and historically Black colleges and universities issued a statement standing with “Israel, the Palestinians who suffer under Hamas' cruel rule in Gaza, and all people of moral conscience.”
As noted in a recent article on CNN.com; “History does not end. It merely slumbers, then repeats itself.”
“Never again” is now.