The mounting evidence of a sharp rise in antisemitic attitudes and actions raises a profoundly puzzling question: why now?
What recent developments for the Jewish people and the state of Israel have provoked these alarming new levels of hostility in the United States and around the world?
The disturbing pattern involves far more than moronic comments by Kanye West and other prominent figures in popular culture. Jews constitute just 2% of the American population but, according to the most recent FBI figures (2020), they’re targeted in 58% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the country.
The Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence directed at Jews in 2021 – the highest annual total since the tracking of such incidents began in 1979.
“We don’t see any meaningful decrease in 2022,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Ye’s declaration of “Death Con 3 on the Jewish People” represented a rise in hostility “from the right and the left pretty much across the spectrum. And it’s not only rhetoric but in physical attacks on Jews and the Jewish community.”
The most horrifying of those attacks occurred four years ago with the murder of eleven Pittsburgh worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and since that time kosher markets and Jewish restaurants also suffered attacks, not to mention the regular pattern of shoving, insults and other abuse on the streets and subways of New York, home to the nation’s most visible Jewish population.
The common explanation for this recent intensification of resentment and negativity connects American Jews to the state of Israel, often reviled by the political left for subjecting its Palestinian residents to an allegedly “apartheid” regime that refuses to make meaningful progress toward peace with its Arab neighbors.
But if such issues indeed played the dominant role in the upsurge in Jew-hatred, then recent months should have brought a reduction, not an increase, in negativity to Jews and the Jewish state. For the last year and a half, under Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, Israel has been led by the most moderate government in its recent history, and the first one including a Palestinian Arab (and Islamist) party in its ruling coalition.
And even if, as widely expected, Bibi Netanyahu wins Tuesday’s election and installs a less compromising right-wing government, he and his colleagues are still proudly committed to maintaining the peace momentum of the “Abraham Accords,” which achieved mutual recognition and economic cooperation with a half dozen Arab states – including, most recently, an American-brokered maritime deal with Lebanon that divides drilling rights to the benefit of both nations.
In coming to terms with increasingly outspoken contempt for Jews and Judaism, concerned analysts must consider changes in America at large rather than focusing on significant shifts in its minuscule Jewish community or our distant compatriots in Israel.
With the rise of the internet and social media as a source of news, opinion and infotainment, the United States has developed a ravaging, seemingly insatiable hunger for conspiracy theories to explain every setback or grievance on the national horizon. It doesn’t matter how unhinged or preposterous these purported plots may seem, there are now millions of troubled individuals who seem ready to embrace them while rewarding their promulgators with notoriety and riches.
This toxic tendency connects directly with the nation’s Jewish citizens and their role in the Republic because the children of Abraham have aroused potent conspiratorial fears for the better part of two thousand years.
In Medieval Europe, major Jewish communities faced mass expulsions (including from England in 1290) based on the “Blood Libel” – the stubborn belief that Jews tradition mandated ritual murder of Christian children to use their blood in baking Passover matzos.
Unquestionably, today’s populist Q-Anon myth – in which members of globalist elites guzzle the blood of kidnapped and tormented children to cement their worldwide power – bears strong parallels with the ancient slander. No wonder that the one member of Congress most closely associated with Q-Anon, Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, found a way to blame “Jewish space lasers” for wildfires in California.
Meanwhile, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent concoction from the twilight of Czarist rule in Russia “revealed” a Jewish plot to take over the world, inspiring both Eastern European pogroms and helping shape the core ideology of the Nazi Party.
It is no accident that some of the most popular and outrageous conspiracy theories in contemporary America carry hints and echoes of long-standing smears aimed for centuries against Jews. Consider the now infamous absurdity of Alex Jones’ insistence that no children actually died at Sandy Hook elementary school which actually amounted to a “False Flag” operation – a disgusting lie for which courts and juries have recently ruled that the radio raver must pay close to a billion dollars in damages. Jones actually associated Israel with the alleged plot that he spent a decade elaborating, claiming that Israel’s Mossad had, for some reason, collaborated with American extremists to stage the faked mass killing. He even suggested that some of the “crisis actors” pretending to be bereaved parents could be instantly, easily identified as Jews, complete with (non-existent) Hasidic side-curls.
An even more sweeping conspiracy theory, the fantastic notion of “The Great Replacement”, has attracted supporters much further removed from the lunatic fringe than Alex Jones. Tucker Carlson of Fox News has devoted hours of his wildly popular broadcast to this alleged effort by internationalist elites to liquidate the American, white Christian working class to replace them with a tidal wave of unlettered and non-English speaking immigrants who would prove far more malleable to globalist manipulation. The deep-seated fears of the Replacement, or the “Reset” as it is sometimes known, originated in France regarding the mass importation of Muslim Migrants. While it might be even too much for gullible fabulists to believe that French Jews might benefit by replacing French Catholics with Islamic arrivals implacably hostile to Judaism and Israel, by the time the “Replacement” fable made its way to the New World, it had developed an unmistakable antisemitic edge. Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, gathered for their “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, lustily chanted by torchlight: “The Jews will not replace us!” as they marched around the city’s only synagogue during Friday night services.
Like most other conspiracy theories, these suspected schemes made so little sense on their face, that people of goodwill may disregard them as irrelevant fantasies with little practical impact. But the obvious, undeniable increase in antisemitic sentiment can hardly register as irrelevant, even while based on fantastical distortions and warped delusions.
Another celebrity recently identified himself with classical Jew-hatred in promoting a documentary film that not only minimized the devastating truth of the Holocaust but implicated the “impostor Jews” with the worst race crimes in human history. While using social media to praise and circulate “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America”, NBA all-star Kyrie Irving of the New York Nets defended the film (based, in part on misinformation provided by Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam) and insisted that his association with it demanded no apology.
“Did I do anything illegal?” he asked rhetorically. “Did I hurt anybody? Did I harm anybody?”
Yes, you did, Mr. Irving. You harmed the truth. And you hurt the Jewish people who, historically, always seem to suffer the most when societies develop sick obsessions with vast conspiracy theories that make ordinary citizens feel powerless and victimized.