Antisemitic Incidents in U.S. at All-time High

By: Sarah Gleim & John Donovan  | 
 No Hate No Fear solidarity march
Thousands of New Yorkers joined community leaders and city and statewide elected officials in Foley Square at the No Hate No Fear solidarity march in unity against the rise of antisemitism in 2020. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The persecution of Jews for practicing what they believe — for just being Jewish — is as old as the faith itself. And antisemitism in all its ugly, despicable forms is something that Jews know all too intimately. It is part of their history, part of their being. And so it's something we all have to own — and condemn.

Especially as major celebrities like Kanye West continue to make shocking statements about Jews amidst the documented surge in hate and violence toward the community.

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If these and other horrors against Jews, including 2018's attack on Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue that killed 11, have taught us anything, it's something that we probably should have known all along. Antisemitism is real. And it's not going away anytime soon.

What Is Antisemitism?

Simply, antisemitism is a persecution or a hatred toward Jews for being Jewish. The term itself wasn't introduced until the late 19th century, by a German journalist, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. But the hatred has been around much longer than that. From the USHMM:

Among the most common manifestations of antisemitism throughout history were pogroms, violent riots launched against Jews and frequently encouraged by government authorities. Pogroms were often incited by blood libels — false rumors that Jews used the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes.

In many countries, Jews were separated from the rest of the populace, made to work menial jobs and prohibited from owning land. The persecution of Jews culminated in the Holocaust, the systematic massacre of more than 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its sympathizers from 1933-1945.

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Though Jews have continued to make important inroads into societies all over the world since then — Joe Lieberman became the first Jew on a U.S. presidential ticket in 2000, when he ran for vice president alongside Al Gore and recently Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff became the state's first Jewish senator and first elected in the South since the 1880s — antisemitism continues to infect many countries, including America, at many levels.

In 2017, protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, marched while chanting slogans like, "Jews will not replace us." And Oct. 27, 2018, a 46-year-old trucker opened fire at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people and injuring six more in what the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said was the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

Tree of Life memorial
An Orthodox Jewish schoolboy passes a memorial for victims of the mass shooting that killed 11 Jews and wounded six others at the Tree of Life Synagogue Oct. 29, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

That shooting was followed by more deadly attacks on Jews, including deadly shootings at a synagogue in California and a kosher market in New Jersey, as well as a stabbing incident at a rabbi's home in New York. In 2022, a man held hostages for more than 10 hours at a Texas synagogue before he was killed by the FBI.

But antisemitism doesn't always come in forms of violence. Kanye West's recent inflammatory postings and comments about Jews are perfect examples because his words perpetuate longstanding antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories about Jewish people.

"Ye is fanning the flames of antisemitism, and he's giving aid and comfort to white supremacists and other extremists who see his remarks as not only encouragement, but as an opportunity to spread hate," Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the southern division of the ADL, says via email. "At a time when antisemitic incidents are at historic levels, we have good reason to be concerned."

After West continued to double down on his comments over a period of weeks, known extremists and antisemites embraced his statements to further their own agendas, according to the ADL. Members of the extremist Goyim Defense League hung a banner over L.A.'s Interstate 405 that read "KANYE IS RIGHT ABOUT THE JEWS" while giving Nazi salutes Oct. 22. And an unidentified group projected antisemitic messages in Jacksonville, Florida, including on to TIAA Bank Field at the sold-out Georgia-Florida football game Oct. 29.

"It shouldn't surprise us that when the person with one of the largest followings — with 31 million followers, and one of the most publicly known celebrities in the world — makes antisemitic remarks, it's very frighting to Jewish people who are already on edge," Padilla-Goodman says. "As we see white supremacists pushing out the message 'Kanye was right' in public — like in Jacksonville over the weekend — shows how they are leveraging Ye's antisemitism and trying to normalize it across society."

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Is Antisemitism in the U.S. Getting Worse?

antisemitic incidents
In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the United States. This represents a 34 percent increase over the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020. Anti-Defamation League

According the ADL, 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. were reported to the group in 2021, a jump of 34 percent over the numbers reported in 2020 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking them in 1979. New York, New Jersey, California, Michigan and Texas had the highest number of incidents, and account for more than 58 percent of the total, though all 50 states reported at least some.

But the overall spike in antisemitic acts is undeniable, and it prompts a simple question with no easy answers: Why? Why so much hate?

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"We're seeing national leaders retweeting content from white nationalists, or using words and phrases from white supremacists in public speeches," Padilla-Goodman says. "We're seeing religious leaders, like Louis Farrakhan, who have been calling Jews 'termites' forever and continues to do so, being more openly embraced. We're just seeing a lot more antisemitism entering into the mainstream than we're comfortable with."

This move toward a more hostile public discourse plays out in antisemitic acts, Padilla-Goodman says. And, like antisemitism itself, it is not new.

Throughout history, she says, when antisemitism has spiked or manifested, it's always during times of economic or social crisis, or during times of unrest. "It's times when we hearken back to fear-mongering or hatred. Antisemitism is always there and always goes hand-in-hand with almost any other kind of bias and bigotry," Padilla-Goodman says. "We understand that those who hate the Jews generally hate someone else. We understand that it is our responsibility, as Jews as well as people fighting hate, to speak up for everyone."

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What Lies Ahead?

Pyramid of Hate
The Pyramid of Hate shows biased behaviors, growing in complexity from the bottom to the top. Although the behaviors at each level negatively impact individuals and groups, as one moves up the pyramid, the behaviors have more life-threatening consequences. Ant-Defamation League

In tumultuous times like these that are seemingly filled with anger and hatred, it's hard to see antisemitism as something that ever will be relegated to a historical footnote. But local groups, as well as national and international ones, continue to reject the hatred associated with antisemitism and work to educate young people on its dangers.

Much of that effort begins with those who are in positions of power and influence. That includes CEOs of companies like Gap, Balenciaga, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and Adidas, which all cut ties with West because of his remarks.

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"Adidas' decision to end its partnership with Ye in response to his vicious antisemitic remarks is a very positive outcome," Padilla-Goodman says. "It shows that antisemitism is unacceptable and creates consequences. Without a doubt, Adidas has done the right thing. We wish Adidas had done it sooner, but I am glad they are making a clear statement that they are not going to do business with bigots."

While West continues to double down on his antisemitic rhetoric, the ADL suggests turning his statements into teachable moments for young people, especially those who might follow him on social media or be fans of his music. The site provides resources for ways to engage with youth and how to discuss their own implicit biases.

So while we may never change West's attitude toward the Jewish people, it is still possible to show young people and his followers how harmful his behavior is. The ADL says the best way to raise awareness is to point it and learn from it.

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Originally Published: Oct 31, 2018

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