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Oppose Antisemitism in the United States
By Miriam Edelman

Antisemitism continues to be a global problem. Since Hamas killed more than 1,200 people in Israel on October 7, 2023, there’s been a substantial increase in antisemitic incidents around the world. The Anti-Defamation League reported on these as well as a 388% increase in such attacks in the United States between October 7 and October 23 compared with 2022. For that period, 190 of 312 attacks logged by the Anti-Defamation League were linked to the Israel and Gaza war. Some antisemitic actions occurred on university campuses, including Cornell University’s main campus in New York. A Cornell student was arrested for threatening to “shoot up 104West!”—a kosher eatery next to Cornell’s Center for Jewish Living, causing some residents to be afraid to sleep there. Additionally, posts to online forums at Cornell called for violence against Jews, including death threats. There, and on other campuses, chants of “free Palestine from the river to the sea,” became common, a plea viewed by some Jewish students as a call to end Israel, which was founded in 1948, after approximately six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

In addition, the aftermath of October 7 grew deadly. For example, Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish man, died after being hit at pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in California. The Secure Nonprofit Network said there were 200 false bomb threats during the weekend of December 15, 2023. It’s not surprising that, according to a national survey taken after October 7, 70% of Americans believe antisemitism is a growing problem—a substantial increase from 49% in 2022.

As of 2021, Jews comprise about only some 2.4% of the nation’s population. However, they are targets of 63% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

On May 25, 2023, during Jewish American Heritage Month (which occurs every May)—months after President Joe Biden created the Interagency Policy Committee on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination—the White House issued the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. With more than 100 new actions that the Biden Administration will take, the plan rests on the following four pillars:

1: Increase awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broaden appreciation of Jewish American heritage.

2: Improve safety and security for Jewish communities.

3: Reverse the normalization of antisemitism and counter antisemitic discrimination.

4: Build cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter hate.

For years, Jews have been the most targeted religious group, and since the 2016 presidential elections, there’s been a sharp increase in antisemitic hate crimes. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2022, representing a 36% increase in such incidents from the previous year. That 2022 figure is almost five times the number of antisemitic incidents in 2013.

There’s also a sharp increase in antisemitic beliefs. According to a 2023 survey of the Anti-Defamation League, approximately one-fifth of American adults agree with at least six of 14 negative stereotypes about Jews, a spike from about one in nine Americans agreeing with such statements in 2019, when that survey was last conducted, and the largest number since 1992. As Matt Williams, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Antisemitism Research, says, “So one of the things we could be seeing is people agreeing with these [tropes] more. Another thing that we could be saying is people willing to admit that they agree with these [tropes] more.”

According to a survey in 2019 and 2020, 75% of Jews felt there was more antisemitism at the time of the survey than there was five years earlier. Five percent of Jews surveyed believe there is more antisemitism because more people have antisemitic views, 35% believe there’s increased antisemitism because people with antisemitic views feel more free to express them, and 33% believe there’s more antisemitism for both of those reasons.

A substantial percentage of American Jews have experienced anti-Jewish hate. Almost one-quarter of Jews experienced antisemitism from roughly October 2020 through October 2021. Meanwhile, 17% of American Jews were targets of an antisemitic comment in person. According to a survey in 2019 and 2020, 30% of Jews heard an antisemitic comment recently; a much higher percentage had heard or read about antisemitic remarks. Fifty-one percent of US Jews have experienced at least one of the following during the past year: saw anti-Jewish graffiti or vandalism in their communities (37%), were made to feel unwelcome due to their Judaism (19%), were called offensive names (15%), were harassed online (8%), and were physically threatened or attacked (5%).

Some Jews feel less safe due to antisemitism. A small majority (53%) of US Jews said they feel less safe than they did five years before. Many Jews who wear distinctively Jewish items, are women, are at least 30 years old, have a postgraduate degree, and are Democrats feel less safe. Some Jews who feel less safe have altered their behavior. Ten percent of this subpopulation refrained from participating in Jewish activities due to safety concerns. Due to fears of antisemitism, 39% of US Jews altered their behavior, such as avoiding apparel that would signify their Judaism.

Many orthodox Jews face antisemitism more than do others, presumably because they wear distinctive clothes, differentiating themselves from others. According to a survey in 2019 and 2020, higher percentages of Orthodox Jews than other Jewish groups have seen anti-Jewish graffiti or vandalism, have been made to feel unwelcome, and have been called offensive names. In addition, 53% of antisemitic assault incidents in 2022 targeted Orthodox Jews. Although Orthodox Jews face more direct antisemitism than do other Jewish groups, an approximately equal percents of Orthodox Jews (50%), Conservative Jews (53%), and Reform Jews (49%) perceived a high degree of antisemitism in the United States in 2020. However, a somewhat higher percentage of Orthodox Jews (83%) than Conservative Jews (77%), Reform Jews (77%), and Jews of no-denomination (69%) feel there’s more antisemitism than there was five years previously.

As noted previously, antisemitism has become more visible in the United States in recent years. For example, a male protestor displayed a Nazi flag with a swastika, yelled “Heil Hitler,” and performed the Nazi salute at a 2020 presidential campaign rally for US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Arizona. On January 6, 2021, a US Capitol rioter wore a sweatshirt with the words “Camp Auschwitz.” Such shocking incidents reminded me of members of my family who died in the Holocaust. In June 2023, protesters waved swastika flags and presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signs near Disney World in Florida. The United States must put a stop to this bigotry, lest Jews be similarly persecuted once again.

Increased antisemitism affects me personally. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, there’s been much more security. Before the current pandemic, I saw more security and metal detectors when entering local synagogues. I had thought that going through synagogue security was a minor inconvenience. However, I now truly appreciate these crucial, potentially life-saving safety measures. Who knows when a shooting can happen at any synagogue? I come to synagogue for community and spiritual connection, not to be scared for my life.

I am troubled by swastikas and other expressions of hatred appearing in many places. In 2022, swastikas appeared in connection with 792 incidents of antisemitism. I recall reports of symbols of hatred appearing in my high school, my two universities, and other places where I have spent time. How should I feel safe and comfortable when I encounter such hate?

The first amendment of the US Constitution grants Americans freedom of religion. How am I supposed to exercise this freedom when I see so much antisemitism?

Due to this antisemitism, I have a greater understanding of how Jews could be persecuted where they were successful. Many Jewish holidays are about Jews being threatened but surviving. Throughout history, Jews have been murdered, expelled, or otherwise persecuted. For example, in 1190, the entire Jewish community of York, England, suffered a massacre. Jews were expelled from countries such as England in 1290 and Spain in 1492. Jews had to live in ghettos/Jewish quarters and were victims of pogroms. They contributed tremendously to Germany before Nazis instituted many anti-Jewish laws and then murdered six million Jews and others in the Holocaust.

I am terrified that the same trend could occur in the United States, and I see signs of it. History repeats itself. It’s a crucial reason why there are many Holocaust museums, where we can remember the horrific calamities so they never happen again.

NASW opposes antisemitism. In a 2023 blog post, NASW states: “As the country grapples with an alarming increase in violence, vandalism, and harassment against Jewish people and Jewish institutions, NASW stands with the Jewish community, calling for renewed efforts to prevent violence, threats, and intimidation against Jewish individuals and institutions and reasserting its commitment to fight antisemitism in all its forms.”

As social workers, we can assist. Contact the president and your members of Congress, governors, state legislators, mayors and local city council members. Encourage them to combat antisemitism in whatever way they can.

— Miriam Edelman is a policy professional in Washington, D.C. She interned/worked for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives for about five years.