In 2021, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high across the United States, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism tracked by the Anti-Defamation League.
The number represents the largest number of reported incidents against Jews in the U.S. since ADL started recording the data in 1979.
Today, the mainstreaming of antisemitism by high-profile figures and celebrities such as rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and NBA star Kyrie Irving makes the breakout of antisemitism especially troubling, given the millions of followers they have on social media, said Brian Horowitz, Ph.D., the Sizeler Family chair of Jewish Studies at Tulane University.
“Antisemitism is a complex enemy,” he said. “Most experts will tell you that its life depends on public opinion and sentiment. In such a case one needs to help construct public opinion with marches, lectures, private discussions and the ballot box to bring to power candidates who stand for democratic values and tolerance. So, it’s important to call out antisemites. But first, we need to make the epithet ‘antisemite’ as hideous as racist.”
On Dec. 7, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, hosted a roundtable at the White House on the rise of antisemitism in the United States. In it included leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements as well as the Anti-Defamation League, the Religious Action Center, and other groups.
In many ways, the antisemitism of today resembles that of the 1930s, largely because of the instability and popularity of extremist and populist movements, Horowitz said.
“At that time people like Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, and Charles Lindbergh tried to blame Jews and frighten the rest of the public that the cause for the Depression and other problems in society rested with one group.
“But history has shown that the extremists on both political sides last around a decade, create havoc and apocalyptic predictions of the worst to come, but then the tide recedes because (so far in our history) the center has held. The question is: Will it hold this time?”
Jason Gaines, Ph.D., a professor of practice and director of undergraduate studies in the Tulane Department of Jewish Studies, recently devoted a three-hour class to Ye’s comments as part of his exploration into the origins of antisemitism. While anti-Jewish sentiment goes back 2,000 years, one need only look at the past six years to see how hate speech against Jews has been normalized.
“This includes the Charlottesville rally and two instances of gunmen charging synagogues – Tree of Life in Pittsburgh and a hostage situation at a synagogue in Texas.”
He said a critical component of these topics is the mainstreaming of Replacement Theory, a far-right conspiracy theory that claims Jews are leading an effort to promote mass immigration, intermarriage, and other actions that would lead to the extinction of whites.
“I think it is essential to make people realize that antisemitism is not a stand-alone phenomenon, but is used to break down defenses,” Horowitz said. “Once you ‘other’ one group, it’s easy pickings to move on to the next.”