By Ethan Oppenheim
Antisemitism is once again on the rise in the United States. Since it began tracking incidents of hostility toward Jewish people in 1979, the Anti-Defamation League reported that 2021 saw the highest number of incidents on record. This includes 853 counts of vandalism (a 14% increase from 2020), 1,776 instances of harassment (a 43% increase from 2020), and 88 instances of violent assault (a 167% increase from 2020), making up a total of 2,717 incidents and an overall 34% increase. These numbers are part of a larger trend of a five-year upswing in antisemitism.
Antisemitic incidents have also become especially prominent on college campuses. Instances of vandalism, threats, and slurs directed at Jewish students increased more than threefold from 2014 to 2021. A survey sponsored by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, in 2021 over a four-month period, found that 16 U.S. college students reported being spat on due to their Jewish identity. Further, an increasing number of campus groups and organizations have begun disallowing students who support Israel from speaking or joining their organizations. Many Jewish students have even hesitated from publicly displaying their faith, religious identity, and political beliefs out of fear of harassment from their peers.
The unprecedented rise in hateful and destructive rhetoric, as it pertains to Jews, is the result of dangerous ideas stemming from both ideological extremes within the United States. For example, the American far-right has long espoused Neo-Nazi, white supremacist and ultranationalist sentiments, expressing disdain for Jewish people as “faux white people” and embracing the idea that America should be a white majoritarian and Christian nationalist country. Part of this ultranationalism is opposition to United States support for the state of Israel, and the far-right’s attacks on Israel often incorporate Jewish stereotypes and perpetuate antisemitic conspiracy theories. For example, some antisemites have claimed falsely that Israel conspired against former president Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The far-right also further identifies Jews as the center of a conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement Theory,” which perpetuates a racist narrative that the “globalist establishment elites”-whom the far-right commonly associates with Jewish people—are promoting mass immigration and interracial marriage to replace white Americans, take their jobs, and extinguish the white Christian majority population. Hence why the terms “elite” and “globalist” are often levied by those on the far-right, including most notably Steve Bannon, as slurs directed at Jewish people.
The far-left is also guilty of promoting antisemitism. Left-wing antisemitism often arises from Anti-Zionist sentiments and disdain for the state of Israel, perpetuating the misguided and defamatory narrative that Israel is an apartheid state that oppresses the Palestinian population in the region. Numerous studies have concluded that there is a strong relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, which explains why anti-Zionists often assign blame to all Jewish people for what they perceive as injustice and oppression in Israel and take it as an excuse to express hostility toward American Jews. Further, those on the far-left, who tend to despise capitalism, often depict Jews as “greedy capitalists” and blame them for what they perceive as economic injustice.
Similarly, antisemitism also stems from those on the left who embrace racial/identity politics, including some proponents of Black Lives Matter, a movement which a Tel Aviv University study identifies as complicit in spreading antisemitism in the United States. Proponents often tie their bigoted conception of Jews as “greedy capitalists” to the issue of systemic racism to argue that Jewish people perpetuate an unjust system that keeps black Americans impoverished. Finally, while not necessarily on the political left, some prominent black celebrities such as Kanye “Ye” West, Kyrie Irving, and Nick Cannon have also garnered attention for claiming falsely that blacks are the real Hebrews and that Jewish people robbed them of their identity; an antisemitic movement of extremists known as Black Hebrew Israelites.
Each time politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Mr. West, Kyrie Irving, and Nick Cannon make derogatory comments towards Jews, it greatly reinforces the antisemitic beliefs and biases that many individuals retain, and it legitimizes the harmful conspiracy theories and stereotypes that target Jewish people. Public figures hold great societal influence, and comments such as these generate a toxic culture that facilitates the spread of misinformation and contributes further to this increase in violence against Jews.
As a society, it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes of our past and immediately condemn the violence-inducing antisemitism coming from public figures and politicians on the ideological extremes. Without doing so, we risk antisemitism becoming a norm, making it even more difficult to erase its harmful effects.
Mr. Oppenheim is a junior at Chapman University. He is majoring in political science and philosophy and minoring in film music and history. He is also Jewish.