The Anti-Defamation League recently released a report showing that in 2021, there were more antisemitic incidents in America than in any other year since the group started keeping track over 40 years ago. “We’ve never seen data like this before, ever,” Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the A.D.L., told Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times.
The rapid growth of Jew hatred isn’t limited to the United States. According to a new report from the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, antisemitic incidents were up last year in such countries as Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Germany. Comparisons to 2020 might be misleading, because pandemic lockdowns likely reduced the numbers of antisemitic assaults and in-person harassment. But in several countries, including the United States, there were more antisemitic incidents in 2021 than in the prepandemic year 2019.
As the Tel Aviv University report pointed out, there are countless conferences, training programs and legislative proposals devoted to fighting antisemitism. “There is no shortage of organizations dedicated to the cause, which gained the commitment of world leaders,” it said. “The data presented in this report suggest that, despite all these efforts, something has gone terribly wrong.”
Something has obviously gone wrong. The question is, what?
Conservatives might be tempted to blame strident anti-Zionism, and that’s part of the story. Both the A.D.L. and researchers in Tel Aviv use a definition of antisemitism that can conflate it with anti-Zionism, concepts I think should be kept separate. It’s clearly antisemitic, however, when Israel’s enemies blame all Jews for the country’s treatment of the Palestinians. According to the A.D.L. report, of 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the United States last year, 345 involved references to Israel and Zionism. The examples detailed in the report aren’t ambiguous; they include Palestinian supporters pushing a man in a yarmulke into a glass window and yelling, “Die, Zionist!”
It’s a mistake to associate all of these 345 incidents with the left; 68 were “propaganda efforts by white supremacist groups to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs.” More broadly, right-wing extremism was behind 484 of all antisemitic incidents in the U.S. last year, 18 percent of the total.
The radicalization of the Republican Party has helped white nationalism flourish. Antisemitism started increasing in 2015, when Donald Trump came on the political scene and electrified the far right, then spiked during his administration. Trump is now gone, but the Republican Party has grown more hospitable than ever to cranks and zealots. Two Republican members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, spoke at a white nationalist conference this year.
The antisemitism of the QAnon conspiracy theory — always latent in its fantasies of elite blood-drinking cabals — has also become much more open. As the A.D.L. has reported, one of the most popular QAnon influencers, GhostEzra, “is an open Nazi who praises Hitler, admires the Third Reich and decries the supposedly treacherous nature of Jews.”
But for a huge number of antisemitic episodes, the political motive, if there is one, is illegible. According to Greenblatt, more than 80 percent of the incidents documented in the A.D.L. report “cannot be attributed to any specific extremist group or movement.” Much of the threat to Jews in America seems to come less from a distinct, particular ideology than from the broader cultural breakdown that’s leading to an increase in all manner of antisocial behavior, including shootings, airplane altercations, reckless driving and fights in school.
In 1899, Émile Durkheim, one of the fathers of modern sociology, wrote a short essay called “Antisemitism and Social Crisis.” It was an attempt by Durkheim, a French Jew, to grapple with the explosion of antisemitism accompanying the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer falsely accused of treason. Durkheim described how Jews were blamed for defeats in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and how a burst of antisemitism in 1848 followed an economic crisis the previous year. Similarly, he wrote, “our current antisemitism is the consequence and the superficial symptom of a state of social malaise.”
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