Last week’s survey of Jewish public opinion included one startling — but unsurprising — conclusion: An overwhelming majority of American Jews believe anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years, a near-majority saying it has increased a lot. In a particularly sad commentary on our angry times, 31 percent of respondents in the annual American Jewish Committee survey said they have avoided publicly wearing carrying or displaying “things that might help people identify them as Jews.”
The growing anxiety gripping our community is hardly unjustified. The Pittsburgh and Poway tragedies, the growing scourge of synagogue vandalism, attacks against the Orthodox in Brooklyn, and overt discrimination against Jews on college campuses are only some of the most obvious examples of the rising tide of Jew hatred. All of this comes into sharp relief as the commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, is marked next week.
It would be wrong to point the finger at any single cause. Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League are well aware that anti-Semitism, a brand of bigotry that has endured over countless centuries, has a deep and complex root system, extraordinarily difficult to extirpate.
But it would also be a mistake not to identify and aggressively counter one element in the current rise: the growing acceptance of anti-Semitic dog whistles in what passes for political dialogue and debate in these bitterly contentious times. As rage, wild conspiracy theories, and accusations of treason come to dominate our political lives, is it any surprise anti-Semitism is a fellow traveler?
It is also important to remember that anti-Semitism, in many ways unique as a form of bigotry, is inextricably linked to a broader pathology. Racism directed at people of color, xenophobia targeting immigrants, misogyny, and intolerance of the LGBTQ community are symptoms of the same disease.
Groups such as the ADL have long understood that zeroing in on the anti-Semites and their enablers is important, but just as important is fighting for a society in which every strain of bigotry is deemed unacceptable.
Strong and assertive Jewish organizations focusing narrowly on Jewish interests are critical elements in the fight, but so are effective coalitions with other vulnerable communities and a willingness to engage in their fights for security and equality. If we do not recognize, acknowledge, and forcefully reject the bigotry against others, our ability to protect ourselves in this pluralistic society will be severely impaired.
Anti-Semitism is metastasizing in our nation, and the concern highlighted in the AJC poll reflects that sad reality. But our collective unease is closely tied to the pain and fear felt by so many others. We are not alone in our anxiety, and we cannot afford to be alone in the endless battle to create a society in which every minority can thrive in safety and security.