Anti-Semitism in America: Never Gone, Now Very Active


Debbie and Laurie say:

The American story is that anti-Semitism was active in America until World War II, and effectively disappeared when the Holocaust stories were revealed. The movie Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) is often cited as basically the last nail driven into the coffin of American anti-Semitism.

That is a myth, but anti-Semitism has in America has always been much less of an immediate threat than anti-Black racism or the rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment, now being made federal policy by our new “leadership.”  Many American Jews feel completely or nearly completely safe, and a disturbing number of American Jews participate in and support anti-Black and anti-Islamic behavior.

Nonetheless, active anti-Semitism has been a factor in American life throughout, as Richard Jeffrey Newman underscores in “Thinking Some More about Anti-Semitism,” which he wrote earlier this month for Alas, A Blog. Newman grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s on Long Island, which generally was a safer place for Jews than most, but his story is a counterexample, including his tale about …

the pennies they started throwing at me in the schoolyard. At the time, I did not know the antisemitic canard of the cheap Jew, and they said nothing that connected what they were doing to my being Jewish. I’m guessing they wanted to see if I would prove what they already “knew” to be true by doing “what came naturally” and picking them up. Since I often ended up with as much as twenty cents—an amount that meant something to a third grader back then—I laughed at them for being so stupid that they were giving me free money. I could not for the life of me understand why they thought it was so funny that I took it. Eventually, someone explained to me just what the pennies were supposed to signify. I wish I could say I stopped picking them up, but I didn’t. I’m not entirely sure why, except that the freeness of the money seemed to outweigh the insult it was supposed to convey.

Another of many stories that struck us was:

There was no sixth grade graduation ceremony, but we did get a signature book. On the very first page, Jim wrote, “Rose are red, violets are blue/I never met a nicer Jew.” Evan: “To the Jew, Have a penny good time in 7th grade.” Andy: “Of all the pushy Jews, you top them all.”

We had already decided to write about this. Both of us are Jewish, and neither of us had this kind of experience in childhood (both growing up in neighborhoods and school districts with substantial numbers of other Jews), though both of us have had disturbing experiences.

The issue came into stark relief this past week, with the spate of bomb threats against Jewish institutions around the country. So far, over 30 such threats have been called in and no bombs have actually exploded, but that is (of course!) subject to change at any moment.

Some 30 Jewish institutions in at least 17 states have received bomb threats, Jewish security officials said, in the second wave of such mass disruption in two weeks.

Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Networks — an affiliate of the Jewish federations of North America, which advises Jewish groups and institutions on security — said 30 threats were called in Wednesday to Jewish community centers. Media reported additional threats called into schools and other Jewish institutions.

According to the agencies and to various media, there were threats in, among other places, Miami Beach; Edison and Scotch Plains, New Jersey; Cincinnati; Alabama; Albany and Syracuse, New York; Nashville; suburban Boston and Detroit; West Hartford and Woodbridge, Connecticut; suburban Minneapolis, and the Orlando area.

The schoolkids who tormented Richard Jeffrey Newman are now in their mid-40s, and many of them probably feel the same way about Jews today that they showed in the schoolyard. They, and uncounted millions of people like them around the country, have harbored a consistent hatred of Jews, and willingness to torment them, for all these years. Mostly, because it was generally not socially acceptable, they probably only expressed that hatred at home (teach your children!) and in groups of like-minded people.

But now, the doors are open. The permission is granted. If you’re the kind of person who has always wanted to call in a bomb threat and watch the kids (black kids, Jewish kids, Islamic kids) run away in fear, now you have a U.S. president who doesn’t see what’s wrong with that. You’re probably about to have a U.S. Attorney General who would likely do the same thing himself, and who certainly isn’t going to make any effort to stop you from doing it.

If you’re in an Internet group of people who all feel this way, it’s easy to pick a day, or one day a week, pick the group of your choice, and coordinate the threats. And even if the group is all talking about threats with no teeth, it’s easy to be the one person who takes the next step and plants the bomb.

We all know that black churches have been under this active threat without cease for as long as there have been black churches in the U.S. We know that mosques and Islamic cultural centers have never been safe places, and have been much less safe in the last 16 years. Being aware of how unsafe Jewish gathering places are becoming does not in any way minimize other groups at risk. Haters have more encouragement in America today than they have in our lifetimes, and — it can’t be said often enough — all of us need to be protecting each other.