Opinion: Thinking about anti-Semitism

In the days following the murder rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue, I received several expressions of grief from friends who are committed Christians. One included in her note a verse from John Donne:

“No man is an island entire of itself …

any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

This largeness of spirit is what I have come to know and love in America. The incubus of anti-Semitism, so ineradicable and durable elsewhere in the world, has been gloriously and nearly miraculously minimized in the United States. Of course there were episodes. Leo Frank, a young factory manager, was lynched in Georgia in 1915. Henry Ford published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Following Kristallnacht in 1938, radio preacher Father Coughlin told his large audience that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

But on the whole, and particularly since World War II, America has been a paradise for Jews. I’ve personally encountered more philo-Semitism than anti-Semitism. Is that idyll coming to an end?

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I was among the Jewish journalists who were rocked by a flood of anti-Semitic messages delivered primarily (though not exclusively) through Twitter. The first time I saw a cartoon of myself wearing a yellow Star of David patch and being ushered into an oven, I was almost physically sick. When such messages proliferated, I was forced to ask myself whether this sudden upsurge of naked Jew-hatred was something that had just crawled out from under rocks, or whether it had been there all along and I’d just been unaware of it. I became more convinced that these were not genuine expressions from actual individuals, but fakes or bots generated by Russian trolls or other menaces. That they abruptly ceased after the election appeared to confirm this suspicion.

An Anti-Defamation League report about anti-Semitic incidents in the past year has received a lot of attention. It suggested that anti-Semitic violence, threats, vandalism and other harassment has increased by 57 percent in one year. Others have questioned these data. What no one denies is that Jews still top the list of targets for religious hate crimes (54.4 percent), far outstripping Muslims (24.5 percent), Catholics (3.1 percent) and Mormons (0.5 percent).

And yet this country remains extraordinary in its attitudes. A counterbalance to the ADL report is a 2017 Pew survey. Asked about various religious groups on a feelings thermometer, Americans reported the warmest sentiments toward Jews. Catholics were second, followed by mainline Protestants.

We no longer have the capacity in America to pull together and grieve. There have been too many mass shootings, and polarization has supplanted solidarity in too many hearts. Even among Jews, there is little common ground.

The whataboutism is dizzying and dangerous.

The truth is that anti-Semitism is a sickness of both left and right, and fair-minded people must be especially alert to it among their own. Frank Field recently resigned from Britain’s Labour Party over the anti-Semitism of its leader. All honor to him. William F. Buckley set a standard when he excommunicated anti-Semites and John Birchers from the conservative movement. Today, Trump winks in their direction, and too many on the right forget their principles and salute smartly.

Writes for Creators Syndicate.

About the Author