Prejudice against Jews in America happens everyday — examples range from swastika masks on Walmart shoppers to the beating of the rabbi of Yale University’s Chabad House by anti-Semitic assailaints. The Atlantic reported that 2020 saw the third-highest spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes on record since the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) began tracking incidents in 1979. According to the ADL, Jewish people make up fewer than three percent of the United States’ population, but the majority of reported religion-based hate crimes target Jewish institutions and people. Anti-Semitic attacks come from both the far left and right of the political spectrum.
Last year was not America’s first surge of hostility towards Jews, as anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the country’s history and often overlooked and ignored. During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant issued an official order expelling Jews in the regions he commanded, which included parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, wrote a series of articles in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, in which he accused Jews of taking part in a worldwide conspiracy based on anti-Semitic lies written in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 1919 text that claimed to describe a Jewish plan for world domination. Many white supremacists and nationalists still reference The Protocols when spreading anti-Semitic messages. In May, former President Donald Trump praised the anti-Semitic Ford founder for his “good bloodlines.” The ADL called for an apology for the President’s insensitivity and ignorance of Ford’s dark, anti-Semitic history; it never received one.
Although Trump’s administration supported Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, his words rarely reflected his administration’s foreign policy. In his speech to the Israeli American Council, Trump criticized the American Jewish Committee by making money references that are comparable to archaic stereotypes. He went on to refer to Jewish people as “brutal killers” in the real-estate business and “not nice people at all.”
And although Trump’s administration passed the Never Again Education Act in May to strengthen education surrounding the Holocaust, anti-Semitism continued to thrive and grow in the country. On Jan. 6, 2021, some of the rioters storming the United States Capitol wore hoodies that read “Camp Auschwitz” admist a myrid of anti-Semitic symbols. The presence of anti-Semites at the storming of the Capitol was not unexpected, as anti-Semitism frequently accompanied right-wing extremists attending protests against lockdowns and election results last year.
During quarantine, anti-Semitism has thrived online through social media platforms. Several members of Congress have promoted Holocaust revisonism and anti-Semitic views throughout 2020. Representative Ben Carpenter, a Republican lawmaker from Alaska, compared coronavirus measures and safety protocols to Nazi rule and claimed that Adolf Hitler was not a white supremacist. According to The Washington Post, anti-Semitic symbols and Confederate flags have continuously accompanied the maskless Americans at various anti-lockdown protests. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency confirms that anti-lockdown protests continue to spawn more anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial.
In August, the ADL discovered Walmart sold books promoting Holocaust revisionism and demanded the retail store stop selling them at once. They further criticized Walmart for selling anti-Semitic reading material by Thomas Dalton, whose books include Debating the Holocaust: A New Look at Both Sides, Eternal Strangers: Critical Views of Jews, and Judaism Through the Ages, and The Jewish Hand in the World Wars.
Antiquated theories and stereotypes blaming Jews for plagues resurfaced during quarantine as the pandemic drove white supremacists online, spreading discrimination and hostility even faster virtually. At the beginning of quarantine, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported its concerns that racism and prejudice would spike in the midst of a pandemic. Their concerns turned into reality when increasing online activity during quarantine brought more people in contact with “the toxic brew of racism, anti-Semitism and the glorification of violence that occupies the dark corners of the web.”
Anti-Semitism even became a trend on TikTok during August. Regulators of the app removed approximately 380,000 videos and 1,300 accounts for violating hate speech policies and promoting Holocaust denial, a debunked alt-right conspiracy theory. Anti-Semitism further entered the realm of pop culture as American rapper Ice Cube experienced a wave of backlash after posting anti-Semitic pictures on social media. As Black Lives Matter protests began in response to the death of George Floyd, Ice Cube took to social media to post anti-Semitic images linking Jews to Black oppression. As protests carried on, he posted various pictures of black cubes, an occult symbol representing evil, war, conflict, and darkness that is also referred to as the Black Cube of Saturn. One of these posts displayed a black cube inside the Star of David — an image implying Jewish people are responsible for provoking division, war, and evil.
The increase in anti-Semitic hostility throughout 2020 further devastated small communties, as synagogues, Holocaust museums and memorials, and menorah and dreidal statues were vandalized and graffitied with anti-Semitic symbols. In early November, a high school journalist uncovered Hitler quotes in the Kentucky state police manual. Later that month, a neo-Nazi faction of the extremist group Proud Boys broke off to form their own more openly racist and anti-Semetic group called the “Proud Goys.”
Heading into 2021, President Joe Biden plans to develop a comprehensive approach to combat anti-Semitism by restarting some programs tracking extreme right domestic terrorists that Trump had cut during his term. According to the Jewish News Syndicate, Biden has two new tools that can help him in the battle against anti-Semitism. In December, Congress passed legislation shifting the State Department’s special envoy on anti-Semitism to an ambassadorial level, which will give the Biden administration greater authority to tackle anti-Semitism on both a national and global scale.
In early January the European Commission and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) released a new handbook on fighting anti-Semitism. The handbook provides the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism along with context of anti-Semitic crimes and incidents. The Trump administration has already adopted the definition, by executive order, to apply it domestically and internationally. Now, Biden’s administration will focus on following the guidelines of the handbook’s addressing higher education section. By improving Holocaust and anti-Semitic education, the country has a better chance of rectifying what was once a weak point that enabled more anti-Semitic incidents to occur.
(Sources: The Atlantic, AJC, ADL, The Post Millennial, The Washington Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Forward, The Jerusalem Post, Moment, Billboard, History, The Jewish Chronicle, Tampa Bay Times, Jewish News Syndicate)