Every day brings with it fresh reports of acts of hate aimed at Jews in the US. ProPublica has been monitoring these acts as part of a project called Documenting Hate and has published a lengthy report, listing incidents ranging from swastikas painted on the homes and cars of people that had some kind of indicator that the owner was Jewish, to bomb threats.
Indeed, “Documenting Hate” recorded more than 330 reports of anti-Semitic incidents during a three-month span from early November to early February. The accounts — our list is by no means comprehensive — come via personal submissions, police documents and news articles. The majority, though not all, have been authenticated through either news reports, interviews or other evidence, like photos.
The incidents have taken place in big cities and small towns, along the country’s liberal coasts and in deep red states. Some of the episodes — swastikas and threatening messages spray-painted at schools and colleges around the nation — have been worrisome, though relatively minor. Others have been more serious, such as the 65 bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations across the country during the period we examined (there have been nearly 70 more since then). In many cases, the culprits singled out specific individuals for abuse, defacing their homes and autos with swastikas and menacing comments.
That the list of incidents is disturbing is putting it mildly. Anti-Semitism in the US has a long and ugly history but it seemed to have died down in the recent past though there was an uptick beginning in 2015. So what is behind these attacks?
“One of the constituencies Trump mobilized was the KKK-style anti-Semitic extreme right,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, a scholar of fascist history and director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups “had been absolutely on the fringe of American politics for at least my lifetime — and I am getting old.”
Oren Segal, who tracks anti-Semitic incidents in his role as director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, concurs. “The anti-Semites think they have a champion in the highest office,” said Segal, who believes that “divisive rhetoric” aired during last fall’s presidential campaign has emboldened racists and inspired them to strike out at their perceived enemies in the Jewish community.
The last election saw Donald Trump whip up xenophobia and misogyny and there were not-so-subtle attacks on people of color, from Muslims to Mexicans to refugees and immigrants from the ‘wrong’ countries, so the subsequent reports of attacks on those groups, though deplorable, was not surprising. But there was no overt anti-Semitism as far as I could tell. But I do recall a Jewish colleague of mine just before the election expressing some concern about the anti-Semitic dog whistles he was hearing from the Trump campaign, and it now seems that Jews have been added to the list of people that can be attacked.
A similar phenomenon occurred following the Brexit vote in the UK. Although one of the main drivers of the campaign was opposition to immigrants of color, especially Muslim ones, following the vote one heard reports of Polish people’s homes and businesses being attacked, a resurfacing of old resentments against that community that one had thought had disappeared. Polish people comprise the single largest immigrant group in the UK from the EU.
One does not need overt targeting of minority groups for hate to be unleashed against them. When discriminatory behavior against anyone is normalized and even given approval at the highest levels, the net of discrimination gets thrown wider as hateful people feel free to target anyone they dislike. And it looks like Jews are now being lumped in with the rest of the targeted groups and open season declared against them too, at least as far as some of the nativists and white supremacists are concerned.