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  • Erin LeBlanc

Antisemitism Reaches Highest Levels in Decades

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

January 2022 began the year with a painful reminder of the prevalence of antisemitism in the United States. While the media has recently been dominated by reports of the hostage situation in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, earlier this month, 2022 also featured other events targeting the Jewish community, including anti-Semitic flyers being distributed across multiple states and the vandalism of a synagogue in Chicago.

These events are not a new phenomenon but the continuation of a recent global trend that has highlighted the prevalence of the anti-Semitic ideology worldwide. The World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency reported that 2021 had the highest record of anti-Semitic events in the last decade, with an average of 10 incidents per day. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2021 Online Antisemitism Report Card, which analyzed how nine tech platforms handled reports of anti-Semitic content, gave no tech platform analyzed a grade higher than a B-. These negative trends are reflected not only globally but across time. In 2019, the FBI reported that the highest incidence of hate crimes with a religious bias in the United States was anti-Jewish. In addition, the ADL reported that 2019 had the highest levels of “harassment, vandalism, and assault” since they began tracking anti-Semitic events in 1979. With 2021 being another record-breaking year for incidences of antisemitism worldwide and 2022 opening with vandalism, defamation, and the holding of hostages, it is clear that anti-Semitic violence is as prevalent as ever.

This worldview is demonstrated by the hate crimes committed against the Jewish people in the United States throughout January 2022, especially the Congregation Beth Israel hostage situation in Texas earlier in the month. According to CNN, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker welcomed a stranger into the synagogue and talked to him over a cup of tea prior to holding service on Saturday morning. While Cytron-Walker held a prayer for the congregation on Zoom and three in-person members, he heard the click of a gun. The stranger was identified as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, who had traveled to the United States from the United Kingdom. Cytron-Walker had been trained by law enforcement due to the high salience of recent anti-Semitic events and called the police immediately, keeping his phone screen face down. It became clear that Akram was calling for the release of a terrorist he stated was serving “an 86-year prison sentence” in the US. Officials now believe this to be Aafia Saddiqui, a woman charged with attempted murder and the assault of US officers in Afghanistan. Cytron-Walker and the three other hostages managed to escape when the rabbi took the opportunity to throw a chair at Akram while he was distracted. All four hostages made it out of the synagogue safely.

Significantly, Akram targeted a synagogue because he believed that he could bring about the release of Saddiqui by threatening the Jewish people. He stated that he chose the synagogue because “Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks.” Akram requested to talk to the “chief rabbi of the United States” and believed that by threatening a synagogue, he was in the presence of the people in charge of the system. This particular anti-semitic outlook was also demonstrated by the recent distribution of flyers in Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, California, and Maryland that blamed the Jewish community for orchestrating the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The flyers falsely identified several leading public health officials and pharmaceutical company heads as Jewish and were covered in hate speech.

On Tuesday, February 1st, “The View” suspended host Whoopi Goldberg for stating that the Holocaust was not about race. This recent high salience incident has pointed out a general lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and antisemitism. In addition, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany published a 2020 study that noted that Gen Z and Millenials were poorly informed on the Holocaust. Overall, 11% of US respondents believed that the Holocaust was caused by Jews, among other findings which pointed to a general lack of knowledge on antisemitism.

Yair Rosenberg’s recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why So Many People Still Don’t Understand Anti-Semitism,” highlights the ideology that underlies anti-Semitic hate crimes. He argues that antisemitism is a “conspiracy theory about how the world operates,” pointing out that Akram’s actions at Congregation Beth Israel were inspired by the belief that the Jewish minority is in control of the world. Rosenberg argues that it is difficult for people to understand the seriousness of antisemitism because they struggle to take the dangers of this conspiracy theory seriously. He points out that the FBI described the Akram hostage incident as “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” He states that this ignores the fact that this incident specifically targeted the Jewish community because of the belief that they are in control of the US political and judicial systems, demonstrating that at its core, this was an incidence of antisemitism motivated by the belief in Jewish control of the system. He argues that because people do not understand the conspiracy of antisemitism, they cannot indeed be against it.

Rosenberg states that antisemitism poses a threat to democracy itself, noting that it is inspired by a world view that dictates that the Jewish people are in control of banking, business, and politics which undermines faith and understanding in the systems that uphold society and democracy. The rise in anti-Semitic attacks is a warning that those wishing to preserve democracy and freedom should be heeded.

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