Antisemitism Requires Each of Us to Stand Up and Fight
Jewish people are the target of more religious bias hate crimes in the United States than people of all other religions combined. FBI hate crime statistics show that this has been true every year, dating back over the approximately 25 years that the FBI has been collecting this data. FBI statistics reveal that although Jewish people comprise 1.8% of the population in the United States, some 60.3% of crimes motivated by religious bias in 2019 took place against Jews. That year also saw a 56% spike in assaults against Jewish people — including lethal assaults — marking the highest number of incidents since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking this data in 1979.
These are more than mere numbers. They represent lives impacted. Seeing how these statistics play out in real life, I am struck by the different worlds my Jewish and non-Jewish friends inhabit amid these emerging realities. The deep visceral feeling of loss — not only in terms of physical safety but of indifference toward antisemitism — I encounter from my Jewish friends stands in stark contrast to the blasé ignorance I often hear from my non-Jewish colleagues in response.
A recent American Jewish Committee poll highlights this dichotomy: While 84% of Jewish people in the United States felt antisemitism has risen over the last five years, only 43% of those who are not Jewish felt the same.
Antisemitism doesn’t emanate from one ideology. It isn’t prepackaged in a box delivered by those with any singular viewpoint. Antisemitism is a hydra-headed monster that has found a foothold in premises ranging from religious fundamentalism to racial supremacy and far-left principles. As I have tried to better understand the root causes of antisemitism, I am consistently horrified by its ability to permeate new forums without ever changing form.
Modern-day conspiracies targeting Jews have been consistently preceded by ancient iterations of the same. We are seeing repeats of blood libels, accusations of dual loyalty, and the ever-reliable “Jews control the government and financial systems.” Yet, as societies, we continue to fall prey to them.
The phrase “never again” has been used in reference to Jewish history and, in particular, the Holocaust. But for this phrase to carry impact, it requires a willingness to continually enter into the suffering that has occurred: something we must do when we encounter antisemitism in the present as well. We must work to understand the pain that has been endemic to the Jewish experience.
Antisemitism has plagued every continent and political system imaginable throughout history. And perhaps we too, have unknowingly become imprisoned in the insidious imagination of the stereotypes and misinformation that continually haunt societal representations of Jewish people. If we truly care about our Jewish neighbors, it means caring enough to recognize the dark threads connecting the ideologues we distance ourselves from with the ideology that we are willing to allow ourselves the space to indulge in — the foundation that lies may provide to our personal prejudice.
But changing our mindset has to transcend our thoughts — and influence our personhood — to be truly effective.
Taking on a role in addressing antisemitism inevitably requires a willingness to embrace discomfort. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to recognize one’s own prejudice. It can also be incredibly uncomfortable to respond to those around us. But hate is given credence when we minimize its impact on our consciousness. We are shaken for a moment when we see its potency but then default to the comfortable routines of life. The wronged then become the accused: they are overreacting, after all.
At a basic level, the way we respond to antisemitism reflects whether or not we will treat someone the way we would like to be treated. To love our neighbor means to care enough about their life and dignity to put our own lives on the line. If a Jewish person is scared to identify as or even be Jewish because of the physical violence or insults that accompany this, will we be willing to be there? Will we associate ourselves with, and speak up on behalf of, those who are so targeted? As Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We cannot be indifferent.
Speaking up is important because we cannot afford to allow antisemitism to be framed as atomized incidents of happenstance, instead of the serious systemic issue that it is. I have found that many people I speak to are simply unaware of the prevalence of antisemitism, yet are receptive to learning more about its realities.
But you can be part of such change only if you recognize that it is up to you and take on the challenge. I hope that at this moment in history, you will choose to care about antisemitism. That you diligently seek to understand the pain and the past of antisemitism. That you will, in humility, take the scary step of choosing to use your voice in your communities. That you will care enough to step beyond your comfort zone when you engage.
Never again means we have to be willing to rise up again and again — not just when it’s convenient or glamorous or when the answers are readily apparent. To quote Holocaust historian Professor Yehuda Bauer, “Antisemitism is not a Jewish illness, but a non-Jewish one.” Shouldn’t we be trying to cure it?
Sarah Victor is a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute. She is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Temple University Beasley School of Law. She spent additional semesters at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and Tel Aviv University.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel-focused discussion, dialogue, and debate; focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.