Anti-Semitism: a rising threat?

Molly Wagschal, Staff Writer

I remember reading a passage of the book Confederates in the Attic in which the author, Tony Horwitz, interviews a man named Walt who begins going on an anti-Semitic rant, claiming that Jews constitute a “predatory race.” Horwitz then informs the man that he is Jewish. This relatively short encounter is not entirely about Walt’s anti-Semitic views; he also makes racist statements about African-Americans, but the anti-Semitism stuck out in my mind because I was surprised that a relatively recently-published book (from 1998) would hold accounts of such blatant and extreme prejudice against Jews. I thought this kind of anti-Semitism had all but disappeared in the United States.

The main question that has surfaced now is whether American Jews should be afraid.

In the 21st century, Jewish people in America have generally not been subjected to the same discrimination as other minority groups such as Hispanic immigrants or African-Americans. This is most likely because it is harder to tell if a person is Jewish; the majority of American Jews are white, and only a minority are Orthodox or Hasidic, groups that would wear different clothing and head coverings than most Christians.

However, in recent months there has been a great increase in anti-Semitic actions. Vandals desecrated a historic Jewish cemetery in Missouri, overturning 170 tombstones. Synagogues around the country are regularly receiving bomb threats. In Evansville, Indiana someone shot a bullet through a Hebrew school classroom, an act that is now being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime.

It would appear that this rise in anti-Semitic aggression has come immediately following the inauguration of President Donald Trump and the appointment of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Bannon served as the chief executive officer of Breitbart News, a far-right news organization which has published articles with headlines such as “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew.”‒ here clearly using Jew as a derogatory term. He has also been accused of making overtly anti-Semitic comments, allegedly telling his ex-wife that he didn’t want their daughters attending a school due to the number of Jewish students.

Just a week after Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued a statement for International Holocaust Remembrance day which failed to mention the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The statement was the first of its kind to ignore Jews (the primary targets of the Holocaust), and it received immense criticism from the public because of this, although the Trump administration has denied any anti-Semitic intentions. Could this be related to Steve Bannon?

While the Trump administration has denied accusations of anti-Semitism, the undertones of its comments and actions have perhaps emboldened existing white supremacists to take more direct anti-Semitic actions now. This is what concerns me: not that the government will directly target Jews but that it will seem more acceptable for people in the United States to carry out anti-Semitic hate crimes and harassment. What we need now is an unequivocal denunciation of anti-Semitism from our president, not just some lukewarm comments. For if Trump does not come out and completely condemn anti-Semitism, things can only get worse for American Jews.