Opinion | We Have an Anti-Semitism Problem. We Need to Act Before it Gets Worse

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By Jeremy Bannett and Shira Goodman

Just two weeks ago, we marked the 75th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in World War II. Since then, the ADL had to condemn both a Pennsylvania state representative and a county political party for comparing the Wolf administration’s coronavirus response to the actions of the Nazi Party.

It should go without saying that Holocaust analogies are never appropriate unless they are used in reference to actual genocides. And yet we seem to have to say this more and more. When every opponent is a “Nazi” and anything disagreeable is a “Holocaust,” we forget the central lesson of the atrocity: that hate, if left unchecked, can lead to devastation, and that every individual is personally responsible for confronting bigotry.

Sadly, right now, our society needs this lesson more than ever. Last week, new data came to light showing that, last year, American Jews experienced the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded.

No one could have predicted this surge five years ago. According to ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), which has published its annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents” for 40 years, anti-Semitism in the U.S. retreated for much of the 21st century. As recently as 2015, anti-Semitic incidents across the nation dropped 30% below the historic average.

Then, suddenly, things dramatically shifted. From 2015 to 2018, our nation witnessed an unprecedented surge in anti-Jewish hate, including the horrific October 2018 murders of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue building in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist — the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Here are the chilling facts: Across the nation last year, ADL recorded 2,107 anti-
Semitic incidents, the most ever tabulated since recording began in 1979. The Philadelphia region bore more than its fair share of the nationwide surge – more than 20% of all incidents across the country took place in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. New Jersey had the second-highest number of incidents in the nation; Pennsylvania had the fifth-highest. And once again, a state in our region was the site of an anti-Semitic murder — this time during a December attack on a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Things have not improved so far in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated hatred against Jews and other groups. Extremists are working overtime to mainstream anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy theories about the virus. Bias-motivated harassment has spiked on Zoom and across virtually every social media platform. Bigots are taking their vile message to the streets, showing up at anti-shutdown rallies with signs calling Jews “the real plague.”

Anti-Semitism is often called the canary in the coal mine because hate against Jews often portends growing prejudice against other communities. So, it is no surprise that many other groups, including Asian American Pacific Islanders, Muslims, immigrants and more, have experienced increased bias and discrimination in recent months. Until we reject hate in all its forms, we will not be able to end hate in any form.

We must always remember that bigotry is un-American, and that behind every incident stands a real victim and community deprived in some measure of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When we allow hate in any form to fester, we all are at risk of abandoning our shared American values of freedom and justice.

Today, we must make a choice. We can make the usual show of wringing our collective hands before turning our attention elsewhere. Or we can take real action by rejecting the politicization of anti-Semitism, holding technology companies accountable, empowering law enforcement to fight domestic extremism, incentivizing educational institutions to challenge bias and bullying and equipping ourselves and our communities to vigilantly guard against hate.

Certainly, the second choice is the harder one. It requires us to be good allies, stand up for our neighbors and treat an attack against one of us as an attack against all of us. But this is the only way that we can eliminate anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.

This time, let us make the right choice.

Shira Goodman
Shira Goodman (Courtesy of Shira Goodman)
Jeremy Bannett
Jeremy Bannett (Courtesy of Jeremy Bannett)

Jeremy Bannett is the senior associate regional director of ADL Philadelphia. Shira Goodman is the regional director of ADL Philadelphia, which serves eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.


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