Ascribing the three murders at Jersey City’s kosher supermarket, the stabbing attack that wounded five — one grievously — at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, or the continuing wave of anti-Jewish attacks in New York City to “antisemitism” obscures the real threat.
Talking about antisemitism instead of Jew-hatred hides the fact that the era of “Never again!” — which never penetrated the Middle East and faded in Western Europe after Israel’s 1967 Six Day War victory — was unraveling in North America even before 9/11.
The word “antisemitism” was adopted in Europe late in the 19th century to make this bigotry sound modern, “scientific,” and race-based — not medieval and church-rooted. It’s past time that Jews stopped echoing this euphemism, however unconsciously. The real and resurgent threat is hatred of Judaism, the Jews, and Israel — the Jewish state.
Virtually impervious to fact and thus capable of endless adaptation, Jew-hatred demonstrates a lethal consistency. Ancient Greeks first circulated the undying blood libel — that Jews require the blood of non-Jews for religious rituals. Christian church fathers condemned Jews as Satan’s agents. Bolsheviks and Nazis caricatured Jews as “class enemies” or an “inferior race,” respectively.
Today, American Jews are targeted by the far-right for undermining white nationalism, and by the far-left and some in minority groups, partly because they have been indoctrinated to believe that Jews embody “white privilege.” Jew-hatred ebbs and flows, but never disappears. It provides troubled people in troubled societies with a scapegoat cunning enough to explain away their problems, yet vulnerable enough to be persecuted.
But don’t call it antisemitism. No “semitism” exists against which to be “anti-.”
The term “Semitic” was coined in Germany in the 1700s to refer to a group of related languages, not peoples. Wilhelm Marr, an anti-Jewish agitator, hit upon “antisemitism” in 1879. He wanted to sanitize and update the already widespread bigotry in Germany.
It worked. His Antisemitic League became only the first of several European movements and political parties to upgrade their pretext for hating Judaism and Jews, and blaming them for social ills. “Antisemitism” ultimately helped give a biological gloss to Nazi racism that condemned the supposedly inferior yet dangerous Jews to annihilation.
Robert Bowers, the accused Pittsburgh synagogue killer, posted on social media that Jews — by promoting non-white immigration — threatened “his people.” He also asserted that Jews were “the spawn of Satan,” thus combining earlier religious and Nazi racial Jew-hatred.
Six months after the Pittsburgh massacre came the fatal shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California by another white nationalist. Not long after, Elan Carr, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, said it was time to post armed guards at US synagogues and Jewish community centers.
Many Jews resisted, wanting their places of worship and community involvement to be open and welcoming, as if it were 1965.
Mid-20th century aspirations for social integration have been superseded not only by white nationalism, but also the divisive identity group politics of the progressive left. Linda Sarsour epitomizes the problem. In November, for example, she urged participants at the annual conference of American Muslims for Palestine to “ask them [progressive supporters of Israel] this, ‘How can you be against white supremacy in America and the idea of being in a state based on race and class, but then you support a state like Israel that is based on supremacy, that is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else?’”
Sarsour inverts the Jewish theological concept of “chosen people” — a concept of message, not messenger — and tars it with Nazi-like racism, Marxist class exploitation, and Ku Klux Klan-like attitudes. Though a defender of Sharia law, Sarsour was one of Glamour magazine’s 2017 women of the year. She also serves as an official surrogate for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Bridging the gap between Bowers and Sarsour is Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He incites hatred of Jews as Satanic conspirators and leaders of the slave trade. Nevertheless, he shared the altar at singer Aretha Franklin’s 2018 funeral with Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and former President Bill Clinton.
Also on the demonizing feedback loop are the Jersey City killers. They are believed to be associated with the Black Hebrew Israelites, who insist white Jews are impostors. A black Jersey City school official initially appeared to condone the attacks, given that Jews moving in from New York were exploitative “brutes.”
Continuing to talk of antisemitism and vague, universalized “hate speech” when confronted with anti-liberalism amounts to a defensive crouch. To go on offense in this fight, first recognize the enemy — not an anodyne euphemism called antisemitism, but the ancient and ever-renewing hatred of Jews, their beliefs, and existence.