America can no longer remain silent about its antisemitism problem
The recent dinner featuring former president Trump, Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and antisemitic entertainer Kanye “Ye” West — followed by the largely silent responses of many Republican officials and leaders, including some seeking the presidential office — highlights the need for all Americans to acknowledge and object to antisemitism in the nation.
Following the dinner, Trump attempted to distance himself from West by saying he met with him to “help a seriously troubled man” and from Fuentes by saying he didn’t know him and wasn’t familiar with his work when they met.
However, the repeated behavior and words of the former president, including his response to the Charlottesville tragedy in 2017, and the tepid reactions to antisemitism by many of his supporters, can be viewed as legitimizing the animosity expressed toward Jewish Americans.
The former president and his various enablers have minimized and dismissed antisemitism in the United States, including assaults and killings. Those failures to address the antisemitism facing America are inexcusable, disgraceful and dangerous.
The U.S. Jewish population is a relatively small proportion of the country. In 2022, Jewish Americans are estimated to represent slightly more than two percent of America’s population of 333 million inhabitants.
Despite their comparatively small proportion of the population, the number of antisemitic incidents across the country in 2021 in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 2,717: more than seven incidents per day, and nearly triple the level in 2015.
The reprehensible incidents took place across America, including in places of worship, community centers, schools and colleges. The motivations for the antisemitism are not always evident as they typically lack a single identifiable ideology or belief system.
One notable exception, however, is the “great replacement” theory being promoted by U.S. white supremacist groups. They believe in the conspiracy that white Christians are being intentionally replaced in the population by individuals of other races through immigration and other means. In their various demonstrations and gatherings, including Charlottesville in 2017, the neo-Nazi marchers often chant out such hateful antisemitic nonsense as ”Jews will not replace us.”
In the American Jewish Committee’s “The State of Antisemitism in America 2021” report, an estimated 60 percent of Americans indicated that antisemitism is a problem for the country. However, approximately one-quarter of the respondents in the same report felt that antisemitism wasn’t a problem in the United States.
In contrast, some 90 percent of Jewish Americans in the report indicated that antisemitism is a problem for the country and approximately three-quarters believe that there is more antisemitism in the country today than there was about five years ago. A majority of Jewish Americans, 53 percent, report feeling personally less safe than they did in 2015.
Contributing to America’s antisemitism is the apparent self-induced amnesia among some extremist groups regarding the methodical persecution followed by the horrendous events that were committed against Europe’s Jews approximately eight decades ago. The Holocaust resulted in the murder of approximately 6 million European Jews, or roughly 63 percent of Europe’s Jewish population at the time.
Sadly, antisemitism was also evident in America’s refugee policy with respect to European Jews seeking asylum from their persecution in Nazi Germany. Perhaps the most memorable single event reflecting its ignoble refugee policy in the past is the refusal of the U.S. government in 1939 to grant entry to about 900 Jewish refugees seeking asylum aboard the USS St. Louis that had reached Miami. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where nearly one-third of its passengers were murdered in the Holocaust.
America too often chooses to ignore its troubling antisemitic past and the many popular figures who were openly antisemitic in their public attacks on the character and patriotism of Jewish Americans, including Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Coco Chanel and Louis Farrakhan.
Furthermore, besides facing educational quotas at major universities in the 1920s, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia, Jewish Americans experienced discrimination among the major professions and restrictions on residential housing. They were also denied membership to most clubs, resorts and associations, with some hotel advertisements explicitly excluding Jewish Americans.
While that recent tragic history remains beyond doubt, many of those espousing America’s antisemitic white supremacist views, including Fuentes and West, continue to deny the existence of the Holocaust, express hateful rhetoric and discriminate against Jewish Americans. They attempt to negate the historical facts of the Nazi genocide, promote the false claim that the Holocaust was invented or greatly exaggerated in order to promote Jewish interests, and display the Nazi swastika flag and make the “Heil Hitler” gesture.
America’s antisemitism in the past also fueled vocal criticism and opposition to political leaders who attempted to address the discrimination against Jewish Americans. For example, at a conference of some 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden in 1939, Fritz Kuhn, leader of the German American Bund, mocked President Roosevelt as “Frank D. Rosenfeld,” referred to the New Deal as the “Jew Deal,” and declared Jews to be enemies of the United States.
No matter the place, occasion or time, the U.S. cannot tolerate or support those who promote, permit or condone antisemitism. In particular, the nation’s elected and appointed government officials must be held accountable for their words and actions.
Antisemitic behavior and remarks cannot continue to be swept under the rug, unethically edited for political television consumption or ignored in hopes that they will go away. They cannot be excused as insignificant or meaningless events that have been blown out of proportion by the news media. Nor can they be simply deflected, diminished or explained away with references to irrelevant overseas diversions.
Based on the tragic lessons of the recent past, addressing antisemitism requires every American to step up boldly, speak out unequivocally and react defiantly against discrimination against Jewish Americans. Tolerating antisemitism is not only categorically un-American but also poses a moral threat to U.S. democracy, as well as to the nation’s prospects in the 21st century.
Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”
Editor’s note: This piece was updated at 3:02 p.m. on Dec. 7.