Is America experiencing Europe’s growing anti-Semitism? That was the central question at the Hudson Institute last Tuesday afternoon. As Hudson Institute CEO Ken Weinstein noted in opening remarks, it’s a question we never thought we’d have to ask.
Yet, in 2019, it’s an unavoidable, even urgent question. After deadly attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway, along with openly anti-Semitic rhetoric in the U.S. Congress and anti-Semitic imagery in The New York Times, the climate has clearly changed.
The world’s oldest hatred, which began a resurgence in Europe at the turn of the century, has begun rearing its ugly heads here. Heads plural because, as the various speakers agreed, contemporary anti-Semitism is a three-headed monster: it exists on the far-left, the far-right, and among Islamists.
Europe has long had a problem with anti-Semitism. For Jews, one of the best things about emigrating to the New World was leaving behind centuries of pogroms, forced conversions, and general mistreatment. In America, Jews have always been a tiny minority. But here, we’re free to practice (or not practice) our religion, and we can be treated like everybody else. So, should we expect things to follow a European-like trajectory?
Based on the remarks from the event speakers, there’s both good news and bad news. The good news came from American speakers, including pollster John McLaughlin, who surveyed 1,000 likely 2020 voters about anti-Semitism for the Hudson Institute last month.
McLaughlin remarked, “American voters have anti-Semitism in focus, and they know it’s bad.” He continued, “They recognize the overall threat not just to the Jewish community, but to our country.” Perhaps unsurprisingly in our politically polarized age, when asked about the source of anti-Semitism, Republicans were more likely to point to left-wing extremists, while Democrats pointed to right-wing extremists. Respondents across the political spectrum also cited Muslim extremists.
As House Republicans work to gather 218 signatures to force a vote on H.R. 336, allowing state and local governments to avoid contracting with firms that support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), the poll’s BDS questions are also timely. Fifty-three percent of survey respondents agree that BDS is anti-Semitic, and 48 percent of respondents want the United States to help Israel by opposing BDS.
Notably, only 22 percent of respondents believe Democrats are doing enough to fight anti-Semitism within their party. As McLaughlin summarized, “The majority of Americans are rejecting anti-Semitism, and that’s important for the country and the world.”
Elan Carr, the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, offered the other bit of good news, describing a sense of urgency in recent meetings with European allies. “They’re standing up and fighting, not as a favor to Jews, but because they understand that anti-Semitism is a vile poison” and “history’s greatest barometer of human suffering.”
The more concerning part of Carr’s remarks related to the future of pro-Israel support stateside. Carr referenced a poll of American Jewish college students. “They’re less supportive of Israel than ever before” and more inclined to excuse terrorism. Carr observed that the next generation of Christian Zionists is also less pro-Israel, because they too are immersed in contemporary campus culture. Carr observed, “If they’re affected this way, just think where everyone else is going.”
Finally, Carr described meeting with a (non-Jewish) lifelong Labour Party member who left over anti-Semitism. “She said, ‘It all started on the campuses, and we did nothing because they were students. We did nothing when they joined the party because it was just the left-wing fringe, and now they’ve taken over my party, and it’s not mine anymore.’ What’s going on is a battle for the future not just for the Jewish people but also for the United States.”
For those who wonder what happens if we don’t decisively win that battle, the event’s European Jewish speakers offered a view into that possible future, and it’s not pretty. Marc Weitzmann, author of “Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (And What It Means for Us),” described how widespread denial and a culture of official silence allowed anti-Semitism to flourish after “the Second Intifada electrified Muslim kids, and 9/11 electrified the far right” in France.
He described the French government’s incompetent response, because they mistakenly thought anti-Semitism was a relic from World War II, and they hesitated to criticize Muslim immigrants for rising violence. The result has been deadly for French Jews.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of AJC Europe and the symposium’s final speaker, turned the prism back to the United States, warning, “Many of us [European Jews] feel we recognize certain signs and know how this scenario potentially plays out.” She urged Americans to “immediately pressure public authorities to absolutely condemn anti-Semitism,” insisting on a zero-tolerance policy.
Unlike McLaughlin, Rodan-Benzaquen worries that Americans are refusing to take our anti-Semitism problem seriously. “With every hesitation to tackle the problem here, I get more nervous. I want to shout, ‘Learn from us, what happened to us, because it can happen to you too! Let our experience in Europe be a cautionary tale for you in the U.S.’” Are Americans ready to heed that warning?