The Rise of Anti-Semitism
Study finds three-fold increase in metro area. Jewish leaders blame Trump.
The rise of Donald Trump was greeted by an increase in the rhetoric and activity of white supremacists exulting in his presidential candidacy. That helped fuel an explosion of anti-semitic incidents in 2016, but the situation is far worse in 2017.
Nationally there have been nearly 70 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in America in 2017, including two recent bomb threats against the local Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay. “There’s been a very dramatic increase in such incidents in 2017,” says Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
This week, her group released its annual audit of anti-semitic incidents for the 2016 year, and the news was not good. The number of incidents was three-times higher than five years before that, Kahn notes.
“The rhetoric around the presidential election not only legitimized bigotry against all minorities, as we’ve seen through a variety of statistics, but also included specific coded and overt anti-Semitic expressions. That climate on the national level affects the local community too,” said Ann Jacobs, chair of the JCRC’s Anti-Semitism Task Force, in a news release accompanying the audit.
The bomb threats have been happening since January 9, when 16 Jewish Community Centers in the country received bomb threats. On Monday, President’s Day, “another wave of bomb threats hit 11 JCCs across the country,” bringing the total this year to 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states, according to the JCCA, an association of Jewish Community Centers, CNN reported.
“I’ve been in the business for 20-plus years, and this is unprecedented,” Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, told CNN. “It’s more methodical than meets the eye.”
Yet it wasn’t until Tuesday, six weeks after this that Trump finally addressed the problem. “It’s very troubling that it has taken him so long to respond,” says Kahn.
Trump’s statement was certainly forceful. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accused Trump of a failure of leadership that “has created a vacuum that extremists have exploited. And when abuse is allowed, because it’s not forthrightly condemned, you see that it spreads like a virus.”
The fact that one of Trump’s most important policy advisors is Stephen Bannon, former editor of the “Alt Right” or white nationalist publication Breitbart News, has also been a red flag for Jewish leaders.
“The Alt Right has promulgated such bigoted, disgusting language under Bannon. It’s very troubling,” says Kahn.
The Southern Policy Law Center has documented the rise of anti-semitic rhetoric published in the comments section of Breitbart’s leadership. Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, has charged that Bannon turned the comments section into “a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”
While no bombs have been found to date in any of the Jewish institutions targeted, the blitz of threats alone can have a big impact, says Kahn. “The danger is that people will walk away from the Jewish Community Center and not want to be there, and not want to walk into any Jewish facilities. And that can isolate the Jewish community.”
The 2016 audit of metro Milwaukee noted anti-Semitic harassment and verbal expressions among middle and high school students, more reports of anti-Semitism on college campuses, increased incidents of swastika graffiti on public and private property and an increase in outright anti-Semitic slurs. Among the many incidents:
-A Jewish family whose children endured ongoing anti-Jewish bullying in a west suburban high school had an unexploded grenade firework placed as a threat on their porch.
-Angry comments on a synagogue Facebook page called congregants “rapists, murderers for hire, pedofiles (sic), insurance embezzlers and freeloading, lying Godless heathen scum.”
-During a mock election at a North Shore middle school, several students taunted Jewish students by saying (they) planned to write in Adolf Hitler for president.
The audit’s details add to a picture of a nation where racist and anti-semitic rhetoric and threats of violence will begin to seem normal — unless there is a push back from the rest of the country.
“We have to be vigilant and call out every outrageous statement,” Kahn says. “This is a poignant moment in America where we have the opportunity to stand up for each other. We need allies.”
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