Is America more, less, or equally anti-Semitic compared to 50 years ago?
Anti-Semitism can be difficult to measure. Yet as unreliable as data on hate crimes can be, a crude tool is better than none at all when it comes to investigating the slippery phenomenon of “Jew hate,” aka anti-Jewish statements and actions.
Unless you’ve had your head below ground since Nov. 8, 2016, you know that recent years — let’s say the Trump era, for shorthand purposes — have witnessed an uptick in blatant, scary anti-Semitic incidents. The Guardian reported earlier this year that 2017 saw, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “the largest year-on-year increase since the Jewish civil rights group began collecting data in 1979” — a staggering 57 percent surge! The rise in anti-Jewish offenses began in 2016, and the Guardian added that “Jews and Muslims were the most targeted groups in the U.S for religious-motivated hate crimes in 2016, according to the FBI, accounting for 54 percent and 24 percent of offenses respectively.”
In case you’re interested in the details, the ADL has compiled a “selected list” of 2017 anti-Semitic incidents. About the 2017 surge, the ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said:
A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community – from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and children harassing children at school. … These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.
According to the FBI (as reported by CNN), between 1996 and 2016 anti-Semitic hate crimes were on a slow decline, though some years, such as 2004 and 2008, saw small spikes. Interestingly, even though anti-Jewish incidents declined in number over that 20-year span, they made up a much larger percentage of anti-religious offenses in general than any other specific category. Even the number of anti-Muslim incidents, which increased sharply after 9/11, never quite reached the 20-year low for reported anti-Semitic crimes (around 600, in 2014).
Of course, when we look back to the 1960s, we quickly find that period was no picnic for American Jews either. The Liberty Lobby, a notorious anti-Semitic group, was very active during that decade, and its influence continued into the ’70s. It’s true that in the ’60s a number of universities lifted their Jewish quotas (limits on the number of Jews they would enroll), and Vatican II “served as a formal rejection of the charge of Jewish culpability for Jesus’ death.” However, these positive developments — really, corrections of long-standing problems of institutional policy and theology — don’t mean anti-Semitism was suddenly a thing of the past.
As with most forms of bigotry in the U.S., progress in the battle against anti-Semitism has been gradual. And if you ask an American Jew today what anti-Semitism looks like in 2018, he or she may talk about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement or campus anti-Zionism in the same breath as Charlottesville and Richard Spencer. Generally speaking, it was probably harder to be Jewish in America in the 1960s than it has been in the 2010s. However, the 2016-17 spike in anti-Semitic incidents — and I don’t expect 2018 to be markedly different — has greatly unsettled the American Jewish community precisely because it seems, and may indeed turn out to be, worse than anything we’ve experienced in decades.