The Decade Anti-Semitism Hit Home
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Decade In Review

The Decade Anti-Semitism Hit Home

The last 10 years saw a marked, concerning uptick in anti-Semitic incidents globally and here in the U.S., as well as heated debates over the politics at its source.

This was the decade that anti-Semitism came home to the United States with a vengeance. Whether in synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., where 12 Jews were gunned down, in Jersey City last month where three people and a police detective were killed in a brazen attack on a kosher grocery store, or in Brooklyn, where Orthodox Jews have been the victims of violent attacks on the streets, the 2010s were a decade of renewed anti-Semitic violence that shocked American Jews.

But while the resurgence of anti-Semitism may have been a surprise to some, the lack of consensus on the source of those threats and what to do about them should surprise no one. While those on the right blamed rising anti-Semitism on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel on college campuses, those on the left pointed to the violence, overwhelmingly carried out by white supremacists, and its resurgence under right-wing populist governments n France, Germany, Hungary, or right here in the United States.

Charlottesville

By most accounts, the emboldened anti-Semitism of the Trump era dates back to August 2017 when white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia carrying tiki torches and Nazi paraphernalia. Though the woman who was killed that day, Heather Heyer, was not Jewish, the demonstrators’ anti-Semitic beliefs and chants of “Jews will not replace us” horrified American Jews and had a lasting impact, as did President Trump’s comments that there were “good people on both sides.” In the two years since Charlottesville, the Anti-Defamation League said white supremacists have carried out at least 73 murders.

White supremacists, foreground, face off against counter-protesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. JTA

More: Rabbi Avi Weiss reflects on a visit to Charlottesville after the attack. 

Pittsburgh

The day of October 27th, when 11 Jews were murdered at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a man espousing anti-immigrant and white supremacist beliefs, will likely be remembered as the day American Jewish life changed. It certainly changed the Pittsburgh community, which is still grappling with the tragedy and its after-effects. It sparked a renewed debate over the role of politics in perpetuating anti-Semitism, beginning immediately in the days after the shooting when many Pittsburghers protested President Trump’s visit to the city and continuing throughout the year. And it was followed exactly six months later by a copycat attack in Poway, California, in which a woman, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, was killed at a Chabad synagogue and others injured.

Matthew Chinman, 49, of Squirrel Hill, hugs a fellow community member during a vigil held to remember those who died earlier in the day during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Getty Images

The JCC bomb threats that weren’t 

Over the first three months of 2017, a wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and cemetery desecrations spread across the United States. While the bomb threats turned out to be coming mostly from a troubled Israeli-American teenager in Israel, the trend frightened Jews across the country and seemed to lead into a very real rash of cemetery desecrations. A point of light? Muslim leaders organized a campaign to fund repairs to a cemetery in St. Louis, raising over $100,000 in less than two days.

Anti-Semitism in France

The past 10 years have seen French Jews reckoning with a changing country and rapidly increasing anit-Semitism. In 2012, a rabbi and three children were killed outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in an attack that left Jewish schools in New York City afraid for their security. In January 2015, just days after 12 people were killed at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS attacked the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris, killing 4 people there. That attack and others that followed have caused some French Jews to stop displaying outward signs of Jewishness. Some have even decided to leave the country, much to the government’s disappointment, with many moving to Israel.

A surge in Europe

Thousands rally against anti-Semitism on Oct. 13, 2019 at Bebelplatz square in the center of Berlin, days after two people were killed by a gunman targeting a synagogue in the city of Halle. Getty Images

The past 10 years saw a resurgence of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe that left many European Jews wondering if it was time to leave. Just this year in Germany, a synagogue in Halle was attacked on Yom Kippur, the latest in a string of incidents throughout the country. In Poland, a law made it a criminal offense to hold the country culpable for crimes committed there during the Nazi era. In several countries, bans on circumcision and kosher animal slaughter made Jewish life more difficult. All the while, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew closer to populist right-wing leaders around the world, including several accused of fomenting anti-Semitism in their own countries, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Read more: Rabbi Rebecca Blady, a leader of the Yom Kippur service in Halle, Germany, reflected on the experience in an op-ed for the Jewish Week: 

“Intersectionality” and accusations of left-wing anti-Semitism

The original Women’s March leadership, here at an event in Las Vegas, was plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism, forcing some members to eventually step down. Getty Images

While arguments about the political sources of anti-Semitism dominated Jewish headlines this year, BDS and anti-Zionism defined the conversation around anti-Semitism on the left. Fights over BDS raged in city council meetings, at food co-ops, and on college campuses in New York and across the country. The fights spilled over within the Jewish community over how to address BDS and whether it warranted such intense focus, and to the courts where anti-BDS laws passed in dozens of statehouses were challenged on free speech grounds. And of course, there was the Women’s March controversy, in which Jewish women had to choose between supporting the feminist cause and aligning themselves with leaders accused of condoning anti-Semitism, ignoring the concerns of Jewish women, and making Zionists feel unwelcome in progressive spaces.

Brooklyn’s vulnerable Orthodox

A Jersey City police officer reacts at the scene of a shooting that left multiple people dead on December 10, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. In a raging gun battle that by some accounts lasted in excess of an hour, six people – a Jersey City police officer, three civilians and two suspects – were killed in the Tuesday afternoon standoff and shootout across the Hudson River from Manhattan, according to published reports. Getty Images

The past several years have seen a marked uptick in hate crimes against Jews in Brooklyn. The incidents, seemingly random and without any clear cause, have left Orthodox Jews, who have been the primary targets of these attacks, feeling vulnerable. In the wake of a shooting at a kosher grocery store across the river in Jersey City in which two chasidic Jews from Brooklyn were among the victims, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the formation of a new unit of the NYPD to tackle hate crimes, though some are skeptical of how much the new unit will do to address the situation in Brooklyn.

More from The Decade In Review: 2010-2019 as seen by our journalists, as well as 11 essays from prominent writers on some of the compelling issues that marked the last 10 years.

 

 

Shira Hanau is a staff writer at The Jewish Week.

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