Section: Opinion

Column: We must acknowledge antisemitism is pervasive in the United States

Since the recent controversies surrounding rapper Ye and basketball player Kyrie Irving, much media attention has been given to rising antisemitism in the United States, and rightfully so. However, the contemporary discourse has focused solely on fluctuations from the historical baseline of antisemitic acts and behavior. What is missing is an acknowledgement that Jews have long been targets of violence and bigotry in the United States, before Ye, Irving and last year’s Israel-Palestine conflict. By centering the discussion entirely around increasing antisemitism, there is a tacit approval of a baseline, or socially tolerable, amount of antisemitism, and it is this complacency and comfort with violence against Jews that we must seek to end.

A few statistics illustrate quite clearly that disproportionate violence against Jews has been a fact of Jewish life long before it reached national headlines in October. In 2020, there were more hate crimes committed against Jews than all other religious groups combined. In absolute terms, Jews were the third most targeted group of any demographic (race, religion, etc.), accounting for 8.3% of all hate crimes in 2020 — this made all the more disturbing by the fact that Jews account for only 2.4% of the U.S. population. Yet, in 2020 only 27% of Americans said that they were very concerned about violence against Jews in the United States. Thus, it seems Americans have become desensitized to — or perhaps were never fully aware of — the prevalence of violence against Jews. What’s more, 2020 is far from a statistical outlier in this regard. In 2015 — before incidents of antisemitism spiked drastically in 2016 and onward — Jews still represented a majority of the victims of religiously motivated hate crimes. Should this be the standard prevalence of antisemitism in the United States? Certainly not.

In the interim between spikes of antisemitic violence, antisemitism is rarely discussed at all, and discussions of Jews as a minority or protected class disappear almost entirely. Antisemitism is endemic to this country whether or not it is in the headlines. In an era of mass movements and campaigns for social justice, Jews are often excluded or ignored, and moments of acknowledgment are fleeting and seldom lead to reconciliation. The reasons for this are subject to debate. Perhaps Jews have become a victim of their own economic and political success, as Jewish prosperity tends to fuel antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish world domination. (George Soros is an excellent example.) The cruel irony is that while Jews continue to experience unmatched violence, antisemites decry their supposed socioeconomic privilege and disproportionate influence on politics.

Persistent antisemitism is a serious problem, the severity of which is not accurately reflected in the national discourse. The first step to solving any problem is to recognize that one exists, and the problem does not go away after Ye loses his Adidas partnership and Irving issues a half-assed, belated Instagram apology. Synagogues will continue to have locked doors and armed guards long after this moment has passed.

Milo Levine ’23 is a columnist for the Collegian. He is an economics major from Mill Valley, Calif. You can contact him at levine1@kenyon.edu.

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