In the last days of October, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) breathlessly released the findings of it most recent study of the state of anti-Semitism in America, “The State of Anti-Semitism In America 2021. In speaking to the press, AJC CEO David Harris made sure we knew that the results were alarming, an indication of a growing, serious threat to American Jews. “This critical report confirms that American Jews are deeply concerned about antisemitism in America—and many are limiting their behavior as a result. That one in four American Jews has been the target of antisemitism over the past year alone, and that four out of ten have taken steps to conceal their Jewishness or curtail their activities, as a result, should alarm all Americans. Now is the time for American society to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough.’ American Jews see antisemitism on the far right and the far left, among extremists acting in the name of Islam, and elsewhere throughout America…. Where is the outrage? Where is the recognition that antisemitism may begin with Jews but, ultimately, targets the fabric and fiber of any democratic society?”
Is this a canary in the mineshaft of real and present danger? Does it tell American Jews that the horrors of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh three years ago are being replicated more frequently? Or is this an effort to play on fear to bolster an organization’s pro-Israel advocacy and its own status within the pantheon of national Jewish Organizations whose leaders sit together under the banner of the Conference of Presidents?
The AJC survey reports on the ways that American Jews say they have experienced an attack with 12% of their panel experiencing an anti-Semitic attack online, 3% a direct, physical attack, and 17% see themselves targeted by a verbal attack. In total, AJC tells us, “ 24% of American Jews have been the targets of antisemitic attacks…in 2021.” This means, using current population estimates, 1.5 million American Jews had been verbally or physically attacked in the past 12 months.
Shocking if true.
The AJC’s data, as reported in their headlines, is based on their respondents’ self-reporting. There is no data that further confirms the accuracy of this data or further investigation as to what criteria were used by those who reported these experiences. That would be a necessary next step for scholars or those wanting to separate fact from fear. It would seem to be important considering the reporting of another Jewish Defense Organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which has reported different numbers. Only months ago the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported the could validate only “2,024 incidents…in 2020, 1,242 were cases of harassment, a 10% increase from 1,127 in 2019, and 751 incidents were cases of vandalism, an 18% decrease from 919 in 2019. The thirty-one incidents of antisemitic assault (a 49% decrease from 61 in 2019), involved 41 victims and no fatalities.” ADL more recently reported an uptick in the beginning months of 2021 but to levels still well below those reported by AJC.
For researchers, this difference would be of great interest and stimulate further study toward a better understanding of the reality of American anti-Semitism. It would be important to understand how much of what is reported reflects the fear that the horrific killings in Synagogues of the past few years have impacted Jewish perceptions.
But the facts are less important to organizations whose business is defending the Jews. But, it seems, for these organizations keeping the perception of a growing threat is more important than taking time to better understand the reality of their community. They may be interested in defending Jews, but they have another, more pressing agenda that this fear helps to stimulate.
And we know their fear-mongering works. When asked by AJC “How much of a problem, if at all, do you think antisemitism is in the United States today?,” 90% said they were concerned.
What is this other agenda? Is it just organizational survival, knowing that fear will drive their fund-raising efforts? Is it just leadership ego, a desire to be seen as critical to the Jewish Community and to gain a front-row seat among the many national Jewish organizations?
Perhaps so, but AJC and ADL do share another agenda. They have both become loud, active defenders of the Israeli Government and opponents of the Palestinian People. Both organizations have the fear of antisemitism to buttress their status as pro-Israel zealots.
In an article entitled “Hate Is On The Rise: Antisemitism Surges On America’s Far Left and Far Right”, Avi Mayer, managing director of public affairs at the American Jewish Committee, discusses the findings of this recent study. His lead is “ In May, as Hamas rockets exploded in Israeli cities and Israeli aircraft targeted terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, thousands of miles away, American Jews were under attack.” You must read deep into his writing before you find any concern about antisemitism coming from other directions. The message is clear, anti-Semitism has reached shocking levels and it is tied to Palestinian supporters because challenging the state of Israel and Zionism are the same as anti-Semitism.
This is the same message that ADL tied to its warning of growing anti-Semitism as I noted earlier this year when I reported about an ADL webinar that followed the last outbreak of war in Gaza this spring which told its audience “During the crisis, anti-Israel protests have erupted and anger against Israel has surged in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, and has often crossed the line from lawful protest to hateful antisemitism. In Illinois, pro-Palestinian demonstrators calling for an Intifada (an uprising) gathered outside a synagogue. In Los Angeles, a pro-Palestinian mob violently attacked Jewish diners while yelling slurs. In London, a caravan of cars with Palestinian flags drove through the streets shouting antisemitic obscenities. In Germany, synagogues have been the target of hurled rocks and threats. In Montreal, pro-Israel protesters were injured by pro-Palestinian protesters. On social media, seething antisemitic posts laden with misinformation have surged on every major platform, with Jewish students as young as middle school feeling embattled on channels including Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.”
The threat that both AJC and ADL are responding to is less than any rise in the volume of anti-Semitism in the United States than it is to the rise of calls for the plight of the Palestinian people to be recognized and addressed. They fear month by month that Israel’s support in the United States is eroding as the brutality of the occupation becomes harder to avoid seeing. As the two-State Solution, an outcome that both organizations might still put forward has begun to fade, the world has been left without the screen it had used to avoid grappling with the difficult human reality of Zionism as practiced by Israel.
The glaring human rights violations that are synonymous with the occupation of Palestine are now difficult to screen out. The open rejection of the reality of Palestinian life by the Israeli government has not helped their cause. The labeling of Israel as an apartheid state by Israeli NGOs as well as international organizations speaks loudly. All have been matched by an increasingly vocal and effective American Palestinian community which is now demanding their case be heard in the courts of public opinion. The threat AJC and ADL can see is reflected in recent Pew Research Center polling data which found that “ just one-in-three [American Jews]say they think the Israeli government is making a sincere effort toward achieving peace with the Palestinians. (Fewer still, just 12%, say they think Palestinian leaders are sincere in these efforts.)”
Antisemitism is real. And its advocates are a threat to Jews and to the broader American society. We need organizations that see themselves as defenders against this threat to not pervert their missions as both AJC and ADL are doing. When they conflate the difficult issues at play in Israel/Palestine with anti-Semitism they do harm to both. When they use fear of anti-Semitism to fuel their pro-Israel advocacy, they are doing harm to Jews and Palestinians.