Why Is U.S. Antisemitism Increasing at an Alarming Rate?

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Why is antisemitism increasing in the United States recently? What are antisemitic incidents?

Antisemitism has reached a 40-year high in the U.S. and is on the rise. The cause for this increase in antisemitism is primarily fueled by public figures and social media spreading anti-Jewish conspiracy theories since the 2016 elections.

Read on to learn more about why antisemitism is increasing in the U.S. so rapidly.

Increasing Antisemitism Infects the U.S.

On November 4, 2022, the FBI issued an urgent warning to New Jersey synagogues and residents to take extra security precautions following a “broad threat” to synagogues in the state. The alert put Jewish Americans around the country on edge and left many wondering why antisemitism is increasing at such an alarming rate in the U.S. today.

Although an arrest was made in the New Jersey incident, the threat served as yet another reminder of the ever-present danger and fear many have become accustomed to since before the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history—the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 dead and six wounded. 

Nearly 2.4% of the U.S. population—roughly 5.8 million people—is Jewish, and a growing number confront the reality of rising antisemitism each day. 

For nearly 15 years, antisemitism wasn’t increasing in the U.S.—in fact, it was on the decline—until 2016. In the five years that followed, the number nearly tripled. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—which records antisemitic incidents nationwide—found that antisemitic acts had increased 34% from the year before. The 2,717 antisemitic incidents identified that year—an average of more than seven a day—is the highest number the organization has seen in more than 40 years. 

What Are Antisemitism and Antisemitic Incidents?

Antisemitism is the hatred of and bias against Jews because they’re Jewish, a belief often cultivated through religious teachings and political efforts rooted in prejudiced and stereotyped views of Jews as inferior, and that isolate, oppress, and harm Jews. 

The ADL classifies antisemitic incidents as criminal and non-criminal harassment, vandalism, and assault against Jewish individuals and groups, as reported by victims, law enforcement and the media. To better understand the sudden increase in antisemitism, we’ll describe how the 2021 incidents were classified by the ADL.

Of the 2,717 incidents the group recorded in 2021: 

  • 1,776 were harassment (up 43% from 2020)   
  • 853 were vandalism (up 14% from 2020)
  • 88 were assault (up 167% from 2020)

Why Is Antisemitism Increasing Now?

Though antisemitism has long been a backdrop in U.S. culture and around the globe, experts say antisemitism is increasing now due to a combination of factors:

1. Social media has facilitated the rise and spread of hate speech, magnifying the voice and reach of leaders and influencers who promote and normalize antisemitic views and rhetoric. 

2. Anti-Jewish conspiracy theories run deep.

Part of the reason that antisemitic conspiracies thrive is that they’re deeply rooted. There’s a long history of conspiracy theories related to Jewish people—among them, that they head a rich cabal that controls the world and that they’re “out to get you.” 

In addition, some attribute the recent rise in conspiracy theory promotion to people trying to make sense of an increasingly chaotic world, therefore embracing mis- and disinformation and unwittingly latching onto conspiracy theories—including about Covid, vaccines, and elite satanic cults seeking to rule the world.

Finally, conspiracy theories can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, Ye was locked out of Twitter and lost a series of sponsors following his antisemitic remarks, and Nike canceled Kyrie Irving’s shoe release after the NBA suspended him for failing to apologize and clearly state that he doesn’t hold antisemitic beliefs—both of which may reinforce the idea for these individuals and the people who admire them that they’re being punished for voicing their opinions. 

3. A perfect storm of national and international social conditions and political events has created fertile breeding grounds for antisemitism.

Experts say that periods of political and economic turbulence and upheaval have historically been bad for Jews, and that this is a particularly precarious time for Jews in the U.S., given the unstable economy, polarization over the midterm elections, and a war in Europe that has the world on edge. 

Some say that the rise of populism, sectarianism, supremacy, and nationalism are fueling some Americans’ belief that they’re losing out to, and suffering because of, “others,” and that these people are a danger to them and must be stopped.

These factors, combined with misinformation spreading like wildfire, have created a toxic potion for angry Americans who are looking for someone to blame for their woes.

4. People don’t take antisemitism seriously.

Some experts argue that Jewish people often aren’t seen as in need of protection or defense because there’s a broad perception that they’re financially powerful and privileged—as opposed to historically victimized and persecuted.

Others say that many downplay the problem of antisemitism and its alarming increase in the U.S. because they don’t see the issue through the lens of racism, despite a long history evidencing cultural majorities’ belief that Jews are a distinct and inferior race. Still others argue that people simply don’t “see” the problem at all because many Jews can “pass” as white, so aren’t perceived as victims of prejudice.  

The Danger of Normalizing Antisemitic Beliefs and Behavior

Experts say that when leaders and influencers consistently broadcast antisemitic beliefs, they normalize, legitimize, and remove the taboo that’s existed—even if in a fragile way—around expressing them. This gives others permission to express and display antisemitic beliefs and behavior. 

Many warn that where antisemitism exists so do other forms of hate, and that antisemitism, left consistently unaddressed, will take root: The Nazis escalated antisemitic strategies in a calculated way to see how much ordinary Germans would tolerate. In the face of apathy and silence, anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions worsened, then turned catastrophic. 

Why Is U.S. Antisemitism Increasing at an Alarming Rate?

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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