Antisemitism is not something that stops and starts when people decide to recognize it. It’s an ancient insidious constant. It’s about more than Kanye West.
By Nira Dayanim, editor in chief
I was in second grade the first time I witnessed antisemitism. A local Jewish cemetery had been vandalized, headstones knocked over, crushed and spray painted. A message to Jewish people that even in death, we are not safe.
In third grade, I was walking home from synagogue on Shabbat with my older brothers. As we turned onto our street, a car slowed down next to us. The man inside rolled down his window and called us kikes. Then he smiled and drove off.
I was so young and so confused. Where does this hatred come from? What does it all mean?
Continually faced with antisemitism, I still find myself asking these questions today.
Now, between speculating about whether or not popular rapper, Kanye West, will lose his brand deals and debating if it’s still okay to listen to his music, people are talking about West’s antisemitic statements. Statements which have brought on the most recent wave of Jew-hating vitriol.
This week, I’ve seen pictures of Nazi salutes on an overpass in Los Angeles. I saw a post on social media app, Yik Yak, saying Hitler was right because the Jewish community was too loud when they celebrated Simchat Torah on campus. And I’ve seen reactions to this splayed across social media by non-Jewish friends and influencers like this is the first time anything antisemitic has ever happened.
After years of Jewish people being ignored and gaslit for speaking up, being anti-antisemitism seems like it’s finally trending. While I’m glad that there is backlash, it’s alarming to me that it had to get to this point for anyone to speak up for us. Because right now, it’s obvious. The silence has gone on for so long that the bigots have become emboldened.
Recent years have seen a significant spike in antisemitism and antisemitic hate crimes in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 34% increase in antisemitic incidents between 2020 and 2021. Antisemitic assaults increased by 167% in the same period. According to FBI statistics, despite making up less than 2.4% of the US population, Jews were victims of nearly 55% of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2020. Every day it feels like there’s something else, whether that’s Jewish students being excluded on campus, or a hostage situation at a synagogue. And though you might just be hearing about it, or you might just be deciding to listen, none of it is new.
Just last year, pamphlets were found at this university peddling some of the oldest antisemitic conspiracies in the book: nonsense that has been spewed since the dawn of time – that Jews are sneaky puppeteers that run the world, and especially the media, and they love to commit mass murder and eat babies. A couple weeks later, a Torah scroll was desecrated at George Washington University, covered in laundry detergent.
People talked about antisemitism for a while. Then they talked about the next thing.
But for Jewish people, antisemitism is not something that stops and starts when other people decide to recognize it. It’s an insidious constant, lurking just beneath the glossy veneer we place on society’s most respected people and institutions. It is often presented as an accepted truth: the Jews are in control, they only care about themselves, they aren’t partners in social justice, they are the wealthy capitalistic elite, they are the root cause of all persecution and have skewed snakelike morals.
Like a virus, antisemitism is constantly morphing, taking on new forms and finding new homes in social media platforms, political movements and people. Even if you don’t want to accept it, antisemitism is deeply rooted in both the political left and right. It’s staunchly bipartisan and unifying in its ubiquity. So when it comes to a head, as a Jew, it’s never surprising.
I am the daughter of an Iranian Jewish refugee. My father and tens of thousands of Jews fled persecution in Iran in 1979 because as hate took root during the Islamic Revolution, there was no space for Jews to exist. This is the story of Jewish people across time and continents. Demonized and dehumanized, history tells us that even today it might be a matter of time before we have to pick up and find a new home outside of the United States.
But while many of us are afraid, this does not mean we are not proud. Fighting antisemitism shouldn’t just be about providing space for Jewish people to be proudly Jewish. I and many of the Jewish people I know proudly place Judaism at the epicenter of our lives, even in the face of antisemitism. We will never sacrifice our commitment to our ancient tradition or any aspect of who we are because others would prefer if we weren’t here. Throughout history, we’ve expressed our internal strength and pride, even when stripped of opportunity and dignity.
Weeks after the antisemitic incidents at this university and George Washington University last year, students proudly lit Chanukah candles in their windows, expressing their Judaism for all to see. When I saw those lights, I thought about the quiet strength it takes to be who you are, despite millennia of persecution.
Just last week, we marched across campus at midnight, singing songs and celebrating our heritage on Simchat Torah. That’s what Jewish people do. Faced with an ancient evil, we sing into the darkness. That’s our resistance.
Antisemitism is everywhere, even if you don’t want to see it. What the fight against antisemitism calls for is societal introspection. It asks you to pay close attention to the way Jewish people and Jewish issues are discussed in casual conversations and in the media. It asks you to think critically about when you choose to listen to Jewish people, and when you choose to tune us out. Will you speak up for us when it isn’t easy?
Where does this hatred come from? What does it all mean?
I still don’t know the answer.
But it’s definitely not about Kanye West. If you think it is, you’re missing the point.
For more information about Jewish history and antisemitism, the author has provided the resources below: