America can no longer remain silent about its antisemitism problem

The recent dinner with former President Trump, Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, and anti-Semitic entertainer Kanye “Ye” West—followed by the largely silent responses of many Republican officials and leaders, including some seeking the presidency—highlights the need for all Americans recognize and protest anti-Semitism in the country.

After the dinner, Trump tried to distance himself from West by saying he met with him to “help a seriously troubled man” and from Fuentes by saying he didn’t know him and wasn’t familiar with his work when they met .

However, the former president’s repeated behavior and words, including his response to the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017 and the lukewarm response of many of his supporters to anti-Semitism, can be seen as legitimizing hostilities expressed against Jewish Americans.

The former president and his various enablers have minimized and dismissed anti-Semitism in the United States, including assaults and killings. These failures to address the anti-Semitism facing America are inexcusable, shameful and dangerous.

The American Jewish population makes up a relatively small part of the country. By 2022, Jewish Americans are estimated to represent slightly more than two percent of the US population of 333 million.

Despite their relatively small share of the population, the number of anti-Semitic incidents nationwide in 2021 in the United States reached a record high of 2,717: more than seven incidents per day and nearly triple the 2015 level.

The reprehensible incidents took place across America, including in places of worship, community centers, schools and colleges. The motivations for anti-Semitism are not always clear, as they typically lack a single identifiable ideology or belief system.

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A notable exception, however, is the “Great Replacement” theory promoted by American white supremacist groups. They believe in the conspiracy that white Christians are being intentionally replaced in the population by individuals of other races through immigration and other means. In their various demonstrations and gatherings, including Charlottesville in 2017, the neo-Nazi marchers often shout such hateful anti-Semitic nonsense as “Jews will not replace us.”

In the American Jewish Committee’s “The State of Antisemitism in America 2021report indicated an estimated 60 percent of Americans believe anti-Semitism is a problem for the country. But about a quarter of those surveyed in the same report believed that anti-Semitism was not a problem in the United States.

In contrast, about 90 percent of Jewish Americans said in the report that anti-Semitism is a problem for the country, and about three-quarters believe there is more anti-Semitism in the country today than there was about five years ago. A majority of Jewish Americans, 53 percent, report feeling less personally safe than they did in 2015.

Contributing to America’s anti-Semitism is the apparently self-inflicted amnesia among some extremist groups regarding the methodical persecution followed by the horrific events perpetrated against the Jews of Europe some eight decades ago. The Holocaust resulted in the killing of about 6 million European Jews, or about 63 percent of Europe’s Jewish population at the time.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was also evident in US refugee policy regarding European Jews seeking asylum from their persecution in Nazi Germany. Perhaps the most memorable single event that reflects its indecent refugee policy in the past is the US government’s refusal in 1939 to grant admission to some 900 Jewish refugees seeking asylum aboard the USS St. Louis, who had reached Miami. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where nearly a third of its passengers were murdered during the Holocaust.

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America too often chooses to ignore its troubling anti-Semitic past and the many popular figures who were openly anti-Semitic in their public attacks on the character and patriotism of Jewish Americans, including Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Coco Chanel and Louis Farrakhan.

In addition to facing educational quotas at major universities in the 1920s, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia, Jewish Americans experienced discrimination among the major professions and restrictions on housing. They were also denied membership in most clubs, resorts, and associations, with some hotel advertisements explicitly excluding Jewish Americans.

While the recent tragic story remains beyond doubt, many of America’s anti-Semitic white supremacists, including Fuentes and West, continue to deny the existence of the Holocaust, express hateful rhetoric, and discriminate against Jewish Americans. They attempt to negate the historical facts of the Nazi genocide, promote the false claim that the Holocaust was invented or greatly exaggerated to advance Jewish interests, and display the Nazi swastika flag and make the “Heil Hitler” gesture.

America’s anti-Semitism in the past also fueled vocal criticism and opposition to political leaders who sought to address discrimination against Jewish Americans. For example, at a conference of some 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden in 1939, Fritz Kuhn, head of the German American Bund, mocked President Roosevelt as “Frank D. Rosenfeld”, referred to the New Deal as the “Jewish Deal”. and declared Jews to be enemies of the United States.

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No matter the place, occasion, or time, the United States cannot tolerate or support those who promote, allow, or condone anti-Semitism. In particular, the nation’s elected and appointed officials must be held accountable for their words and actions.

Anti-Semitic behavior and remarks cannot continue to be swept under the rug, unethically edited for political television consumption, or ignored in the hope that they will go away. They cannot be excused as insignificant or meaningless events that have been blown out of proportion by the news media. Nor can they simply be diverted, diminished or explained away with references to irrelevant overseas diversions.

Based on the tragic experiences of the recent past, combating anti-Semitism requires every American to stand up boldly, speak out unequivocally, and respond defiantly against discrimination against Jewish Americans. Tolerating anti-Semitism is not only categorically un-American, but also poses a moral threat to American democracy, as well as to the nation’s prospects in the 21st century.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his most recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

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