Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism has soared since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

More danger ahead as antisemitism continues to enflame Western world

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More danger ahead as antisemitism continues to enflame Western world

Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism has soared since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

A man charged with harassing Jewish youths in Newton. An attack on a student holding an Israeli flag in Amherst. Antisemitic graffiti at Village Elementary School in Marblehead. A skull drawn on top of a Star of David in Pittsburgh. Shootings at Jewish schools in Toronto and Montreal and a suspicious fire at a synagogue in Vancouver.

Here is some brutal collateral damage of the Hamas raid on Israel and the war conducted in response. What began as a phenomenon has the appearance of solidifying into a permanent reality.

Deeply concerned about friends and relatives in Israel, worriedly watching developments in the Gaza War, feverishly debating the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, warily discussing current affairs with colleagues and neighbors, North American Jews also are confronting a troubling realization: Antisemitism is back with a vengeance, and it is not a passing phenomenon.

The hard truth is that antisemitic sentiment is hardening.

“I fear that the clear rise in antisemitic incidents around the country is not a reflection of individuals’ beliefs but is instead a reflection of the acceptance of antisemitism in certain segments of American society,” said L. Sandy Maisel, the Colby College political scientist who was the editor of a book of essays called “Jews in American Politics.”

“It is unrecognized by people who are indeed antisemitic, some of whom are critical of Israel while turning a blind eye to serious discriminatory and anti-humane actions taken by Russia in Ukraine, China in Tibet, and Iranians against virtually all minorities, and virtually every country in the Arab world against LGBT+ people,” said Maisel.

At the same time, some Jewish leaders on the North Shore deplore the rise in antisemitism but are gratified by the outpouring of support from people in the region.

“Some of the things we are seeing now are just terrible, especially the treatment of Jewish students on college campuses,” said Darryl Crystal, the interim rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead. “But here on the North Shore, there has been tremendous backing for the Jewish community. There surely has been a troubling rise in antisemitism that is really upsetting. But what is important is to work with our partners for justice over the last hundred years to confront this.”

For decades, antisemitism in North America was an occasional thing. Sometimes – applications at country clubs and beach clubs turned down, slurs whispered behind Jewish backs, covert jibes about Jewish financiers – it was an irritant or inconvenience, hurtful to be sure, and often illegal, but in the great scheme of things not consequential. Today’s antisemitism is of an entirely different nature. Another casualty of the strife in the Middle East, it is hateful, it is contagious, it is dangerous.

And it has changed Jews’ views of their place in a country that, since 1945, they have viewed as their place. It has escalated in corners of the country such as university campuses, which for decades have been regarded as welcoming, nurturing and, above all, safe places for Jews. Indeed, it was on the college quad and in the faculty lounge where Jews, once scorned, made their mark and marked their place. All eight Ivy League universities and Stanford have had Jewish presidents. Dartmouth, once regarded as a redoubt of antisemitism and a campus where the college dining hall served bagels to Jewish students during Passover, has had three in the last 26 years.

“Especially in science, math and philosophy, places for Jews opened up on American campuses,” said David Scott Kastan, the Shakespeare scholar who became the first male Jew to get tenure in the Dartmouth English Department before moving on to Columbia and Yale. “For decades, Jews regarded a college campus as the safest place in a dangerous world.”

But the horror prompted by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel disappeared, like shallow puddles after a summertime sun shower, replaced by a furious hurricane of criticism about the Israeli response in Gaza. That prompted protests and encampments on university quads, the showcasing of Jewish supporters of Palestinian rights and sovereignty, and fresh questions about whether criticism of Israel amounted to a form of antisemitism. That debate began in late autumn and continues through late spring.

This situation is being played out across North America. In Canada – where there about 400,000 Jews – Nathan Rotman, who served as chief of staff to former Alberta premier Rachel Notley and the former national director of the New Democratic Party, said Jews no longer felt comfortable in the center-left party that alternates between being the third and fourth party in the country’s parliament. Meanwhile, Federation CJA – the fund-raising arm of the Canadian Jewish community – sought an injunction barring protests within 55 yards of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish day schools.

In Great Britain, also home to about 400,000 Jews, the number of antisemitic episodes doubled between 2022 and 2023, accounting for the worst number of such incidents in the 40 years that the Community Security Trust has been producing its annual report.

Concern about the rise – and possible permanence – of antisemitism reaches across clerical boundaries – and Jewish figures like Rabbi Crystal of Temple Emanu-El find hope in the ecumenical efforts of groups like the Marblehead Ministerial Association. Indeed, leaders of other faiths have been outspoken in deploring the recent rise, which accounted for 440 antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts last year, about three times as many as in the previous year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“I studied the presence of Nazis in Boston during World War II and the religious groups that struggled with their own churches’ teachings on antisemitism,” said the Rev. Charles Gallagher, S.J., an historian at Boston College and the author of “The Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front.”

“Greater attention has been played to antisemitism since the end of the war, but its recrudescence seems to be perennial,” said Rev. Gallagher. “It’s like a low-grade infection that won’t go away and that sometimes infects the whole body. We need to be more attentive to our common humanity and goodness as created by God.” Θ

David M. Shribman, who won a Pulitzer Prize as Washington bureau chief of the Boston Globe, is executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and McGill University.

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