One of the most telling comments of the pre-eminent medieval commentator, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak of Troyes appears at the very beginning of the book of Genesis. Citing a question raised by an earlier midrashic authority, RaShI (the acronym by which he is known) asks why the Torah starts with the creation epic rather than with the beginnings of the Jewish people? If the Torah is the unique legacy of the Jewish people, then the Torah ought to start with Exodus 12 when the Israelites receive their very first national instructions. It is a text that Jews will hear in the synagogue on January 28, 2023. The answer is prescient. Since non-Jews will accuse Jews of being robbers, wresting the land of Israel from its rightful inhabitants, the Torah starts with the creation of the world to affirm that the Creator of the earth can allot parcels of the earth to anyone He pleases and it is His decision to give the land of Israel to the people Israel. Would that this could satisfy the antisemites who still make the same accusation and those far worse!
The statistics are grim. In Canada, B’nai Brith reported the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2021 was 2,799, marking the fourth successive year in which the 2,000 mark was exceeded. “If you are Jewish, you are more likely to be a victim of a hate crime by far than if you were a member of any other minority,” said David Matas, senior legal counsel. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents including vandalism, harassment, and assault in 2021 – up 34% from the year before. Of the total, 484 are ascribed to known right-wing hate groups. The surprising implication is that the vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents are NOT perpetrated by neo-Nazis. National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt notes that “When it comes to antisemitic activity in America, you cannot point to any single ideology or belief system, and in many cases, we simply don’t know the motivation.”
A new report by Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry shows a rapidly escalating number of attacks against Jews all over the world. The report’s authors dejectedly write that the time has come to admit that the struggle against anti-Semitism is failing. While it is true that the far-right resorts to the same old tropes and canards re-packaged for contemporary events, blaming Jews for the spread of COVID and, at the same time, blaming Jews for experimenting on innocents through COVID vaccines, the situation on the political left is different. According to the study, Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report 2021, the radical left has consciously removed Jews from the category of vulnerable minority. Instead, Jews are now considered part of the exploitative elite and deserve revulsion and exclusion rather than protection. Indeed, that Jews (read “Israelis”) are colonial interlopers is a foundational tenet of the BDS movement, whose members serve as “useful idiots” for Palestinian propaganda.
History professor Edward S. Shapiro chronicled the patterns of antisemitism since World War II in his 1992 book A Time for Healing. Statistically, the period after the war showed a dramatic decline in antisemitism. Public opinion surveys taken between 1940 and 1962 revealed a sharp decline in the percentage of non-Jewish Americans who believed Jews had “too much power” or were “unscrupulous.” The number of Americans who claimed that Jews lacked culture and good breeding diminished from 15% to 4%. In 1948, more than 20% of Americans said they did not want a Jew as a neighbor. In 1959, only 2% objected. That same year, slightly more respondents were willing to vote for Jewish candidate for president than a Catholic. And by 1981, the number of Americans who said they would vote for a qualified Jewish candidate for president rose to 75%. Even so, Shapiro notes that antisemitism did not disappear in the post-war years (p. 50), but it largely shifted to social exclusion from private clubs, resorts, and the like. Antisemitic conversation, says Shapiro, “was relegated to locker rooms and living rooms.” Yet while institutional antisemitism waned, American Jews remained leery. Experience and history had taught Jews to be suspicious. The vagaries of time have conditioned Jews to treat acceptance as mutable.
Accordingly, it is disappointing but not shocking that the latest upsurge in antisemitism seems to have found a sympathetic hearing on university campuses around the world. Education has ceased to be what Helen Keller once called “the highest form of tolerance,” and has instead become the petri dish for cultivating antisemitism. As lyricist Oscar Hammerstein wrote, hate and fear must be carefully taught. Hence, it is not surprising at all that Professors Jay Greene, Albert Cheng, and Ian Kingsbury published their findings in March 2021 and concluded that antisemitism is not an outcome of lower education but more likely a consequence of higher education. They discovered that “more highly educated people in the United States tend to have greater antipathy towards Jews than less educated people do.” They go on to explain that “contrary to previous claims, education appears to provide no protection against antisemitism, and may in fact serve to license it – in part by providing people with more sophisticated and socially acceptable ways to couch it.”
In December 2021, Dr. Ayelet Kuper, Senior Advisor on Anti-Semitism at the University of Toronto’s Temerty School of Medicine, published a peer-reviewed report in the prestigious Canadian Medical Education Journal, that showed how little the University has moved from its Jewish quota system of the early twentieth century. Kuper found many instances in which both faculty and students have said that “all Jews are liars; that Jews lie to control the university or the faculty or the world, to oppress or hurt others, and/or for other forms of gain; and that antisemitism can’t exist because everything Jews say are lies, including any claims to have experienced discrimination.” Under the tutelage of brazen faculty members in secondary schools as well as universities who use the shield of academic freedom to spout hate, students ill-equipped to challenge what they hear become radicalized. Civil society is just beginning to seen the extent of the damage.
The rise in antisemitism is a phenomenon that requires careful, ongoing monitoring. But if Greene, Cheng, and Kingsbury are correct, it would seem that further increases are inevitable, to the shame of antisemites and the detriment of all.