Five Myths About Anti-Semitism
For a phenomenon often dubbed “the world’s oldest hatred,” anti-Semitism is not well understood. From top Iranian officials who blame the Talmud for the international drug trade to British political activists who claim that the Mossad is stealing their shoes, anti-Jewish bigotry can be bewildering and bizarre. But given the prejudice’s longevity, virulence and recent resurgence in Europe and America — witness the waves of bomb threats against dozens of Jewish centers nationwide in the past month and the controversy over the Trump administration’s repeated refusal to include Jews in its Holocaust memorial statement — it’s well worth debunking common misconceptions that impede our ability to fight it.
Myth No. 1 Anti-Semitism largely subsided after the Holocaust.
In my time reporting on anti-Semitism, I’ve often encountered a certain well-meaning skepticism: Didn’t the Holocaust, with its shocking horrors, finally compel society to stamp out anti-Jewish bigotry? Sophisticated people don’t write this idea down, but it’s one I hear constantly in my reporting.
This is profoundly, depressingly wrong. According to the FBI, Jews in the United States are annually subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite constituting only 2 percent of the American population. The picture is considerably darker in Europe, where Jews were the target of 51 percent of racist attacks in France in 2014, even as they made up less than 1 percent of that country’s population. In recent years, synagogues and Jewish schools and museums have been subject to terrorist attacks in France, Denmark and Belgium. A 2013 E.U. survey found that nearly 40 percent of European Jews fear to publicly identify as Jewish, including 60 percent of Swedish Jews. Non-Western examples abound as well. Populations of Jews in Arab lands, which once numbered nearly 1 million, have been reduced to only a few thousand, having been persecuted to the point of expulsion or flight in the past century.
These facts underscore a crucial point: It’s wrong to subsume anti-Semitism under Nazism, its worst manifestation, when the centuries-old prejudice usually takes less extreme or exterminationist forms. The end of American slavery did not mean the end of American racism; likewise, the end of Nazism as a dominant political force did not silence anti-Semitism.