Antisemitism is the biggest issue for Jews. Why did it never come up during the election?
The end is nigh (thank God!). This election cycle is finally coming to a close. But despite the endlessness of the 2020 presidential election, and the microscopic attention paid to a never-ending list of topics irrelevant to the lives of American voters, one issue that is of utmost importance received scant attention: rising antisemitism.
It’s shocking if you think about it. Americans heard from presidential-level candidates across numerous Democratic primary, presidential, and vice-presidential debates. And not one moderator thought it worth asking — even once — about antisemitism.
Joe Biden did mention antisemitism in his campaign announcement, specifically referencing the antisemitism at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally as his reason for running. And he mentioned it again at the end of the Democratic Convention. But aside from that, it was crickets.
Presidential debates are supposed to highlight the biggest, toughest issues candidates might face once in office. They are also supposed to underscore issues that matter, impacting the lives of voters. Now recall the recently released American Jewish Committee poll, which found that 88% of American Jews consider antisemitism a problem, with 37% of respondents considering antisemitism “a very serious problem.” And it’s not just Jews; that same poll found that 62% of the general public agreed that antisemitism is a problem.
But as it did throughout the election cycle, antisemitism flies under the radar of American public discourse. Jewish voters and our allies, which includes everyone who cherishes living in a tolerant, open society, should be concerned about this silence. It reflects a choice reporters and editors are making, as well as debate moderators.
And this choice to erase antisemitism is being made in a year when antisemitism is all too prevalent, when instances of Jew hatred are on the rise on multiple fronts. There was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spring tweet calling out New York’s Jews over a Hasidic funeral and the NFL’s antisemitism scandal in early July. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota singled out her primary opponent’s Jewish donors in a campaign mailer that same month. And in October, Governor Andrew Cuomo repeatedly stigmatized New York’s Orthodox community when discussing the ongoing pandemic.
Meanwhile, according to Inside Higher Ed, the campus Jewish group Hillel recently reported that antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high during the 2019-20 academic year. Antisemitism on college campuses has been rising significantly since 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
And as of October 18, 93 of the 230 hate crimes reported to NYPD in 2020 were antisemitic in nature, according to a spokesperson for the NYPD. That’s more than 40%. And while antisemitic hate crimes are notably less numerous than they were last fall, that’s more likely related to the oddities of pandemic life than a tolerant new normal.
So when Jews tell the American Jewish Committee they believe rising antisemitism is an issue, that belief is backed up by data. Things are changing. Our civic atmosphere is increasingly polluted by language and imagery that echoes centuries-old conspiracy theories about powerful Jewish cabals or Jews spreading disease, and that pollution has real world consequences.
But despite the rising tide, the erasure is constant. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, who pressed President Trump about QAnon during the townhall that replaced the second presidential debate, missed an opportunity to ask about antisemitic themes emanating from the right fringe. She characterized QAnon as “this theory that Democrats are a Satanic pedophile ring, and that you are the savior of that.” Guthrie failed to reference a September report from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that found that “QAnon perpetuates the canard that has been retold for hundreds of years of the Rothschilds controlling banks along with the baseless blood libel against the Jewish people.”
Rising antisemitism remains a live issue across the nation, with the visibly Jewish most exposed, though this risk affects every Jew. Whether driven by a sense of solidarity with the extended Jewish family, or even a sense of self-preservation, every Jew should be concerned. So should non-Jewish allies, because an America that can’t embrace, or at least tolerate, its Jewish minority is not an America that’s likely to tolerate other critical differences of thought, belief, or identity for long either.
Rising antisemitism isn’t a niche concern. It’s time that everybody, including mainstream media reporters, started to care about it.
It’s a shonda that the presidential election took place without the issue coming up. No matter who wins, it’s time to start paying attention.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is now an independent writer in Washington, D.C. She frequently writes about culture, religion, and issues affecting families. She shares all of her writing on her website.