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Today’s antisemitism will not end when the war in Gaza does

The normalization of antisemitism in society is redefining how Jews will exist in the world

The antisemitism over the last eight months that Jews hoped would dissipate has only escalated — and it’s not going away anytime soon. 

In the last 10 days alone, three teens raped a 12-year-old Jewish girl in France, gunmen opened fire on a synagogue in Russia and pro-Palestinian protesters attacked Jews outside a synagogue in Los Angeles. These are not isolated instances of antisemitism but signs of a fundamentally different, and more dangerous, world for Jews. 

Many have linked the upsurge in antisemitism since Oct. 7 to the Israel-Hamas war, and while disagreeing about Israel’s responsibility toward it, the consensus has been that — as in 2014 and 2021 flare-ups — this rise is just a blip. Once the war ends, they believe, antisemitism will wane. But that’s a wish far off from reality.

The normalization we see of antisemitism — targeting Jewish institutions, invoking antisemitic language and ostracizing Jews — is redefining how Jews will exist in the world well after the war in Gaza ends. 

Our social fabric is becoming increasingly intolerant toward Jews, and there are clear elements contributing to this.

The de facto guilt of anything — or anyone — affiliated with Israel

If Israel is committing the most heinous of human rights abuses, as pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish groups insist, then any allegiance with the country is guilt by association. Any institution affiliated with Israel today, which covers many Jewish organizations, is perceived as endorsing mass murder and violence against Palestinians; a functional indictment against all Jews and Jewish institutions.

It’s why Baruch College students protested the school’s Hillel this month, alleging that the organization — which focuses exclusively on campus Jewish life — “has direct complicity in the Gaza genocide.”

In the L.A. case mentioned earlier, protesters blocked the Adas Torah synagogue entrance and sparked violent clashes because the synagogue was hosting an event for real estate in Israel.

Despite the fact that targeting a Jewish house of worship is clearly antisemitic, many sought to rationalize and defend it. “The protestors were quite literally protesting ‘policy,’ not ‘a people,’” wrote Briahna Joy Gray, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 press secretary and a former contributor at The Hill, in a post with over 60,000 views.

Once the Israel label is tacked onto something or someone, even the most extreme measures, as evidenced in the protest against the tribute to the Nova Music Festival massacre, become fair game

Israel is villainized more intensely by the day, and this demonization won’t end with a ceasefire.

The normalization of antisemitic tropes

The second element contributing to this treacherous social landscape is the newfound normalization of antisemitic tropes when discussing Jewish communities and Israel, an inevitable invitation to demonize Jews as was done in days old.

“I was attacked online and called antisemitic by money and power because they want money and power,” Nobel laureate Maria Ressa declared in Harvard’s keynote commencement address.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman — who lost his reelection bid this week in the face of massive AIPAC contributions to his competitor — blamed Jewish segregation in Westchester County during the campaign for his failure to garner the support of Jewish constituents. 

Pro-Palestinian students at Drexel University demanded the university “immediately terminate Drexel Chabad,” invoking genocidal terminology. The Drexel Palestine Coalition labeled Hillel a “global Zionist organization,” language reminiscent of Nazi propaganda of worldwide Jewish control.

Discourse surrounding Israel and Jewish-related issues almost inevitably invokes flagrantly antisemitic language. Ressa’s reference to wealth and manipulation calls back chief conspiracies leveraged against Jews throughout the medieval and modern ages, and Bowman’s is rife with implications of Jewish superiority and Jewish otherness.

Even so, the backlash is often nonexistent, slow or minimal.

In Ressa’s case, for example, the only vocal dissenter to her message was Harvard’s Chabad rabbi, Hirschy Zarchi, who walked off stage after she declined to clarify her remarks. In fact, when Zarchi approached Ressa onstage, someone scolded him that “this is not the time.”

The license to use this type of language is now commonplace, and will not be withdrawn when Israel ceases military operations in Gaza.

Ostracizing Jews because of Zionism

The third element is perhaps the most concerning: the overt hostility in cultural and social institutions aimed at Jews suspected of being Zionists.

“Jewish” has become a code word for Zionist, and a Zionist is now defined as a white supremacist upholding apartheid and supporting genocide.

Last month, a list categorizing authors by their alleged support of Zionism to encourage boycotts of their work went viral on X, garnering hundreds of thousands of views. An essay in The New York Times likened it to “a cross between Tiger Beat and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The Zionist litmus test has even haunted Jewish therapists in Chicago, who were tricked into revealing their “Zionist affiliations” and subsequently blacklisted in an anti-racist Facebook group. The group’s admin praised the list as a way “to be transparent about clinicians who promote and facilitate White supremacy via Zionism.” 

All 26 therapists on the list were Jewish.

Even the medical establishment is not free from Zionist culling. At the University of California, San Francisco, some Jewish doctors are hiding their Jewish identity at work because of workplace hostilities — the kinds of hostilities that led a colleague to tell a visibly Jewish doctoral student that Israel deserved what happened on Oct. 7, and led a peer to insist that “Jews control the banks.”

Where Jews choose to publish, work or receive medical care is no longer a simple decision like it once was. “Jewish” has become a code word for Zionist, and a Zionist is now defined as a white supremacist upholding apartheid and supporting genocide. The fact that Jews have to be mindful of where they publish, what psychologist or doctor they visit for treatment, and what professional affiliation groups they can join for fear of being villainized as “Zionists” is the sign of a pervasive rot. That, too, will not end with Israel and Hamas.

This antisemitism is here to stay

The trauma unleashed into the Jewish consciousness from antisemitism since Oct. 7 is not unfounded paranoia or alarmism. It reflects the state of our world.

Like some twisted McCarthyism, Jews linked to Israel and Zionism — which, by highly subjective metrics, can be made to encompass nearly all — are called into question through protests, boycotts and alienation. Their very humanity is called into question. And when our humanity is devalued, we know that violence often follows.

There’s a reason so many Jews are sensing the 1930s vibes of an approaching disaster in 2024. The world has shown that when Jews are backed into a corner, we are the only ones who can lead ourselves out — no one will come to our rescue until it’s too late. We just didn’t expect to be reminded so soon.

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