By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
We are experiencing a fundamentally different form of anti-Semitism. This current iteration represents a fundamentally different set of characteristics from prior expressions of hate. Key aspects of this global expression of hate operate differently from prior forms of anti-Jewish expression:
- How anti-Semitism is being delivered
- What messages are being conveyed
- What are the intentions of the contemporary anti-Semite
Historically, the ADL model of measuring anti-Semitic attitudes focused on group traits and individual behaviors. This approach, developed in the post Second World War era, does not take into account how as a people and nation-state, Jews today are being re-defined and demonized. Posted below are the eleven standards employed by ADL:
- Jews stick together more than other Americans
- Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America
- Jews have too much power in the business world
- Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street
- Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want
- Jews are just as honest as other people
- Jews always like to be the head of things
- Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind
- Jews have too much power in the United States today
- Jewish businessmen are so shrewd that other people do not have a fair chance at competition
- Jews have a lot of irritating faults
As a community who has lived through centuries of anti-Semitism, we should examine the unfolding of a difficult type of hate messaging and in the process develop a new set of indices for measuring anti-Semitism.
Introducing a New Model:
Where the old form of monitoring beliefs about Jews was specifically tied to individualized practices and personal traits, the new anti-Semitism is collective in character, as it seeks to address the actions and outcomes created by Jews as a people and the role of the Jewish State. The “global Jew” is being identified as destroying established cultural and religious norms while promoting Jewish influence and control. The other objective, in connection with this new assault, is the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
My earlier work on anti-Semitic thought and practice may be instructive in understanding this emerging model. In some of my previous writings I have dealt with the following themes:
- The shift from individualized acts of anti-Jewish behavior to global forms of anti-Semitism
- The changing characteristics of modern anti-Semitism
- The role of “whiteness” in connection with the new anti-Semitism
- The simultaneous emergence of the left and right in anti-Semitic expression
- An analysis of Jewish responses to anti-Semitic practice.
Today’s anti-Semitism has a different set of “influencers” as social media provides the key delivery system of hate messaging. “Whiteness” and “Delegitimization” are the new standards by which Jews and Judaism are being judged. For the anti-Semite, Israel serves as the collective embodiment of the “international” Jew. The presence of Jews in positions of power points to their conspiratorial efforts to convert and employ their access of influence toward advancing self-interests.
To better understand this current form of anti-Semitism, these five principles reference its distinctive characteristics:
- The New Delivery Modality, Social Media as the New Framer of Hate: No longer understood as a set of confirmed facts, “truth” is now defined and established by its individual creator. Access to the internet offers to its users the power to define “the other.” Accordingly, these social networks now are the essential purveyors of the new hate and the arbiters of facts!
- Whiteness as the New Test: The new anti-Semitism reintroduces the issues of “race” and “nationality” into the mix, as Jews are being challenged in connection with their “whiteness” as well as their legitimacy as Americans. Jews are seen today as “white” pretenders. This is understood by the left who classify Jews as “too white.” The far right defines Jews as seeking to “replace” authentic white people in positions of power. For the latter, Jews are seeking to reshape American values and social practices as part of their quest for power, while for the left, Jews are no longer to be defined as victims of history but as part of the “new oppressors.”
- Jewish Statehood: The State of Israel has replaced “the individual Jew” as the embodiment of contemporary anti-Semitism. Israel has become the collective Jew! Its actions reflect the Jewish people’s shared political and economic objectives. Israel’s conduct is being called out as oppressive and sinister, while the State’s very existence is being challenged and demonized as represented by the BDS Movement.
- Creating a New Image of the Jew – Conspiracy Theories: about Jews, Israel and Judaism are the new mantras. In the process Jews are described as possessing characteristics that make them dangerously “super-human.” Their power and influence as disrupters is not merely understood to be greater than others but rather their practices are defined as diabolical.
- Legitimacy in Question – Denial as the New Core Symbol of Anti-Semitic Practice: The case against the Jews begins by denying them their historical claims, namely, the legitimacy of the State of Israel and the truths concerning the Holocaust. By employing these tools, the anti-Semite seeks to remove the two defining moments of 20th century Jewish history. By neither acknowledging dead Jews (Shoah) or celebrating living ones (Israel), the 20th Century Jewish story of the Jewish people is without merit, legitimacy, or standing.
By employing these five criteria, Jews are being identified as problematically influential and destructively powerful, while at the same time being castigated for operating as “white” imposters. The new anti-Semite holds to the view that Jews, and more directly the Jewish State, have no claims to its past or credibility in defense of its national political identity in the present.
These ideas are being constructed and introduced on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Messenger, and various other social media platforms. Many of these themes are being crafted at the two ends of the political spectrum, by the intellectual base that drives the far right and the activist leadership that shapes the political left.
In the past, the individual Jew was identified as problematic, today the collective story of the Jewish people is being challenged, just as the place and role of Jews in history is being minimized. Jewish claims in connection with our historic ties to homeland and nation-state are disputed. Our global and philanthropic institutions are seen as threatening to the welfare and interests of others, serving only to accrue power to the Jewish enterprise.
Social distress and economic upheaval escalate and embolden anti-Semitic behaviors. As an example, the coronavirus has opened the door to the introduction and escalation of conspiracy theories in connection with the cause and benefits of such a health crisis. These current conspiratorial notions posit that Jews both “created” this pandemic and are also its “beneficiaries.” Such specific trigger events, including wars, economic crisis, and health issues, produce hate-filled messaging that identifies Jews and/or other minorities as the cause of such upheavals.
Case in point, the expressions of hate during this COVID-19 period represent an assortment of hate messaging:
- Seeking to Place Blame: The virus is being employed as a bio-weapon in continuous attacks on Jews, Israel and Judaism. Out of desperation and fear in trying to understand what is happening, individuals and groups employ attacks against an array of groups including Asians, Jews and immigrants for having “created” or “ being carriers” of the virus!
- Using the Virus as a Political Tool: This situation affords anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists an opportunity to continue their war against the Jews. Traditional haters are employing the virus as part of their battle plan against Jews, Judaism and Israel. In the process of carrying out their attack, anti-Semites introduce an array of anti-Jewish symbols, employing Nazi comparisons.
- Drawing upon Traditional Conspiracy Theories about Jews: Many antisemitic conspiracy theories posit that Jews have undue global influence and that they manipulate events to expand their power, often citing specific actors who may or may not even be Jewish. Jews, as an example are seen as the “Beneficiaries” of this virus, profiting from COVID-19 medicines and vaccines, etc.
- Employing Traditional anti-Judaism Messages. The assault shifts from blaming “the Jews” to a condemnation of Judaism as a belief system. Jewish tradition is targeted as problematic, sinful and anti-Christ.
- Equating Zionism with the Pandemic as a Means of Delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel’s enemies have embraced this messaging as another political device in their war on the Jewish State.
As part of this new format, we are observing such expressions of hate surrounding an array of public issues and international events. Two other examples are introduced below:
The American Public Square:
Over these past several weeks in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident, various groups active on our streets have sought to link Israel’s military as a responsible party:
Almost immediately after the disturbing video of George Floyd’s killing was released, … BDS groups began posting on social media – falsely – about how Minneapolis police are ‘trained’ by the IDF. Similarly, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights posted about how numerous US police departments are trained in Israel by the IDF. In a social media post they claimed, ‘The Israeli military trains US police in racist and repressive policing tactics, which systematically targets black and brown bodies.’
As The Jerusalem Post reported: The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has never been involved in the training of the Minneapolis police force!
Annexation as a Political Weapon:
As Israel moves to annex parts of Judea and Samaria, possibly as early as this summer, we can anticipate an extensive anti-Israel campaign. The Trump proposals, scheduled to be carried forward by the government of Israel, will fundamentally change the geo-political roadmap of the Palestinian-Israel story.
Beyond the anticipated international and diplomatic conversations and possible public opposition surrounding these actions, we are also likely to see anti-Zionist messaging. The rhetoric of hate speech and the potential for violent attacks on Israeli citizens and Jewish institutions could sadly be a part of this emerging political behavior.
When They Come for the Jews – Three Principles:
- In times of social and economic chaos and disorder, Jews are often identified as prime targets, accused of being responsible for these unfavorable conditions.
- In disruptive political conditions, one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards is being reinserted, identifying excessive Jewish influence and power.
- During past occasions of world pandemics and plagues, Jews were labeled as being responsible for “poisoning the wells.” The need to place blame and establish cause permits anti-Semitic individuals and groups to be able to reintroduce such false labels and hostile images.
Enemies of our community and the State of Israel are likely to target Jews, identifying us as the collective villain in connection with global events.
In confirming this new reality, we should note that “over half (54%) of Jews in America have either experienced or witnessed some form of incident that they believed was motivated by antisemitism…”
I contend that we are now moving from one moment in history to another, as we identify these global forms of anti-Semitic expression, delivered through social media and directed toward the marginalization of the Jewish people.
As a community who has lived through centuries of anti-Semitism, we must prepare for the unfolding of this emerging political platform of hate, seeking new means of both measuring and responding to its specific characteristics.
Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on is website, www.thewindreport.com.