Is Antisemitism Rising to the Threat Level?

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I'm Jewish. I've watched intently as the antisemitic alt right has grown in prominence during and after the presidential campaign. Breibart.com gave the haters a voice, orchestrated by Steve Bannon, Breibart's executive chair. Trump retweeted some of the alt right's garbage because he liked the way it sounded. After his election, he made Bannon his closest advisor, making Bannon the most powerful man in the White House except for, or maybe including, Trump himself. An exultant group of alt righters gathered in D.C. after the election, ending their celebration with a speech by Richard Spencer who exalted white people using language reminiscent of the Third Reich. He ended his speech with, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail Victory!"

But through all that, I honestly wasn't very worried that antisemitism would rise to the level of a serious problem. I've been focused on the very real threats to Muslims and Hispanics whose daily lives have been harmed and whose feeling of safety within our country has been imperiled. Worrying too much about antisemitism as I sit on my reasonably safe, secure societal perch has felt a bit self indulgent. Sure we're seeing some visible signs of hatred toward Jews, but it has always been there hiding just under the surface, and watching it peek its ugly head out of the cess pool where it lives didn't seem too consequential.

Until now. Now, following the desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and the bomb threats called into Jewish Community Centers across the country, including our JCC here in Tucson, it's beginning to look real. I'm still trying to keep it in context. The Trump administration's moves against immigrants and Muslims are a far more immediate, day-by-day concern. But I'm no longer unconcerned about the threat of antisemitism.

If a few headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery, that would be awful, but it could be nothing more than a couple of drunk kids acting like idiots. Knocking over a hundred headstones takes time and planning. You need an organized group of people, some keeping watch while others work their way systematically through the gravesites and do their damage. And when another hundred headstones are knocked down in another city, that feels even more like a coordinated attack.

Anyone can make a bomb threat. One or two isolated threats can be the work of a few idiots. But to target a large number of Jewish community centers on one day, then target more a few days after that, feels more like the work of an organized group of people committed to spreading anti-Jewish hate.

The purpose of the cemetery desecrations and the Jewish community center bomb threats is to strike fear in Jews in the U.S., to make people worry about their safety, the safety of their friends and loved ones and the safety of the Jewish community as a whole. Though no one has been harmed yet, these are acts of terror, without question.

We need to be vigilant on a number of fronts now that Trump and his supporters are in the White House. We need to do what we can to help and protect the most vulnerable members of our community whose day-to-day lives are in immediate jeopardy. On any given day, the pressure on Muslims already living in this country or those who want to come here can increase, and the war on immigrants and others living in their communities can be ratcheted up. I don't think the same level of concern is warranted for the safety of Jews in the U.S. But given the events over recent days and weeks, people, Jews and others, need to be watchful.

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