Antisemitism, the hatred of, and bigotry toward Jews, is at historically high levels here at home, across the nation, and around the world. In its 2020 Hate Crime Report, Orange County Human Relations recorded a continued spike in antisemitic incidents over the past six years, mirroring a national trend cited by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the FBI.
At the same time, hate targeting other marginalized communities is likewise rising. The multifold increase in hate acts targeting the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is just one of many disturbing examples, but escalating levels of hate targeting Black Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, Sikhs, and others also gives us cause for alarm.
The parallel rise of antisemitism and other forms of hate is no coincidence. It is a historical pattern.
We have seen that what starts with hostility, discrimination, and violence against Jews never ends with Jews. The driving force behind many extremist ideologies, antisemitism is typically accompanied by other discriminatory ideologies and biases, including misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Antisemitism thus has a profound impact on the safety of marginalized communities, on their rights to freedom of religion and belief, and on their human rights protections.
The danger of antisemitism doesn’t stop there. In his 2019 United Nations report, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Dr. Ahmed Shaheed calls antisemitism “toxic” to democratic societies and a threat everywhere it goes unchallenged. Antisemitism is rooted in a conspiracy theory that characterizes Jews as greedy, disloyal, and plotting world domination. It blames Jews for the problems that befall societies, all part of a scheme to gain power and control at the expense of the communities in which they live. As such, it constitutes an assault on truth that blinds believers and leads them to seek simple, fanciful, but dangerous solutions to vexing problems. It also signals a loss of faith in democratic values and norms.
This conspiratorial thread is woven throughout history wherever antisemitism has embedded itself, from the earliest charges of deicide, to medieval European blood libels, to accusations that Jews caused the Bubonic Plague, to the Nazi scapegoating of Jews for Germany’s post World War I troubles. It has been the justification for the murder of Jews and the expulsion and destruction of Jewish communities for hundreds of years.
Today, Jewish conspiracy theories are baked into the worldviews of extremists on the far right and far left of the political spectrum. Jews are blamed for causing the COVID-19 pandemic and for profiting from it. These conspiracies underlie the so-called “Great Replacement Theory” – the white nationalist canard that claims that Jewish “elites” are conspiring to undermine or “replace” the political power and cultural influence of white Americans through immigration policies favoring people of color. This was the clarion call of extremists who marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Tragically, this belief inspired mass shootings in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, in a Chabad Center in Poway, in two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques, in one of South Carolina’s oldest Black churches, and in stores in El Paso and Buffalo where Jews, Muslims, Black Americans, and Latinos were all targeted.
On the extreme left, Jewish conspiracy theories underlie some of what adherents claim to be mere criticism of Zionism or Israel, but in reality are founded on the same sort of scapegoating as their right-wing counterparts. The recent publication of the “Mapping Project” by the group, “BDS Boston,” strips the political cover off these claims. This “interactive map” pinpoints the locations of 400 Massachusetts-based Jewish communal organizations, including schools, synagogues, and social service providers, along with many non-Jewish organizations, in an effort to “expose,” “isolate,” and “dismantle” these groups for their alleged responsibility for the “colonialization of Palestine” and other “linked harms,” including policing, U.S. imperialism and displacement. In other words, BDS Boston blames American Jews and those connected to them for what is its members perceive as heinous ills facing the Middle East and American society.
These examples underscore, as Western States Center Executive Director Eric K. Ward, rightly points out, that when it comes to antisemitism, we all have “skin in the game.” As antisemitic beliefs migrate from the extremist margins of society into the mainstream, fueled by social media’s belief-reinforcing echo chambers and by certain politicians and media figures who prey on public fears and biases, we can expect the danger confronting all of our communities to grow.
It is time for Orange County stakeholders committed to a hate-free society – leaders in K-12 and higher education, nonprofit and civic groups, faith leaders, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion administrators, elected officials, media, and law enforcement – to come together to collectively develop strategies to counter rising levels of hate in our community. While antisemitism is not the sole driver of hate, understanding what it is, how it manifests, and how it connects to other forms of hate and threats to democracy is a critical step in the process of combating extremism and hate and inspiring community change.
That is the purpose of “Driving Out Darkness,” a one-day summit on antisemitism and hate. Together with national experts, we will come together for immersive education and action as we:
- Understand the history of antisemitism and its current and complex manifestations
- Explore the relationship between antisemitism, other forms of hate, and threats to democracy
- Provide tools and resources to combat anti-Jewish and other forms of hate
- Engage with stakeholders to leverage our collective resources to foster lasting partnerships and collaborations
Presented by Jewish Federation of Orange County in partnership with ADL Orange County/Long Beach, UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies, and Congregation Shir Ha’Ma-alot, and hosted by UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, the summit will take place on Tuesday, August 30th. Space is limited and priority is given to the above-mentioned stakeholder communities. For more information visit www.JewishOC.org/DrivingOutDarkness or email LArmony@JFedOC.org.
Lisa Armony, Chief Impact Officer and Rose Project Director, Jewish Federation of Orange County
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