It should hardly be surprising that anti-Semitism is on the rise, given the 3½ years of President Trump’s xenophobia, his demonization of immigrants, his attacks on Jews for not siding with him on Israel and the appearance of Nazi regalia at anti-lockdown marches. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents recorded "2107 antisemitic incidents in the United States, the highest number since ADL established the Audit in 1979. The high number of incidents came as the Jewish community grappled with vicious and lethal antisemitic attacks against communities in Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, and a spree of violent assaults in Brooklyn.”

That represents a 12 percent hike over the prior year, amounting to an average of six incidents a day. Even worse, “There were 61 assault incidents, cases where individuals were physically targeted with violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus. Antisemitic assault increased 56 percent from 39 in 2018.” The report also found: “Eleven of the 61 assaults were perpetrated with deadly weapons such as guns or knives. The 61 assault incidents harmed 95 victims, including five fatalities.” More than a third of the incidents occurred in New York and New Jersey. The report explained, “More than half of the assaults nationwide took place in the five boroughs of New York City, including 25 in Brooklyn, five in Manhattan, one in the Bronx and one in Queens.”

Trump is not responsible for individual acts of violence, but when he praises protesters who include those bearing Nazi symbols as “very fine” people and tells an Asian American reporter that she should direct her questions to China, we know that the bar for public rhetoric has gotten very low indeed.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO, attributes last year's record high to a “normalization of anti-Semitic tropes,” the “charged politics of the day” and social media. This year, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
“Anti-Semitism is a virus. It is like a disease, and it persists,” Greenblatt said. “It’s sometimes known as the oldest hatred. It never seems to go away. There truly is no single antidote or cure.”

The ADL’s report contains recommendations, such as publicly denouncing anti-Semitism; increasing funding for security at religious institutions and police training; making hate-crimes legislation applicable in all 50 states (45 and the District of Columbia have them on the books); and defining domestic terrorism under “the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which would improve coordinated response, collect data on domestic terrorism, and ensure training for law enforcement on best practices to combat domestic terrorism.” The ADL also recommends increasing education about the Holocaust and genocide more generally. (“The House recently passed legislation, the Never Again Education Act, which would promote Holocaust education across the United States. ... Every state should teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust.”)

Perhaps the most urgent and effective measure would involve online platforms. The ADL argues: “Social media and online game platforms must institute robust and verifiable industry-wide self-governance. ... Every social media and online game platform must have clear terms of service that address hateful content and harassing behavior, and clearly define consequences for violations.” The ADL also calls on social media companies to “improve the complaint and flagging process so it is as user-friendly as possible and provides a more consistent and speedy resolution for targets.” (Frankly, anyone who has ever reported an anti-Semitic attack on one of the online platforms can attest to its futility.) Finally, the ADL urges social media companies to conduct audits and make these available to the public.

The government cannot, absent a specific threat, regulate speech on social media. But Congress can hold hearings. Religious groups of all denominations can raise the issue. And public pressure and boycotts can exert economic pressure on social media companies to act.

The ADL is a nonpartisan group that takes no position in elections. However, voters should certainly consider Trump’s hateful rhetoric (against all groups) and his refusal to condemn displays of Nazi symbols in deciding how to cast their presidential ballots. If we keep electing politicians who give aid and comfort to anti-Semites, who provide them with a veneer of respectability, do not be surprised if anti-Semitism continues to rise.

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