Antisemitism can be curbed through systematic action

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | In October 2018, an antisemitic attacker killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in nearby Squirrel Hill.

Eliyahu Gasson | Staff Writer

Nov. 17, 2022

I was listening to the police scanner while the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue occurred just over four years ago. I was in Taylor Allderdice High School, just a block from my house, preparing for a football game.

We were put on lockdown when the shooting started. I am a Jewish resident of Squirrel Hill. I had lived in the community for most of my entire life. Before the shooting, I did not believe my community was in danger. I thought the rise of antisemitism online was a joke, that it would never move into the real world or lead to violence.

As I was listening to the police scanner, I realized I was wrong. I was shaken when I heard the police say that the shooter said, “All Jews must die.”

Since then, I’ve tried to figure out why we are so hated. Why do some people believe we run some malicious, self-serving cabal? I can understand why some may think such a thing. According to the Pew Research Center, we make up a tiny global population at around 0.2%. We also seem to hold a disproportionate number of positions in media and finance.

This is not the result of some secret Jewish society, but rather, it is the result of a tight-knit community.

Many Jews try their best not to assimilate into the broader culture. In fact, my Rabbis at Yeshiva made it a point not to assimilate — to hold onto your Yiddishkeit (Jewishness). As a result, we tend to have very close communities that support each other. This means that if one person within the community gets a high-ranking position in an industry, they are highly likely to bring on other people from the same neighborhood, given that they know each other well and want to help their fellow Jew.

Jews, especially Ashkenazi or European Jews, have been granted the advantage of being considered white, at least in contemporary America. This great status has spared us from discrimination other minorities, especially Black Americans and Latinos, have faced. Jewish neighborhoods never had to deal with redlining, racial profiling or hiring discrimination to the same extent as people of color in this country. Instead, according to the Pew Research Center, Jews are now the wealthiest religious group in the United States, with 44% of us making over $100,000 a year.

A scenario played out in Nazi Germany after World War I that resembles our current cultural situation. The Reichsmark had fallen victim to hyperinflation. In this time of financial distress, people needed a scapegoat. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis decided that one of their scapegoats would be the Jews, spreading cultural Bolshevism and destroying the fatherland.

The internet has fostered an environment for hateful rhetoric to spread thanks to its anonymous nature. People feel more comfortable sharing ideas that may not have otherwise not been expressed. It has also given them a louder voice and larger audience, since anyone can have a platform and hear what is being said. Racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and antisemitism have all been fostered on the web, from the darkest corners to prominent platforms.

Donald Trump has also played a significant role in the rise of antisemitism in the United States. His rise to political prominence has been supported by antisemites who saw in him an opportunity to spread their message. Trump, never one to turn away support, has refused to fully denounce these people saying that there were “good people on both sides” in regards to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where marchers could be heard shouting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan.

More recently, musical artist and fashion designer Kanye West has gone all in on his Black Hebrew Israelite arc. In October, he tweeted that he was going “[defcon] 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” referring to the DEFCON military readiness system. West later appeared on the Drink Champs Podcast to rant about ‘Jewish business secrets.’

However, West has said he cannot be antisemitic because he is a Jew, according to his Black Israelite beliefs.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Black Israelites are an antisemitic group. They believe that what we consider Jews are not the real Jews and are, in fact, imposters who have appropriated the culture and status of the real Jews — Black Americans.

Kanye’s beliefs have spread into everyday life thanks to his large platform and fan base. Some of his fans, too, are starting to believe his rhetoric about the Jews. His actions have also pleased many people who were never his fans, but who now see him as a martyr for their antisemitic beliefs.

After he made his post, a group called the Goyim Defense League hung banners over a Los Angeles freeway reading, “Kanye is right about the Jews.”

Now that people are becoming more brazen with hateful speech, we must do something about it, especially since we can see it turning into real-life violence. Private corporations do good when they cut their ties with celebrities who preach hateful ideas, but there is more that needs to be done systematically to eliminate the need for a scapegoat in the first place.

Our country needs to improve poor communities of color. We must put more funding toward public education, healthcare and food services. We need fast and frequent public transportation so people can go to work and school. We need to make higher education and trade schools accessible for anyone so that people get the training they need to get high-paying jobs so that they may put their money back into the community.

We need to give the rest of the country the opportunities the Jewish community had that made it so strong. That is how we can curb antisemitism and create a safer country.