Commentary: Anti-Semitism is here again because it never left

A man flashes the OK sign, adopted by the far right, during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville
Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Emancipation Park during the "Unite the Right" rally on Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

“Wait for it,” I told my husband as we discussed the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence, several days in: “Wait for the rise in anti-Semitism. It’s as certain as the sun coming up in the morning.”

I’m no oracle, but it didn’t take one to predict this occurrence. Sure enough, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic violence across the country, detected a 63 percent increase in such attacks over the approximately two weeks of conflict on the other side of the world. 

Anti-Semitism is the ubiquitous hate. When it’s not out in the open, it’s still there, buried under the surface around the globe, waiting for an excuse to erupt into audible, visible action. After all, Jews have been targeted off and on for thousands of years. We probably haven’t been discriminated against, killed, and thrown out of everywhere, but the list of places is very, very long. At times, Jews have believed themselves safe. The Jews of early 20th-century Germany, for example, believed themselves to be completely assimilated into German society. After centuries, after millennia, they could finally live in peace.

They could not have been more wrong.

So when hatred rears its baseless, scapegoating head in this country, no matter where or with whom it begins, the least surprising development comes when Jews become a target. How much more predictable is it, then, when the state of Israel behaves in a way that is at best seemingly indifferent to the deaths it inflicts on innocent Palestinian civilians and at worst murderously oppressive? Hate and hate groups don’t bother to distinguish between Jewish and Zionist, nor do they concern themselves with understanding the many complexities of the politics of the region. They don’t distinguish between supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies and those who might support different policies in Israel. Most don’t, in fact, make any distinctions at all. They just hate Jews, whoever and wherever they are.

Jews don’t belong in the Middle East. Jews don’t belong here (wherever “here” is). Israeli policy is wrong, so Jews are bad. Jews killed Jesus. Jews use children’s blood to make matzah. Jews hoard money. Jews have a secret plot to control the world. Jews already control the world. 

No matter the excuse, the conclusion is always the same.

And so, in the last few weeks, Jews have been attacked across America. Jews eating at a diner in Los Angeles were physically assaulted. A man wearing a kippah in Times Square was beaten to unconsciousness solely because he was Jewish. The phrase “Hitler was right” has surged across the internet, bricks and rocks have been thrown at Jewish homes and synagogues, and more. 

All of this comes on the heels of a rise in anti-Semitism over the past few years, part of the overall surge in hate and hate group activity enabled by the last administration. That violence includes the Unite the Right rally that burned “Jews will not replace us” into our collective memory in Charlottesville in 2017, as well as the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh the following year. 

New Hampshire is not exempt from this unsettling trend.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate groups across the country, identified six hate groups in New Hampshire in 2020: Act for America and Jihad Watch, both anti-Muslim; Patriot Front, a white nationalist group; the American Nazi Party, which is exactly what it sounds like; the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which adheres to Radical Traditional Catholicism; and the Nationalist Social Club, a.k.a. NSC-131. The last of these has been much in the news over the past couple of weeks for targeting state Rep. Manny Espitia after Espitia publicly denounced white supremacist graffiti discovered in his neighborhood in Nashua. 

Why has hate found a home in New Hampshire? In part, the answer is the same anywhere because hate resides everywhere, waiting for the opportunity to spring out and make itself plain when circumstances seem favorable. Maybe people feel economically or politically left behind, or fearful of change, or they harbor the misguided belief that some other group’s potential advance in societal status could only come at a cost to their own. Or perhaps they were simply brought up to despise anyone of a certain race, religion, etc. The reasons are as old as humanity itself.

One thing that is certain, however, is that hate festers when it is tolerated and encouraged. Here in New Hampshire, two elected GOP state representatives posted clearly anti-Semitic and racist material to their social media accounts, and subsequently were not disciplined by House of Representatives leadership in any way for this behavior. This mirrors what is going on in Congress, where Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has barely managed to find a few words to denounce Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who compared the wearing of face masks and/or a label stating “vaccinated” during the pandemic to Jews being forced to wear yellow stars in the Holocaust. Yet not only was McCarthy’s condemnation of Greene’s appalling comparison weak and ineffective, but he eagerly used the statement as a launching point to accuse Democrats of anti-Semitism in order to serve his own political purposes.

Hate, whether in New Hampshire or anywhere else, will thrive if encouraged and spread if not met with adequate resistance. History has not taught this lesson only to Jews, but we know it as well as any group on the planet.

Jews know what it means to be the object of false assumptions, to be weighted down with conspiracy theories about us, to be hated. Not all of us have experienced this personally, but it is as much a part of our heritage as the stories we pass down to our children or the holidays that mark each year. Many of us are white, straight, and cis, and enjoy all the societal privileges that come with that status; many of us are visibly BIPOC in one or more ways and have experienced various types of hate in our lives. Regardless of what we are, I have always believed we ought to harbor a special understanding and obligation to join with all who experience hate and try to fight it wherever we find it.

Anti-Semitism is a certainty. Repudiation and rejection of it must be as well. Jews in New Hampshire, across the country, and around the world have lived with it long enough.