The Most Hated People in the United States May Not Be Who You Think
Anti-Semitism remains a problem in American society
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on Feb. 26, 2016.
By Uri Wilensky
Which religious group is the victim of the most hate crimes in the United States?
According to the hate crime statistics kept by the FBI, Jews are the primary victims of religious hate crimes. More than 50% of all hate crimes (57% in 2014) are committed against them. For a point of comparison, anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2014 were 16%.
If you include other groupings by ethnicity, race, or sexuality, Jewish people are still at the top. They are more than three times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than any other group. To be sure, the FBI definition of hate crimes might not correspond fully with the prevalence of hatred in our society, but they are still seen as an indicator of broad patterns.
These statistics may sound surprising. At a time that a Jewish presidential candidate won a primary election and so many Jews have prominence in many domains, how could Jewish people be the top victims of hate crimes? Yet, just as the election of Barack Obama didn't stop racist hate crimes against African Americans, the prominence of many Jews in the United States does not protect them more generally from hate and violence.
There is a lot of coverage of hate against other groups, but one reads very little about proliferating anti-Jewish hate.
In late January, acts of vandalism were discovered in a historic Jewish cemetery in Connecticut. Also in January, graffiti with Swastikas, the phrase "Hitler was a hero" and more were scrawled on the front door of a Brooklyn building belonging to Hassidic Jews. A Tampa synagogue was recently targeted by vandals during the Gasparilla celebrations. The hate crimes go beyond vandalism into threats and violence, like when a man killed three people at two different Jewish centers near Kansas City in 2014.
In Europe, the situation for Jews is much worse. In the UK, new figures show that the annual total anti-Semitic hate crimes in London in 2015 was the highest on record. Today, Jews are leaving France in record numbers. There have been many high-profile attacks including those at the kosher market in Paris and the synagogue in Copenhagen last year.
Citing countless examples of hate crimes, in 2014, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews told the Guardian, "These are the worst times since the Nazi era."
It is alarming that 70 years after the defeat of the Nazis, we are seeing a level of violence against Jews that has eerie similarities to the 1920s/30s in Germany and Poland, a history I know about all too well.
My father, a Polish Jew, packed up his belongings and left Poland as a teenager in 1934. He recognized the increasing hate against Jews and begged his family to leave with him. But they said they were comfortable in Poland and this antisemitism thing was nothing new and wouldn't amount to anything. They paid for that belief and sadly, no one in my paternal family survived. This experience burned into my consciousness the importance of not dismissing concerns about antisemitism.
Growing up in a liberal Boston suburb in the 1970s and 80s, I did not experience or witness much antisemitism. But today, the rise of more antisemitism in Europe is influencing increased antisemitism in the United States.
Now, I hear colleagues at conferences making anti-Semitic remarks, expressing views that the Holocaust was exaggerated and describing Jews as owning the media and the banks. I have seen swastika graffiti on synagogues and on students' dorm rooms.
I hear Jewish students saying they do not feel safe in their campuses. A 2015 survey published by Trinity College and the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law found that 54% of the participants had been subject to or witnessed antisemitism on their campus. One of the most common examples is anti-Semitic vandalism, including swastikas, targeting Jewish students, has been documented at least 50 times since 2013 on campuses like Stanford, Emory, DePaul and Yale.
Certainly, a major factor for the increasing antisemitism is the increasing condemnation of Israel in its treatment of Palestinians. Movements like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), have often slipped from anti-Israel protests to anti-Semitic acts. I too have sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But no matter how people feel about it, the conflict there should not warrant a response of hate and violence against Jews worldwide.
Groups like the ADL have done important work in documenting and combating anti-Semitism. But why has their message not gotten out more widely? And why have more Jews not spoken up more forcefully against the antisemitism? I believe many Jews have worked hard to fully assimilate into American society and don't wish to call attention to themselves as Jews. Many liberal Jews, aware of the attacks against Israel by other liberals, may feel embarrassed about their identity. Others internalize antisemitism, making them disassociate from their Jewish identity in general.
But silence about hatred can do great harm.
It is time for us to break the silence. First, we need to increase awareness of anti-Semitic acts, threats and expressions. With knowledge of the extent of anti-Jewish hate, other oppressed groups, such as Muslims, gays, Hispanic and African Americans, may welcome anti-racist coalitions, and Jews may be empowered to speak up, instead of ignoring the hate spewed against us.
These groups are sometimes pitted against Jews and against each other, but we all have a common interest in creating a more equitable, safe society. If we in these groups - and all who oppose racism -- publicly call out racism against any group, we can change the climate so that anti-Semitic vandalism, slurs and attacks are no longer acceptable.
- Uri Wilensky is a professor of learning sciences and computer science at Northwestern University.