The following section contains content detailing the historical context and current presence of antisemetic rhetoric and prejudice. This content may be sensitive to those who practice Judaism or align with Jewish practices and identities.
- Jewish: According to a recent poll, people who identify as Jewish consider themselves to be Jewish ethnically, culturally or by family background and/or have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish. They can identify religiously as Jewish, atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
- Antisemitism: is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews, or Jewish institutions as Jewish, or towards those perceived as Jewish. Antisemitism mirrors other types of prejudice that makes sweeping generalizations of an entire group; antisemitism has a specific insidious narrative of linking Jews to forces of evil. This unfortunately has been seen in multiple attempts at scapegoating throughout history and cultures all the way up to the present and will be discussed at length more below. Antisemitism can be displayed directly or indirectly through words, visual images, symbols, and deeds. This language and these acts can manifest in interpersonal dynamics, in the ways that spaces are created or defiled, and in structures and systems.
Antisemitism is an ancient hatred that emerged long before the Nazi Holocaust and continues to be a on full display today,as seen in the January white supremacist insurrection on the capital where multiple insurrectionists touted antisemitic symbols. Antisemitism can take many different forms, from jokes that perpetuate stereotypes and tropes to hate crimes and mass murder. A particularly damaging and long-lasting manifestation of antisemitism throughout time has been the scapegoating of Jewish people, from the blaming of Jesus’s death to the foundation of Nazi propaganda to the accusation that Jewish people hold undeserved privileges such as wealth, power, and control of the media.
Alarmingly, there has been a concerning increase in antisemitism in recent years, including desecration of Jewish cemetaries and the increased presence of Neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups. In the U.S. alone, there were 2107 hate crimes against Jewish people in 2019, the highest number since tracking hate crimes began in 1979. Beyond an increase in the occurrence of antisemitic hate crimes, there are reports that suggest the crimes have also become more violent in nature, with an increase in the number of physical assaults and deadly attacks on Jewish communities, as witnessed in the horrific murder of 11 people at Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. The uptick in antisemitic sentiments, fueled by former president Donald Trump, highlights a long history of antisemitism in the United States, and parallels increased violence against other marginalized groups in recent years.
Stanford is not immune to antisemitism (in fact its first President was antisemitic) and hate crimes that are antisemitic in nature (a few recent examples can be found here and here). Even under the current circumstances caused by COVID-19 and with a switch to online learning, there have continued to be hate crimes targeting the Jewish community, such as the recent “Zoombombing” incident in which antisemitic graphics were broadcast during a rally for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) undergraduate Senate election. More recently, swastikas were discovered in the halls of Memorial Church. Given the repeated and even increased antisemitic acts in recent years, its unsurprising and deeply worrisome that two-thirds of American Jews reported that they feel less safe today than they did a decade ago.
Antisemitism is sometimes referred to “history’s oldest hatred” as it dates back to ancient times. Given how long antisemitism has existed, it would be impossible to cover its history comprehensively; further exploration can begin here. When we explore the roots of antisemitism, it is worth noting that we are using the experience of Ashkenazi Jews as our default and the template for Jewish experience. Recent books illuminating the diversity of the Jewish community continue to be sources of expanding what Judaism and the Jewish community means.
The shift from discriminating against Jews because of their resistance to Christianity (anti-Judaism) to seeing Jews as a race of people that would contaminate other races marked the beginning of antisemitism. Political, economic, and social discrimination continued to increase as a result; Jews were forced to live in ghettos and required to wear a distinctive symbol or a pointed hat so they could be quickly identified. Jewish folx were forbidden to own land and took the only livelihoods available to non-Christians, money-lending. This forced career spurred a new stereotype, painting Jewish people as greedy, money-hungry, and stingy.
Allegations of hunger for power and money continued into the last few centuries from a Russian-fabricated secret plot of world domination staged by rabbis to the framing of a French Jewish army captain. Scapegoating also continued across Europe and Russia with horrific consequences. In response to the war, poverty, and other social issues, Russian Jewish communities were murdered by their neighbors, aided by the government and police.. The most horrific example of this scapegoating was the Holocaust, where Nazi officials and scientists systematically murdered, tortured, and experimented on approximately 6 million Jewish people along with 5 million Romani, LGBTQ+ people, those with disabilities, and other people deemed undesirable. The creation of the State of Israel complicates this history. The Balfour Agreement, was one in which England gave the colonized land of Palestine to establish a Jewish state, making Israel viewed as a colonialist power in the region. This also fueled antisemitism. Jews that were already living in the region were expelled from their countries by many of these countries that had recently gained independence from colonial rule.
Antisemitism did not end with the end of World War II, it just made it less acceptable to be overtly antisemitic in policy and behavior. However, there were 609 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents reported to the FBI in 2014. By 2018, the number of reports rose to 835 incidents, a nearly 40% increase. Present day antisemitism connects to old anti-Judaism, like accusing Israel of blood libel and goals of world domination. Some modern prejudice connects to long-standing antisemitic tropes like Jews being in charge of banking institutions, the media, and entertainment. While income and social privilege has changed for many Jewish people, Jews and other minorities continue to be denied admission to professional and social institutions. In fact, in the not so distant past, universities (including Stanford) had quotas on the amount of Jewish students accepted and professors allowed to teach. No matter the message, the increase in scapegoating and hate crimes continues to be caused by economic, social, and global uncertainty. The Jewish people continue to be made the scapegoats for the world’s problems, much like they were 2000 years ago.
Like all other communities, the Jewish community encompasses a range of identities, perspectives, and experiences. Supporting the Jewish community would also include supporting Sephardic Jews, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming Jews, unhoused and low income Jewish people, etc. Fighting antisemitism means fighting all religious and racial prejudice, like fighting Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, and xenophobia. Being able to recognize the interpersonal, social, and systemic discrimination and persecution faced by Jewish people across centuries would also enable you to recognize the interpersonal, social, and systemic discrimination currently facing Palestinians, Black Americans, trans women of color, Muslims, etc.
There are complex challenges with the perpetuation of white supremacy within the Jewish community, with being both a target of white supremacists as well as perhaps benefitting from the proximity to newer definitions of whiteness. Take opportunities to address these challenges and call them out. Identifying and unlearning the messages from white supremacy is key to not only fighting antisemitism, but contextualizing it as yet another tentacle of interlocking oppressions faced by marginalized groups. Join the young Jewish folks organizing around multiple identity issues like JFRJ, and look at ways that Jews may be leading movements whose foundation is inherently intersectional.
Learn more about Jewish history, culture, and figures across time and societies. Learn about the distinction between the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. Learn about the ancient and current Jewish diaspora and the many communities that identify as Jewish across the world. Learn not only about the hardships and discrimination faced by Jewish generations, but the prominent leaders and contributions by Jewish folx. Since no community is a monolith, learn about the diversity of faith, politics, opinions about Israel, and lives of Jewish people. Make sure that your news, media, and entertainment include Jewish narratives and characters that do not support stereotypes.
Although Judaism is a religion, Jews choose to participate and identify in many diverse ways (and sometimes not at all). Many American Jews are unaffiliated with religious institutions, or prefer to observe traditions and teachings from other cultures. However, all Jewish folx remain part of an ethnic group with a long history of systemic persecution. Jewish identities are typically shaped by virtue of heritage, regardless of religious practices. Recognizing Jewish voices in larger discussions about diversity is an important step, not only toward inclusion, but also in providing opportunities for Jews to use their history to better serve as allies to other marginalized groups.
Additionally, much of U.S. culture, traditions, and systems are built upon Christian practices, from having Sunday referred to as God’s day (versus Saturday) to which holidays are federally and privately sanctioned as time off (e.g. Easter, Christmas versus Passover, Hanukkah). This systemic exclusion can also be seen in our culture’s values and teachings from Christian beliefs about sex, identity, and Christian creationsim being taught in pubic schools to centering all history and time around Jesus Christ (B.C./A.D.). This systemic exclusion can sometimes perpetuate the othering of Jewish people and other non-Christian spiritual communities. By expanding our language, calendars, and notions (saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas”) and continuing to identify where certain rituals and practices originate from can continue to fight othering and exclusion of Jewish folx (and other communities too).
One response to wide spread centuries long antisemitism since the 19th century has been the creation of the State of Israel. In large measure, Israel was created as refuge for the Jewish people from antisemitism. Jews, particularly American Jews, continue to explore how to have conversations about the relationship between Judaism and Zionism, the movement and establishment for a Jewish state in the Middle East. For many Ashkenazi Jews, there is a deep connection to the State of Israel as one created for the Jewish people, but not all Jews feel the same way about Israel. Anti-Zionism, or the opposition to the establishment of Israel, is held by many, including Jews, because of its ongoing displacement and subjugation of Palestinians. Creating inclusive space that honors the complexity of articulating and voicing the complexity of this relationship without assumptions supports many Jews to hold allied identities and acknowledge greater intersectionality in social justice movements.
Call Out Antisemitism
Continue to learn about the origin of Jewish stereotypes, discrimination, and hatred to better identify and challenge antisemitism when you see or experience it. Learn about the antisemitism present in the foundations of Stanford. Learn about when anti-Zionist speech overlaps with antisemitic speech. Like many jokes and regular uses of speech or idioms in our culture, be mindful and informed about where these stereotypes come from and how we may be unknowingly perpetuating them through language, speech, and microaggressions. With the knowledge of history, you’ll be better able to challenge others in their antisemitic statements and be a better ally to the Jewish community. Denounce antisemitism by rejecting discriminatory behaviors including, but not limited to:
- jokes or stereotypes about Jewish people
- flippant or dismissive language about the Holocaust
- The minimizing the impact of the Holocaust on modern Jews, especially those whose loved ones are survivors still living to tell their stories, and other discriminatory behaviors.
Become an upstander and intervene when you see antisemitism being perpetuated.
Show Support, Get Involved & Vote
A huge part of fighting antisemitism and pushing back on exclusionary practices and cultural norms is to leverage your power as a voter and consumer. Support elected officials and policies that fight antisemitism, religious persecution, and racism. Withdraw support from organizations that continue to perpetuate antisemitism and Jewish stereotypes. Report incidents of hate and antisemitism. Get involved with organizations to do advocacy work. Look into organizations that combat this issue such as ADL, AJC, SPLC, and CJP on direct ways to take action. Connect with Jewish organizations on campus like Hillel, Stanford Jewish Student Association, and the Chabad Stanford Student Center.