Anti-Semitism: A disturbing worldwide trend

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 13th of August, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: rising anti-Semitism. 

Last October, a man with hatred in his heart and a gun in his hands entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The white supremacist shot and killed 11 worshipers as he shouted insults. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

Six months after that, another gunman attacked the Poway Synagogue in San Diego and killed a person there.

REICHARD: Jewish leaders see this as part of a growing pattern. The Anti-Defamation League reported nearly 2,000 attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions across the country in 2018. That’s the third highest number, after record high incidents in the two years prior. So what is behind this?

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with rabbis about the uptick.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: For Jews around the world, anti-Semitism is nothing new. Rabbi Noah Farkas grew up in Plano, Texas, where he and his family were one of the few Jewish families in town.

FARKAS: My father sat us down and talked about what a small people we are. And because we’re so small and because people don’t know us, some people really hate us and they’ve hated us for thousands of years. And that plays out in uncomfortable ways and that can play out in painful ways too.

Farkas experienced those painful ways first-hand. Growing up, he heard Jewish slurs and insults. But the scariest incident happened when he was in the 10th grade. He woke up in the middle of the night to loud booms outside his bedroom window. Someone had left pipe bombs in his family’s yard. 

FARKAS: They blew up mailboxes and blew up, blew up the flower box. And they had painted swastikas all over our car. And the police came and the fire department came and shut down the whole block. But when my dad sat me down and said, we had to go to school because if we didn’t go to school the next morning then those Nazis who bombed my house, they’re achieving what they want, they want us to be afraid. So I went to public school the next morning. 

That experience propelled Noah Farkas toward becoming a rabbi. He wanted to help protect and guide his Jewish community. Today, he leads Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles. 

Farkas says despite his childhood experiences, the United States has historically been a safe haven for Jews. But he fears that is changing. 

FARKAS: I certainly feel that there is an uptick in violent antisemitic acts both here and in Europe. And that is not just because it’s being better reported or that people are willing to speak up and speak out more. It’s because there are real incidences that are happening and that people are getting hurt and people are becoming scared.

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg agrees. He leads Shaarey Zedek, an Orthodox synagogue also in L.A. He says growing up he viewed the anti-Semitic slurs he experienced as isolated and not the norm.  

ROSENBERG: And that’s what prevailed for, I would say for a long time. Definitely during the formative years and even in, in my adult years until I would say as of recent.

Rosenberg says now Jews are either too white or not white enough. Too rich or not rich enough. 

ROSENBERG: It’s now vogue to be antisemitic. Now when I do walk the streets of my own neighborhood, I am more on guard. And not saying that I’m expecting it, but at the same time there isn’t that carefree attitude that once was considered to be normal. 

Jeffrey Herf is a history professor at the University of Maryland who researches historic and modern anti-Semitism. He says today anti-Semitic ideology is coming form three directions: White Supremacists and Nationalists on the far-right, anti-Zionism or anti-Israeli sentiment on the far-left, and radical Islam.

HERF: And that is unique in the history of anti-Semitism. I can’t recall another moment when these three streams of Jew hatred were existing at the same time in world politics. So it’s a very serious time. 

Rick Eaton researches hate groups at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He says, due to the internet anti-Semitic hate groups can recruit and better spread propaganda.  

EATON: One has to go back to the beginning of the worldwide web in, in 1994 and 1995, White Supremacists, and haters really viewed the Internet as a great resource. They all put up websites, but it didn’t pan out as well as they would’ve liked to. But with social networking and the new platforms that we have that promise has come to fruition. 

Eaton says if the growing flames of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence are going to be stomped out, it’s going to take everyone calling out hate within their own ranks. And not pointing fingers of blame at everyone else. 

EATON: Are we ever going to eradicate anti-Semitism? No, but can we marginalize it and keep it to a relatively small group? I would like to think so.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas delivers his speech during a solidarity prayer for tolerance, dialogue, against racism and anti-semitism at the synagogue of the Chabad Lubawitsch education center in Berlin, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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