The plight of German Jews in the 1930s has been likened to a frog in a pot on a lit stove. The water warms slowly. The frog’s unperturbed—until the pot begins to boil. Are today’s American Jews undergoing the same experience?
In 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” President Trump commented about “very fine people, on both sides.” Murders bloodied synagogues in Pittsburgh (2018) and Poway, California (2019).
In 2021, antisemitic incidents, including physical assaults, rose to 2,717, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That’s a 34 percent increase over 2020.
Antisemitism long has plagued America, although George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, stated that the new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” A century ago, the Ku Klux Klan targeted Jews along with Catholics and Blacks. But antisemitism wasn’t restricted to cross burnings or the German-American Bund—Americans!—supporting Hitler.
In 1922, Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell proposed limiting Jews to 15 percent of incoming freshmen. Nationally, university and medical-school quotas abounded. In the 1950s, Stanford curbed Jewish acceptances.
Covenants kept Jews from buying homes. “Restricted” hotels refused Jews as guests. Major law firms and corporations limited Jews on their payrolls—if they hired them.
As information about the Holocaust emerged, attitudes seemed to change. Jews found welcome in more places. But public acceptance of Jews doesn’t necessarily equate to what some non-Jews believe privately.
I’ve had my own antisemitic experiences—with my wife’s family. Some were resolved. Others not.
The last decade has produced more ridiculous antisemitic tropes. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R.-Ga.) promulgated a conspiracy that comes down to Jewish space lasers.
Recently, the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, floated Jewish conspiracies on Instagram. His account was canceled. He tweeted that he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”
All isn’t lost. Over the past two weeks, many non-Jewish entertainers and politicians have condemned Ye. Boston Celtics basketball star Jalen Brown and Los Angeles Rams all-pro NFL defensive tackle Aaron Donald—both Black—departed Ye’s Donda Sports agency. Business partners cut ties. They include Balenciaga, the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Adidas, Gap and Foot Locker.
Yet on October 19, TV show host Piers Morgan asked Ye whether he regretted his comment. Ye’s answer: “No, absolutely not.” The Black conservative pundit Candace Owens tweeted, “Too many black celebrities in my inbox telling me that they believe what is happening to Ye is wrong but they are scared to speak out because executives are telling them to ‘stay out of it.’” Jewish executives?
In Los Angeles, racist demonstrators offered Nazi salutes and hung a banner over the 405 freeway. It proclaimed, “Kanye is right about the Jews.”
Antisemitism waxes and wanes but never disappears. Lies handed down through generations pass for common wisdom. “Everyone knows” that Jews killed Christ, own the banks, run the media, aren’t loyal Americans.
Many American Jews now ask, “Can it happen here?”
I don’t believe that the United States is Nazi Germany. (For a detailed example of German Jews’ experience, read Grasping at Straws: Letters from the Holocaust, a family history by my friend Steve Wasserman.)
Still, for all the decency America has displayed, I can’t promise that the water hasn’t started to simmer.
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