Historic rise in antisemitism has American Jews on edge: ‘Generational challenge’

While tensions rise worldwide as Israel mounts its response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, American Jews have become the targets of increased antisemitic hate.

Carolyn Normandin, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Michigan, told Fox News Digital about the situation on the ground in her state. “We typically get [reports of] two to three incidents a week. In three weeks between Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, we got 61 [reports],” Normandin said. She was hesitant to label this a more than 600% increase in reporting, noting there have been duplicate reports of identical incidents. Nationwide the ADL reported that antisemitic incidents rose to 388% over the same period last year.

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In addition to a number of threats delivered over social media, Normandin said her office has vetted and responded to in-person attacks. In one incident, rocks were thrown at Michigan Jews. In another, an individual called a doctor’s office and made threats related to the conflict in Israel against a Jewish physician. 

Jewish-owned businesses have been targeted by individuals issuing “outbursts or hate-filled messages” like “shut it down” outside their establishments. The rock, a landmark at Michigan State University, was defaced with the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is a call to wipe Israel off the map. Normandin said the conflict has even spread to the K-12 environment, with middle schoolers “misinterpreting what they are seeing” and wearing clothing reminiscent of ISIS [fighters.]”

As is the case around the country, most of the incidents reported in Michigan involve rallies in which protesters shouted inflammatory calls for violence, “celebrat[ed] the killing of civilians” or “question[ed] that Hamas [carried out] the attacks.” 

While Normandin said left-wing groups have been responsible for most of the rhetoric at protests and rallies, right-wing groups “have co-opted and joined in,” spreading conspiracy theories, and challenging the accuracy of verified accounts of Hamas’ murders of 1,400 civilians.

She noted that “there is definitely anxiety in the Jewish community, and a real concern about safety,” she praised law enforcement for stepping up their security efforts “without being asked,” and “responding without hesitation” to requests for extra patrols when individuals are threatened. 

To quell hate, ADL is working with local leaders who can spread messages of unity and tolerance. The organization also has a significant collection of online resources that explain the true meanings of chants prevalent at anti-Israel rallies, like calls for “intifada,” which references periods of deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, or “Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud,” an Arabic chant referring to an ancient battle in which local Jews were massacred. 

Many of these inflammatory chants have been heard on college campuses countrywide, which have been hotbeds of the anti-Israel fervor.

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David Bernstein, author of Woke Antisemitism, and the founder and chief executive officer of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, told Fox News Digital that the antisemitism on campuses is the “inevitable outgrowth of years of teaching… that America can be neatly divided between the oppressors and the oppressed.” In this environment, Bernstein said, students “have been indoctrinated in this idea that… anything that is done to Israel is justified.”

Bernstein’s organization seeks to fight this ideology, which he admits is a “generational challenge” of confronting the dangerous biases of tenured professors who propel intolerance. In the face of what he called the “complete tsunami” of left-wing antisemitism on campuses, Bernstein insisted that “we need Jewish students to express their pride and solidarity.” 

Many groups are helping students feel safe to speak out. Rabbi Shmuli Zema is the senior director of development at Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), which provides assistance to Jewish students seeking support as they practice their faith and prepare for future leadership roles. Zema told Fox News Digital that students at the campuses JLIC supports “have faced a complete paradigm shift” since Oct. 7.

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After being “yelled at, heckled, jeered, locked in conference rooms [and] physically threatened,” Zema said many are “scared to say what they believe in.” Since Oct. 7, Zema and JLIC have focused on supporting students’ emotional well-being and providing security for Jewish events JLIC organizes. Additionally, JLIC is working to educate campuses so that protesters can enjoy freedom of expression without hindering Jewish students’ freedoms of religion and expression. 

Outside of campuses, Jewish Americans face security concerns associated with their religious identities. Richard Priem, chief operations officer and deputy national director of Community Security Services (CSS), a nonprofit organization that has trained 3,500 community members to provide security at over 350 synagogues in CSS’s countrywide network.

Priem told Fox News Digital that CSS had seen “an uptick in requests for its services in the last five years… but what we’ve seen since Oct. 7 is unlike anything we’ve seen before.” CSS is now inundated with requests for training because Jewish Americans of all ages want to “secure our synagogues, our events so that we can continue being proud Jews in the United States.”

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Security concerns have changed since Hamas’ attacks. Priem recalled how some CSS volunteer security personnel were recently confronted by demonstrators outside a synagogue. “Targeting Jews because [protesters] have an issue with Israel is antisemitism,” Priem said. “That’s one thing that we’ve seen now that we haven’t seen before.”

In addition to new threats related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, Priem said CSS continues to respond to bomb threats and harassment campaigns from right-wing groups that “didn’t go into lunch break because they thought that the anti-Israel extremists had it covered,” he explained. 

In addition to increasing its training efforts, CSS hopes to grow its Interfaith Security Service, an effort that allowed New York-based institutions to share best practices with other minority community members targeted with harassment and violence. 

Priem said these efforts “are little steps that all of us can take to be there for each other when the other is in need, [and] speak up and bring to light the immorality of what’s going on… and the impact that it has on regular people.” 

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