Anti-Semitism on the Rise

Photo Courtesy of Friedel Jewish Academy

Viriginia Gallner

The United States is facing a new surge of anti-Semitic violence. From cemetery desecration to bomb threats in synagogues, the Jewish communities of the United States are experiencing heightened threats to their safety. Feb. 27 alone, there were 16 reports of bomb threats to Jewish schools and community centers across the country.

Dr. Curtis Hutt has been at UNO for over 5 years working with Religious Studies and the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies. During the time until the election, he says that anti-Semitic incidents on campus were extraordinarily rare. Now, however, things have changed.

Hutt said this rise in anti-Semitism is “extraordinarily troubling.”

“As little as a year ago, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups were considered to be on the extreme fringe,” Hutt said. “Now people are concerned about the views of the President’s senior advisor, Stephen Bannon and are wondering why references to Jews were left out of the President’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Many believe that the new White House administration has empowered sentiments of anti-Semitism and white nationalism across the country. As Hutt has alluded, the rise in anti-Semitism does correspond to the start of this new administration, tracing back to the election and endorsements from groups on the extreme right. Right-wing extremist groups have felt more empowered to speak out in recent months.

Universities have also had their share of anti-Semitic incidents, including Drake University in Des Moines and even UNO. Last semester, a swastika was found on the wall of a men’s bathroom in the Arts & Sciences Hall.

Israeli politician Isaac Herzog expressed his concerns with the rise of anti-Semitism by calling on the Israeli government to plan for a mass migration of American Jews to the state of Israel, and even the European Jews who are facing similar threats.

Even in the wake of so much destruction and fear, many kind souls are coming through to help the Jewish community rebuild damaged cemeteries. The vandalism at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia echoed a similarly devastating incident in St. Louis the week prior.

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism and promoting social justice, offered a monetary reward for finding the vandals responsible for the destruction of over 100 headstones at Mt. Carmel. The incident even prompted Vice President Mike Pence to visit the site for an interfaith prayer – the new administration’s first real acknowledgment of these anti-Semitic incidents.

Other faith groups have contributed their time and resources to amending these wrongs. Tarek El-Messidi ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for restoration of the cemetery. He was able to raise approximately $4000 per hour at the peak of the campaign shortly after its launch on Feb. 21. His nonprofit Celebrate Mercy brings together activists across the nation for donations to what he calls “campaigns of compassion.”

One interesting point about this effort toward aiding American Jews threatened by anti-Semitism is that one of the people who helped to raise funds is Linda Sarsour. She co-organized the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year and is a Palestinian-American. Some would see her nationality as a hindrance to her ability to collaborate toward interfaith causes, or as a point of contention. She wanted to prove through her actions that interfaith efforts are important.

Although the physical damage is being alleviated, few efforts can staunch the fear that has arisen among American Jews. Jewish communities across the country are concerned that one day, the bomb threats could escalate into acts of violence, as they are already beginning with the desecration of cemeteries. Anti-Semitism is still very much present in the modern day.