The United States society prefers to be put in the light of equality and acceptance of all regardless of differences in race, religion, sexual orientation, and more. But it’s a dangerous myth that anti-Semitic icidents no longer exists in American society. With more than 14.7 million Jews in the world, and almost 6 million residing in the USA, it is an issue that needs to be brought to the surface. However, it’s also a topic that often gets overlooked because many people believe that it has become a non-issue, that the USA is a place of equality for all. Conversely, American anti-Semitism has repeatedly demonstrated its tendency to lead to violenct insidents. One easy example is the anti-Semitic and racist memes and posts on social media that circulate freely, intensifying as they do so.
The truth is that American Jews tend to be afraid to protect their civil rights and report incidents based on tradition as well as their tendency towards tolerance and abiding by the 1st Amendment. Members of New York and New Jersey Jewish communities are expressing their increasing concern about the possible spark in anti-Semitic incidents in 2021. In 2020, an article was published in North Jersey stating that anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey jumped to an all-time high in 2019. In fact, New Jersey saw a rise of 73% bias incidents which is the most ever recorded in state history. This was the second-highest nationwide, second only to New York.
One example is a case where a Jewish man in Ridgewood, New Jersey is fighting for his civil rights, along with the civil rights of his son. Through his fight against assault, false accusations, harassment, and anti-Semitic hate speech. It is important to highlight that men, not only women can also be victims of such incidents, though society tends to look the other way in these types of cases. However, it is even more difficult to fight both racism and assaults together when you are a Jewish man. Even when your ex-spouse becomes a violent and uncontrollable person, assaulting and harassing you in front of your child based on your ethnicity and religion, society still isn’t ready to accept that men are also the victims and that instances of this are only increasing.
While American society as a whole insists that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, this could not be farther from the truth. Though Anti-Semitism has never really left, it seems to have resurged with a vengeance more recently and the fact is that most American Jews have forgotten how to fight it. Most feel powerless to fight anti-Semitism, trapped by a simplistic understanding and respect for the First Amendment. But does hate speech fall under the category of free speech?
In 2017, 300 neo-Nazis marched through the central quad of the University of Virginia with flaming torches shouting “Jews will not replace us!” Theresa Sullivan, then-President of the University of Virginia, explained that the university “must abide by state and federal law,” referencing the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. While national Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, voiced their disappointment at the shocking display of hate, they ultimately agreed, urging the public to allow protestors to voice their “protected speech.”
It turns out that after this incident, University of Virginia lawyers managed to uncover a state law that had been long forgotten. This law banned the burning of objects on public or private property “with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons.” As it turns out, in the early 1950s, the Virginia General Assembly dealt with this exact problem when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to launch a new campaign in Virginia and this law was put in place to prevent it from happening again. So, while the legal means to prevent this racist and anti-Semitic event, which lead to a death and several casualties, without violating the First Amendment certainly existed, no one remembered this law or thought to go looking for it.
Today, society relies on tools like tolerance education, public shaming, and private litigation to fight anti-Semitism. As a result, the press often replaces the courts as the forum for judging harmful words. Rather than preventing violent hate crimes before they happen, it has almost become standard procedure to instead wait and punish them after the fact. Just like the forgotten anti-Ku Klux Klan law, American society needs to work a bit harder to recover the work that has been done to fight for Jewish civil rights.
In America, there seems to be a collective belief that things have truly changed in the USA after years of civil rights movements. While this country is generally thought of as an accepting nation, with quality for all, many people tend to look away from the harsh reality that we have not quite progressed to the level that we think we have. Are we truly heading towards treating all people equally or are we still in the era of the Ku Klux Klan law?