Some polling suggests that anti-Semitic sentiments may not have increased so much as people are more emboldened to express them publicly, but that’s just as concerning for Jews who remember how an openly anti-Semitic climate, mixed with the right political, social, and economic conditions, can lead to disaster for Jews. It may already be happening in Europe and the United States, with radicalization of both the political right and the left and tensions over immigration and nationalism.
Last year, France reported a 74 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic acts, Germany a 60 percent increase in violent anti-Semitic attacks, and the United Kingdom a record high in anti-Semitic hate incidents. In Eastern Europe, right-wing nationalist politicians are dredging up old anti-Semitic sentiments by revising Holocaust history, and thousands of nationalists staged anti-Jew street demonstrations in Poland. Since the 2000s, Jews in Europe have been tortured, shot, beaten, firebombed, and verbally abused; their businesses and properties have been boycotted, vandalized, and burned.
European Jews now sometimes wear baseball hats over their kippot, remove their Star of David jewelry, avoid Jewish events, and hide insignias of their Jewish schools, while thousands have immigrated to Israel for safety.
Things have not become that bad in the United States, but American Jews are picking up warning signs. Farkas first began seeing signs of blatant anti-Semitism in America when he watched the rally at Charlottesville in 2017, where hundreds of young white men dressed in polo shirts and khaki pants carried tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and soil,” a German slogan tied to Nazi ideology.
He saw it on the left too, when leaders of the Women’s March associated with anti-Semitic figures such as Louis Farrakhan and excluded Jewish women for upholding “white supremacy,” when LGBT groups expelled participants for carrying rainbow flags with the Star of David, when Muslim congresswomen tweeted out anti-Semitic tropes yet didn’t face any real consequences from the Democratic Party.
There’s always been some pretext to hate Jews, Farkas said: “It’s because we’re too rich or not rich enough, too white or not white enough. It’s either I’m a white supremacist, or I’m being beaten up by a white supremacist. That’s what’s so perplexing about anti-Semitism: We’re the Rorschach test for everyone’s hatred.”
And sometimes, that hatred turns fatal. In 2018, a man who participated in a far-right social media website charged a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh with several firearms, killing 11 people and injuring at least six. Then exactly six months later, another young man who posted regularly in a controversial online message board attacked the Chabad of Poway synagogue with a gun, killing one woman and wounding three people, including a young girl.
Rick Eaton, a senior researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center who has been tracking hate groups for almost 34 years, said he’s “very worried” about the future.