Rising anti-Semitism a symptom of rising hate worldwide, author says


The author of a new book on the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the United States says it will take a collaborative effort between American Jews and other targeted minorities to counter the marked increase in hate speech and crimes since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Veteran journalist Jonathan Weisman, who will be among the speakers at “An Evening of Jewish Renaissance,” on Nov. 17 at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, traces the rise of this latest wave of anti-Semitism in “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” which was published in March.

The most alarming fallout from the sharp rise in anti-Semitism in this country, a synagogue mass shooting, took place in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 during a Shabbat service that included the celebration of a bris. The gunman opened fire at Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people and wounding six others, including four police officers responding to the shooting. It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

The triple parentheses bracketing the word “Semitism” in Weisman’s book title is not a mistake; they’re at the heart of how Weisman, 53, said he discovered how widespread anti-Semitism has become.

Weisman’s saga started during the 2016 campaign, when he said he sent out a social media message referencing a column by neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, and got back a message with triple parentheses around his name. Three sets of parentheses bracketing a name are what the alt-right uses “to mark a Jewish journalist,” he explained.

“Once a journalist is tagged like that, you get an avalanche” of hate tweets and emails, he said, adding that during the 2016 campaign, Jewish journalists saw “an absolute deluge of hate attacks.”

After writing an op-ed about the Pittsburgh shootings, Weisman said he was “showered with the ugliest, most violent anti-Semitic imagery imaginable, my face photoshopped on Holocaust victims, my path into Auschwitz accented by gates that read ‘Machen Amerika Great Again.’ ”

After the 2016 election, Weisman wrote a couple of pieces on rising Anti-Semitism for The New York Times, where he is deputy Washington editor, and his agent suggested that he write a book that would be released to coincide with the mid-term elections.

Weisman said the term alt-right was coined during the Bush years, but “we didn’t know it existed until 2016, when it burst out during the campaign.” Before that, he said, “we didn’t give enough credit or pay too much attention to it.”

Weisman said social media continues to be a prime source for the spike in hate-laced thought and speech directed toward Jews. Evidence of this came from the suspect in the Pittsburgh massacre, who had recently posted: “All Jews must die.”

To properly understand the rise in anti-Semitism, especially on social media, Weisman said it’s important to put it into a global context.

“Intolerance is on the rise all over the world and not just in this country,” he said.

Exacerbating this surge in anti-Semitism, he said, is that people have no filters when it comes to hate speech since Trump’s election.

“I think this is just a moment in our country when hatred and bigotry are more tolerated,” Weisman said. “People will say things in public that they wouldn’t have dreamed of saying years ago.” 

Asked about possible remedies, Weisman said countering anti-Semitism depends on minorities cooperating and supporting each other.

“I think there has to be a lot more coalition-building aimed at hatred itself. Anti-Semitism’s only one manifestation of this,” he said, pointing to an increase in bigotry toward other groups, including Latinos, Muslims and immigrants.

“Standing up against intolerance is not partisan. We need a little more bravery in the public,” he said.

Reaction to “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump” from the American Jewish community has been mixed, Weisman said. Some people have embraced it, while other Jews “have been really upset by the book. They think that Trump’s policies toward Israel negate the bigotry” espoused by some of his supporters.

Weisman believes that this kind of division among Jews is counterproductive. “We have spent so much time arguing over Israel that we’ve neglected to talk about our country,” he said.

Weisman, who describes himself as a “well-traveled journalist,” has also worked for The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

Besides his current book, he published a novel, “No. 4 Imperial Lane,” in 2014, which was a Chautauqua Prize finalist, Amazon Best Book of the Month and Great Group Reads pick at the Women’s National Book Association.

Asked about which type of writing – fiction or non-fiction – he prefers, Weisman said, “I have more fun writing fiction, but sometimes you have things to say.”

LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He can be reached at lkessler1@comcast.net.