2: Introduction: Black Antisemitism Today

Support Black Lives Matter but do not ignore the long history of Black antisemitism

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Jewish community was concerned about the rising instance of violence against Jews, shootings in synagogues in the ultra-Orthodox enclaves in New York, antisemitism was the problem. Days after states began lifting the quarantines a Minneapolis police officer brutally killed African-American George Floyd as video recorded the horrifying incident. His death was but one of a string of police killing African Americans. The main issue again became Black Lives Matter. Protests started, even as a pandemic threatened Americans at alarming numbers.

Again as in the past, the protests were violent, stores vandalized and looted. The fight seems to be as much against capitalism as racism. The Jewish community repeatedly forgives it all, including the movement’s anti-Israel platform. As with the civil rights movement nearly 60 years ago, the Jewish community came out in support of African Americans. Antisemitism and the Jew-hatred again went to the backburner in the fight for social justice for others. However, Black antisemitism has been a growing issue that broke down the civil rights era alliance. Unfortunately, despite a “Golden Age,” Black antisemitism has been a simmering issue since Jews and African Americans first interacted with each other in the colonial era.

North American Jews suffer in disproportionate numbers of racism more than any group. However, that seems less important because we have been labeled white, and racism does not happen to whites. Jews are a multicultural people. The new antisemitism invokes Israel as a colonist oppressor over Palestinians. Those who practice the new antisemitism use anti-Zionism as a politically correct method to attack Jews. Recently some of the most violent attacks on American Jews have come from extremist groups, white supremacists, and on the opposite end of the spectrum black militant groups.

Antisemitism is on the rise in North America. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) determined in their “Audit of Antisemitic incidents in the United States” there were “1,879 acts in 2018” with a rise in “physical assaults,” this included 1,000 harassment incidents. In 2018, American Jews experienced the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history with the shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A shooter killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue at Shabbat services. ADL noted there was also a “wave of antisemitic robocalls targeting Jewish schools, Jewish Community Centers and synagogues, and a significant number of incidents occurred at K-12 schools and on college campuses.”

In 2019, the ADL saw the most antisemitic incidents in the country since they began recording them in 1979. [1] According to JTA, “The 2,107 incidents recorded in 2019 reflect a 12% increase from 2018 and are more than double the 942 incidents recorded just four years earlier, in 2015.” [2] Among the worst incidents that happened in April with the shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue during services for the last day of Passover, in Poway, California, that killed one and injured their rabbi. [3] ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt pointed out in a statement about the report, “This was a year of unprecedented antisemitic activity, a time when many Jewish communities across the country had direct encounters with hate. This contributed to a rising climate of anxiety and fear in our communities. We are committed to fighting back against this rising tide of hate and will double down on our work with elected leaders, schools, and communities to end the cycle of hatred.” [4]

The ADL audit broke down the antisemitic incidents, there 1,127 reports of harassment “where one or more Jews reported feeling harassed” by “antisemitic language or actions.” Antisemitic harassment is up by six percent from 2018. There were “919 acts of vandalism,” where the property was damaged “in a manner that harmed or intimidated Jews.” Vandalism increased by 19 percent from 2018. There were also 61 assaults, were people were “physically threatened with violence, such as with guns or knives,” “accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus.” There were 95 victims, five died. The number of assaults was increased by more than double 56 percent from the last year. [5]

In the past year, New York City had the most antisemitic incidents, 61 physical assaults, half which happened in the five boroughs, and 25 just in Brooklyn. The entire state had 430 incidents, which was “The most of any state and a fifth of the total. The state is home to more than one-fifth of American Jews.” Every state except Hawaii and Alaska reported antisemitic incidents. According to JTA, “New Jersey was second with 345 incidents; California with 330, Massachusetts with 114; and Pennsylvania with 109. Those five states had 45 percent of all the incidents. [6]

ADL found that in 2019 there were more antisemitic incidents occurring in public spaces, “parks or streets” less on university campuses, where anti-Zionism is high, and fewer incidents happened in Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues than in 2018. According to ADL, “Eleven percent of the incidents, a total of 234, took place at Jewish institutions, and nearly 9%, or 186 incidents, on campus.” Extremist groups from the right and left, including “neo-Nazism or black nationalism” were responsible for “13 percent of the incidents, 270” that happened in the past year, mostly through “propaganda like flyers or banners.” The anti-Israel activity represented eight percent and 171 incidents. Most 68 came from white supremacist groups, while the remainder happened on university campuses. [7]

Black antisemitism has become a rising issue especially noticeable with the attacks in December 2019 in New York and New Jersey. The ADL found that the decade between 2006 and 2016 antisemitism among African Americans was double than among the general public. Another aspect of Black antisemitism differs; the rates are higher among those with higher education and socioeconomic positions. However, sociologist and historian Jerome A. Chanes notes in his article, “Blacks and Jews in America: History, Myths, and Realities, “Although blacks do continue to be relatively more antisemitic than whites at any given educational level, that is not the same as saying they become more antisemitic with higher education and economic status. On the contrary, they become less antisemitic, as do other members of society.”[8]

This past winter, violent attacks on Jews in the New York City and New Jersey area rose. In 2019, the New York Police Department reported there were 163 reported incidents, 50 percent more than the year before. The NYPD data indicates “that 60% of people arrested in New York City from January through September of 2019 for committing anti-Jewish crimes were white. A third of those arrested were black,” a majority of the crimes were vandalism. JTA indicated, however, “While police data is not available, judging from news reports and other sources it appears that many — but not all — of the assailants in the incidents of harassment and assault in Brooklyn have been African-American.” [9]

In 2019, there was an increase of “antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn, mostly targeting Orthodox Jews.” [10] The worst was a shooting at a New Jersey Kosher Supermarket JC Kosher in December 2019, which killed four including a police officer, and police believe the yeshiva next door had been the real target, where there were 50 Jewish students. In the attackers’ van were enough explosives to blow up the yeshiva. The attackers sympathized with the Black Hebrew Israelites, “a movement of African-Americans who believe they are descended from the biblical Israelites.[11] Some of the movement’s adherents espouse virulently antisemitic views.” [12]

Another terrible incident was when an attacker broke into a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New Jersey, wielding a machete, stabbing five Hasidic Jews including, Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at a Hanukkah party, one later died, a “72-year-old Hasidic rabbi” died from his injuries in March.[13] The rabbi’s nephew Tzvi Rottenberg remarked, “On the one hand there was a situation here, and everything changed. But on the other hand, we’re Jews — we believe everything comes from heaven and we don’t know if it was because of this or that. Because we’re Jews of faith, we know that Jews were always victimized.” [14] In November, an attacker stabbed an Orthodox Jewish man outside a synagogue in Ramapo, N.Y.

At the end of December 2019, there was a string of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews on the streets of New York. According to the Washington Post, Police reports show “on December 23, a 28-year-old man punched and kicked a 65-year-old in midtown Manhattan while yelling antisemitic slurs, Steven Jorge was charged with assault in the second degree as a hate crime.”[15] A week later, “an Orthodox woman was walking with her 3-year-old son in Gravesend, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, when she was approached from behind by Ayana Logan, who whacked the 34-year-old mother in the head, and delivered an ominous message: ‘You f — -ing Jew. Your end is coming to you.’ She was arraigned on charges of assault as a hate crime, menacing as a hate crime and endangering the welfare of a child.” [16]

The Washington Post found, “A day later, 30-year-old Tiffany Harris slapped three Orthodox women in the face and head in Crown Heights. [17] The police were convinced of Harris’s motive because of what she told them after the incident. ‘I cursed them out,’ Harris allegedly told officers taking her into custody. ‘I said ‘F’ you, Jews.’” Harris went on a five-day spree attacking Orthodox women. [18] The problems two of these attacks were perpetrated by African Americans, and for their attacks, they were all charged with federal hate crimes.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the Monsey Hanukkah attack an act of “domestic terrorism,” Cuomo said at a press conference, “This is a national phenomenon that we are seeing and it’s frightening and it’s disturbing. If anyone thinks that something poisonous is not going on in this country, then they’re in denial.” We are in denial if we think antisemitism and Black antisemitism have ended just because police violence against African Americans has increased, and American Jewry is again standing by the African American community.

Eric Ward, an African-American anti-racist activist who opposes antisemitism and finds it dangerous commented to JTA, “Black people aren’t in poverty and racial segregation because of the ultra-Orthodox community. They are facing those things because of longstanding white supremacy in New York, in terms of policies and in terms of values. The problem is that there is a segment of the black population who believes that Jews can be targeted out of those frustrations, and when bad interactions happen between the ultra-Orthodox and the black community it reinforces that smaller part of the black population that their antisemitic beliefs are justified. We’re seeing in the United States a general rise in the acceptance of antisemitism, and it is playing out across the political spectrum and across society.” [19]

Evan Bernstein, the New York/New Jersey regional director at the Anti-Defamation League commented, “They all had one common theme, which was the hatred of Jews and that’s the common thread here and that’s what we have to keep our eye on. It’s not anyone particular group; it’s a myriad of people. Antisemitism is affecting all parts of our society.”

In March, the former editor of the Jewish Week of New York, Gary Rosenblatt wrote an article in the Atlantic entitled, “Is It Still Safe to Be a Jew in America? As society has grown more polarized, classic forms of hatred have increased dramatically.” Rosenblatt recounts during his time as an editor:

“In all those years, I never encountered such a level of palpable fear, anger, and vulnerability among American Jews as I do today, with attacks — verbal, physical, and, in two tragic cases, fatal — coming from the far left and the far right of our own society, and from attackers whose only common denominator is hatred of Jews. We had believed that such worries were relegated to our brothers and sisters in Europe, with its centuries of ugly history of Jew-hatred and pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust. Now the attacks are the main topic of discussion among an American Jewish community shaken to its core. Is it still safe to be a Jew in America? The quintessential Jewish telegram is said to read: “Start worrying. Details to follow.”[20]

In Canada, B’nai Brith Canada 2019 audit of antisemitic incidents in the country found there were “2,041 incidents of antisemitism, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year.” Among the incidents including, physical violence, “a group of teens who shot fireworks at Hasidic Jews in Quebec and a group of Orthodox students who were assaulted on the street in Toronto.” However, the majority of antisemitic incidents in Canada stemmed from online harassment, especially on social media.

Statistics Canada also records the annual number of “police-reported hate crimes” in the country. In 2018, Stats Can found there were 1,798 hate crimes reported in the country, which was 13 percent less than in 2017, the second-highest recorded numbers since 2009. The number to note is that Canadian Jews were the main target of hate crimes in Canada representing 19 percent of the reported incidents, the National Post reported: “Those cases were closely followed by hate crimes targeting Blacks and Muslims.”

B’nai Brith’s CEO Michael Mostyn told The National Post, “We are experiencing a disturbing new normal when it comes to antisemitism in this country, with expressions of anti-Jewish hatred surfacing in regions that are typically less prone to such prejudices… It’s a poison that changes itself to situations. In Canada, similar to the United States, the antisemitism we see comes from a polarized world — there’s hate on the extreme right, hate on the extreme left.” [21]

[1] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/there-were-1879-incidents-in-2018-adl-finds

[2] https://www.adl.org/news/article/adl-audit-of-antisemitic-incidents-breakdown-state-by-state-2015-2017

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poway_synagogue_shooting

[4] https://www.jta.org/2020/05/12/united-states/2019-saw-the-most-antisemitic-incidents-in-at-least-40-years-adl-says

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/us/antisemitic-report-incidents.html

[6] https://www.jta.org/2020/05/12/united-states/2019-saw-the-most-antisemitic-incidents-in-at-least-40-years-adl-says

[7] https://www.jta.org/2020/05/12/united-states/2019-saw-the-most-antisemitic-incidents-in-at-least-40-years-adl-says

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/us/antisemitic-report-incidents.html

[8] Jerome Chanes. “Blacks and Jews in America: History, Myths, and Realities.” Changing Jewish Communities. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). Mar 15 2006 #https://www.bjpa.org/search-results/publication/2181

[9] https://www.jta.org/2020/01/02/united-states/what-is-causing-the-rise-in-antiSemitism-in-new-york

[10] https://www.jta.org/2020/01/02/united-states/what-is-causing-the-rise-in-antiSemitism-in-new-york

[11] https://www.jta.org/2019/12/11/united-states/one-of-the-jersey-city-shooters-was-a-black-hebrew-israelite-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-movement

[12] https://www.jta.org/2020/01/02/united-states/what-is-causing-the-rise-in-antiSemitism-in-new-york

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/us/antisemitic-report-incidents.html

[14] https://www.jta.org/2019/12/29/united-states/after-a-machete-stabbing-on-hanukkah-monseys-orthodox-jews-are-defiant-but-searching-for-answers

[15] https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/24/us/manhattan-assault-hate-crime/index.html https://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/manhattan-hate-crime-antisemitic-1.39844856

[16] https://nypost.com/2019/12/27/woman-accused-of-antisemitic-attack-gets-supervised-release-at-arraignment/

[17] https://nypost.com/2020/03/03/tiffany-harris-arraigned-on-felony-hate-crimes-and-released-again/

[18] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/acts-of-antiSemitism-are-on-the-rise-in-new-york-and-elsewhere-leaving-jewish-community-rattled/2019/12/29/f8c20578-2a7e-11ea-bcb3-ac6482c4a92f_story.html

[19] https://www.jta.org/2020/01/02/united-states/what-is-causing-the-rise-in-antiSemitism-in-new-york

[20] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/antiSemitism-new-normal-america/608017/

[21] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/a-disturbing-new-normal-how-jewish-canadians-are-reacting-to-spate-of-antisemitic-violence

About the Author

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, & historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval & Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

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Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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