LYONS: We must combat the rise of anti-semitism in America

Fervent anti-semitism has covertly risen in the United States for years and little to nothing has been done to stop it. Recently antisemitism has skyrocketed compared to more recent years. Jewish Americans report that there is more antisemitism in the U.S. today than there was  five years ago. 

Antisemitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2021. A total of 2,717 incidents were reported, the highest on record since they started to be tracked in 1979. These acts were going down in the U.S. for 15 years until 2016 when right-wing extremist beliefs began to rise to the surface. 

Right-wing extremists, or the alt-right, believe in the superiority of white people to those they perceive as not white. For example, the 2017 display in Charlottesville, Virginia was called the “Unite the Right” rally. There the chant “Jews will not replace us” was yelled by demonstrators holding tiki torches. The march included members of the Klu Klux Klan, neo Nazis and white nationalists.

Similarly, antisemitic incidents reported to Milwaukee’s Jewish Community Relations Council also hit record highs in 2020 and 2021. Reports were in the nineties compared to the early 2010s when reports rarely exceed twenty. We can only expect numbers to continue to rise in the 2022 report.

During the pandemic, several conspiracies relating to COVID-19 and Jewish people rose. In Kenosha, Wisconsin flyers were seen that read, “Every single aspect of the covid agenda is Jewish.” It listed off a number of Jewish members in organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and employees at Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna.

We as individuals also have a duty to call out antisemitism when we see it and also to look inwards at our own prejudices.

The Anti-Defamation League’s educational program Words to Action lists ninety ways to respond to antisemitism. One of which is to avoid using antisemitic language and or stereotypes. It doesn’t matter if you’re “only joking,” these notions, rather serious or not, have real-world consequences.

 The ADL found 61% of American adults believed in at least one antisemitic stereotype. This is deeply concerning and displays how antisemitism is ingrained in our society. 

Antisemitic sentiments are prevalent in children’s movies, generally seen through the villains.

For example, the animated movie “Barbie Swan Lake” exhibits an antisemitic caricature of the villain Rothbart. For starters, the name Rothbart is in fact an Ashkenazi Jewish name, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Rothbart looks uncannily like nazi eugenicist drawings of Jewish people.

He is also shown performing “dark magic” on children. This is a harmful representation of the conspiracy theory blood libel — This is the idea that Jewish people ritually sacrifice Christian children. The fact that these stereotypes were able to be put into a children’s movie with little to no question is genuinely terrifying and just disgusting. 

This isn’t a stand alone example, many villains in different forms of media exhibit Jewish stereotypes. Look at Mother Gothel in Tangled. She has the stereotypical appearance of a Jewish person, a Jewish name and steals babies. Other examples include Gargamel from the Smurfs, the witches in Roald Dahl’s book The Witches who was himself an anti-Semite, the bank running goblins in Harry Potter and frankly far too many throughout the last 1,500 years to comprehensively list.

Antisemitism is not a thing of the past. It is very much so still around and only growing in popularity. It is up to non-Jewish people to be cognizant of these issues and actively speak against it when we see it.

This story was written by Kirsten Lyons. She can be reached at [email protected]