By David K. Shipler
On a December evening twenty-some years ago, Fern Amper, a Jewish resident of Teaneck, NJ, made a startling statement to a small group of Jews and African-Americans who gathered at her home periodically to discuss the issues of race, privilege, and bigotry. When the Jews spoke of anti-Semitism, the blacks mostly minimized it, preferring to see themselves as the country’s primary victims of prejudice and picturing Jews—who were white, after all—as comfortably powerful.
So, to make her point about Jews’ vulnerability, Amper claimed that they were always poised to flee. “I would venture to say that there’s no Jew sitting in here—and I’ve never spoken to you about this—who does not have an up-to-date passport for yourself and your kids in your desk drawer,” she declared. “Tell me if that’s true.”
“It’s true,” one said. “Absolutely,” said another. “Absolutely,” said all the Jews in the room.
The blacks were flabbergasted. “Why? Why?” asked Ray Kelly, an African-American. “Are you really serious with this paranoia?” A moment of silence followed, then a couple of voices said, “Yes.”
If the scent of perpetual danger seemed exaggerated in the 1990s, it seems more warranted in the era of Donald Trump’s winks and nods to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists among us. It is no coincidence that since his election, anti-Semitic attacks, both physical and verbal, have soared, culminating in the mass murder of 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday.
As president, Trump has created an environment favorable to the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that American society has long harbored. It has surfaced dramatically since his election in 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, counted a rise in the number of neo-Nazi organizations from 99 to 121 between 2016 and 2017. Murders by white supremacists have doubled, and the Anti-Defamation League reports “a 258% increase in the number of white supremacist propaganda incidents on college campuses.”
In addition, the ADL found that a 57% jump during 2017 in anti-Semitic incidents, defined as harassment, vandalism, and assault, was the largest one-year increase since the organization started keeping tallies in 1979. “Schools, from kindergarten through to high school, were the most common locations of anti-Semitic incidents,” the ADL reported. Jewish journalists and critics of Trump have been flooded with online threats, anti-Semitic portrayals, and disinformation, according to a voluminous study by the ADL.