When I was 9 years old, one of my best friends told me, “You can’t come over anymore. Jews are thieves.”
That was my earliest, personal introduction to antisemitism. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered it since then — from casual “jokes” in the office to full-out brawls with skinheads and neo-nazi-wannabes and garden-variety white nationalists. Plenty of hate mail and death threats, like the time I received a postcard in the mail with a picture of an oven from Auschwitz on the front of it with a caption that read, “Wish you were here.”
When I was in the 5th grade, a junior golden gloves boxer at my elementary school (who I’m convinced had been held back at least three times and was a head taller and 100 pounds bigger than any of us) beat me senseless after school one day when I stood up to him for calling me a “kike.”
When I was in college at the University of Northern Colorado-Greeley, I ended up in a fracas at a Denny’s when three good ol’ boys at the table next to mine accused each other of “Jewing the waitress down” by under-tipping. I mentioned how ignorant that statement was, and soon fists were flying. Coincidentally, that same semester, the college made national news when the local KKK passed out “N***er Hunting Licenses” on campus. Needless to say, that was my first and last semester there.
With the advent of social media, the number of antisemitic encounters I’ve experienced skyrocketed. And the same goes for all American Jews, who have borne witness to an unprecedented increase in the rise of antisemitism in this nation since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking it 42 years ago.
Most telling is that this steady increase corresponds with an era I’ve come to refer to as the Great Emboldening — the five years since Donald J. Trump began his presidential run in 2016.
Recently the Colorado Times Recorder reported that a newly declared Colorado Republican statehouse candidate posted the classic antisemitic conspiracy that a “global cabal” of wealthy Jews including the Rothschild family and George Soros control the world’s banks.
Through 2020, the number of reported antisemitic incidents is up more than 54%. What’s worse, 2021 has already eclipsed 2020’s total number of reported antisemitic incidents by more than 20%, and there’s still a month left to go.
Something else is important to note: Colorado is a hotspot for antisemitism. Our per-capita rate of reported antisemitic incidents in 2020 was:
- 30% higher than California
- 38% higher than Washington
- 43% higher than Florida
- 66% higher than Illinois, and
- 86% higher than Texas
The definition of antisemitism has evolved over the years. The term itself is a bit of a misnomer when viewed through a linguist’s lens; the root “Semitic” refers to speakers of Semitic languages which include Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. But the term was first coined in direct relation to hatred of Jews alone, regardless of the language they speak.
“The German word antisemitisch was first used in 1860 by the Austrian Jewish scholar Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907) in the phrase antisemitische Vorurteile (antisemitic prejudices). Steinschneider used this phrase to characterize the French philosopher Ernest Renan’s false ideas about how ‘Semitic races’ were inferior to ‘Aryan races.’” Steinschneider was exclusively talking about Jews in his rebuttal.
Throughout history, Jew hatred has had very little to do with religious beliefs. That’s an important distinction. When the Nazis launched their “Final Solution,” their goal was the removal of a bloodline of people who they saw as an inferior race. The Nazis didn’t care about how Jews worshipped. It was about the blood coursing in our veins.
So, no, antisemitism isn’t religious bigotry. It’s an ethnic one.
And what’s worse: it’s a growing one.