On Feb. 8, Temple Beth Shalom in Spokane was desecrated. Swastikas and a white supremacist symbol were spray painted in red on the Temple and the Holocaust memorial. Once again, Jewish people were the targets of a hate crime.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism is defined as “the belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.” This has been manifested through stereotyped views, religious teachings that declare Jews as inferior and political efforts to isolate, oppress or injure Jews.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, released its annual Report on Hate Crimes stating that in 2019, 60.3% of religious-based offenses were against Jewish Americans. According to this document, the percentage of religious-biased offenses against Jewish Americans never sank below 51% over the 23-year period. The average was 75%.
The Holocaust was not the beginning of anti-Semitism. Hostility toward Jews dates to the beginning of Jewish history, with some calling it “the oldest form of hate.” Jewish history is a tale of exile, persecution, assimilation and genocide.
As Holocaust education is not a requirement in the United States, many children are raised with a misunderstanding of Jewish history. Holocaust denial and other re-tellings of history — like the false claim that Jews controlled the banks — push anti-Semitic beliefs onto children from a young age.
Moreover, Jewish stereotypes have run rampant throughout history and have permeated mainstream culture. In the media, Jews have only been represented in one of three ways: the overbearing Jewish mother, the frugal Jew and the Jewish-American princess.
Even today, Jewish representation in the media is inadequate. It’s easy to point out which character is Jewish, as they are typically portrayed with a big nose, and as wealthy, stingy and /or neurotic. An example of this is the sitcom “New Girl,” where the majority of jokes directed at Schmidt, one of the show’s main characters, revolve around his Jewish appearance.
It’s not hard to have a sitcom starring Jewish characters without ridiculing Jewish faith and culture. Seinfeld is considered to be the most Jewish sitcom, yet it has very few obvious references to actual Jewish practices. Similarly, three of the six main characters in “Friends” are Jewish, but their characters’ personalities don’t revolve around Judaism.
Recently, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have been increasingly interconnected with one another. You can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic at the same time. Criticizing Israel does not make someone anti-Semitic, but their intent and manner in delivering the message can say otherwise.
When discussing Zionism, there are ways to determine whether it is anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. Specifically targeting Israel while ignoring worse actions by other countries, likening Israel to Nazi Germany, and attacking Israel’s existence rather than individual government policies are actions that are likened more to anti-Semitism than anti-Zionism.
White supremacists shouted “Jews will not replace us!” at the Unite the Right Rallies. At the recent riots at the Capitol, white supremacists wore shirts saying “Camp Auschwitz,” a reference to the deadliest concentration camp in the Holocaust. And still people claim anti-Semitism isn’t an issue.
Anti-Semitism is inescapable even on Gonzaga’s campus. Statements from GU’s administration exclude their Jewish students when addressing anti-Semitic hate crimes, choosing only to address the Spokane Jewish community.
With growing anti-Semitism in recent years, being Jewish is exhausting. It feels like every other day there’s a new story about a synagogue vandalized with white supremacy symbols, haunting graffiti found on the streets and slurs being shouted as Jews try to go about their lives.
Having Jewish Bulldogs on campus has made dealing with that hate so much easier. Even if I can’t attend a meeting, I know there is a safe space for me on campus to process the frustrations and fears that recent attacks have left. It is a space free of microaggressions and comments that are “just a joke”, a space that reminds me how special Judaism and Jewish culture is.
Hearing about an anti-Jewish hate crime is a knife through the heart every time. As Jews are increasingly targeted, it is disturbing and disheartening to hear people denying the effects of anti-Semitism. Now more than ever it is imperative that anti-Semitism is addressed and Jews are included in activism. Our safety depends on it.