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Latest developments in the United States

Expressions of Far-right antisemitism in the United States [update]
Discussion of antisemitism in today’s America takes place against the backdrop of events that were unforeseen. On October the 27th 2018, a man named Robert Bowers, previously altogether unknown, stormed into a synagogue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and carried out the deadliest attack against Jews in American history. Eleven were murdered, six policemen who came to the rescue were wounded, It was a massacre that was without precedent. Jews have lived in America, for the most part, especially in recent decades, without confronting overt antagonism.
Their lives are normal, in many ways Jews have prospered in this country, they feel at home in America, but the recent events in Charlottesville and then in Pittsburgh, together with reports, now on a weekly basis, of Jews being assaulted physically in Crown Heights and other parts of New York City, have created a kind of unease in American Jewish life, and in American social life in general that’s not been felt before with regard to antisemitism. What we have learned is that America is no more immune to this pathology than is Europe. Until recently most people in America thought it was just a European problem, a Middle Eastern problem as well, but not one visited in this country.
That’s no longer the case. These recent have sobered up American Jews in particular to the fact that they also may be vulnerable to the antisemitic passions which are now, in fact, fairly pervasive on a global basis. The question of course is who’s behind these attacks, and what can be done to curb them. In Europe today, most of the most lethal attacks have been carried out by radicalized Muslims, although neo-Nazi types, skinheads, thugs and others on the far right, time and again have also been involved in antisemitic abuse of one kind or another. With few exceptions, Muslims have not, in fact, been perpetrators of assaults against Jews in this country. Mostly the antagonism is coming from people on the far right.
They are not new to the American social scene, but until recently they’ve been on the margins. They feel emboldened by recent developments to step into the mainstream, at their worst they include neo-Nazis, Klansmen, people in the so-called Alt-Right movement and the like. Antisemitism together with white nationalism, white supremacism, and a kind of nativist populism, are all at the root of their ideologies, their numbers are probably small, but thanks to communication in social media, they are clearly now much more widely visible and audible than they have been before.
Robert Bowers who shot up the synagogue in Pittsburgh, for instance, was a frequent participant in a website called “Gab”, where he found a cohort of other like-minded people, also subscribing to antisemitic, white nationalist, white supremacist views. So this a relatively newly overt phenomenon, if not a new phenomenon, It’s been moving more and more into the mainstream. It needs to be watched carefully, and it needs to be restrained. In addition to these matters, the recent midterm elections in America saw six to eight people running for office, both locally, statewide and nationally, on platforms that were overtly antisemitic, white supremacist, racist etc.
The good news is that all of these people lost, the bad news is they did attract tens of thousands of voters,
this is a development too that we’re not used to in the United States, and it too needs watching. All of this takes place within the context of a gun culture in America, that doesn’t find its parallel in most other countries. Most Americans, maybe thirty to forty percent of the population own arms. Most of them don’t use these arms, in fact, for criminal purposes, but some do. The situation, in other words, right now, seems more overwrought, than it has been for a number of years. Synagogues, community centers, Jewish schools across the country, are meeting to decide what their security needs are and what might be done to protect themselves. All of this is ongoing.
It’s part of a global phenomenon, in which antisemitism has become resurgent, America is now part of this scene as well.

Prof. Alvin H. Rosenfeld (winter 2019)

This lecture by Prof. Rosenfeld conitnues to deal with the issues explored in the previous step. As it was filmed after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting of the 27th of October 2018, it also discusses this watershed event.


  • Herf, Jeffrey C., “Trump doesn’t understand how anti-Semitism works. Neither do most Americans,” Washington Post [online edition], October 27, 2018.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah, “3 Lessons About Anti-Semitism We Should Learn From the Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack,” Time Magazine (online edition), November 2, 2018.
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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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