Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit, and the Jewish Response

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The same weekend, a cartoon depicting egregiously anti-Semitic tropes found its way into print in the international edition of the New York Times. Coming on top of a wave of incidents and expression hostile to Jews over the last year or two, including the murder of 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October, bringing greater attention to the menace of anti-Semitism has become a burning priority. Animus toward Jews is taking root in a new generation, and purveyors of hatred seem to be emboldened.

Ignorance of the legacy of anti-Jewish discrimination is widespread, and the intensified campaigns in recent years to expose and root out the invidious stereotypes, biases, and bigotries that pockmark American society have sometimes left anti-Semitism out. As currently drafted, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act would do little to ward off anti-Semitism and risks instead fueling a partisan shouting match that uses anti-Semitism to score political points and would only fan the flames of conflicts over Israel on U. Lawmakers, Jewish communities, and civil and human rights advocates should focus instead on more targeted and effective approaches to combating this rising scourge.

In its most recent count in , the FBI recorded anti-Semitic incidents, a 37 percent spike over , more than double the annual increase for hate crimes overall.

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Anti-Semitic echoes have also sounded in our public discourse, most prominently in relation to Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota. A strong advocate of Palestinian rights, Omar has commented on U.


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Some critics doubted that Omar could have trafficked in such stereotypes unwittingly. Yet research about the nature of implicit bias support the notion that beliefs about other races and religions can be implanted at a very young age based on a diffuse, almost ineffable set of messages from varied sources, operating at a subconscious level, beyond the reach of reason.

Omar was born in Somalia, a country where anti-Israel views are fairly common. Her base of support is on the political left, where the views she expressed are unfortunately fairly widespread. Any newly elected national official will have some blind spots and hold viewpoints that are rooted in their background and support base.

To her credit, Omar has apologized for the offensive overtones of her remarks and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be educated on the history of anti-Semitic tropes. Despite her disavowals of anti-Jewish animus, outrage toward her has mounted on the political right, sparking comments derisive of her Muslim faith and resulting in death threats. Rather than reciprocal demonization and false equivalencies, leaders in Congress should be searching for common ground on how to address anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of intolerance.

Ted Cruz and television talk show host Meghan McCain, both of whom accused her of bearing a measure of blame for the rampage. Such accusations are as outlandish as they are irresponsible.

To impute a causal connection between speech you disagree with, or even that which deeply offends you, and individual acts of violence is an invitation to censorship and repression. Neither Omar nor the vast majority of her critics have come anywhere near advocating or justifying violence.

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Unfortunately, the political debate over anti-Semitism is increasingly marked with heated rhetoric and political point-scoring. These controversies have given new momentum to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, first passed by the Senate in and recently reintroduced. Members of Congress want the public to see them taking action, but that impulse risks creating government policies that make the problem worse, not better.

Despite its encompassing name, rather than tackling the question of anti-Semitism broadly, as it should, the act homes in exclusively on college campuses. While many opponents of the act have argued that it would penalize speech censuring Israel, that charge is overstated.

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The problem with the act is not that its definition of anti-Semitism is wrong or rigid but that it leaves out a wide range of blatantly anti-Semitic symbols and tropes that are rampant on social media and in political campaigns. Some of these noxious symbols and images have even been invoked by those who now count themselves among supporters of the act. Imposing such a detailed legal definition of a form of bigotry is unhelpful and risks a series of unintended effects. First off, no such definition can be truly comprehensive, nor should it be frozen in time.

In the social media age, new manifestations of bigotry arise every day. Over the last few years, for example, triple parentheses have been used to stigmatize Jews online, and associations with the Jewish philanthropist George Soros have been brought up to discredit social and political movements. Rather than enshrining a static definition into law, new laws or policies are needed to ensure that civil rights investigators, law enforcement officials, and even members of Congress are trained and educated in the widest breadth of manifestations of bigotry, including regular updates on how they evolve.

Debates over Israel policy and anti-Semitism on college campuses and beyond are already highly charged and divisive; the act would inflame those tensions by feeding into existing perceptions that criticisms of Israel are unfairly stifled. Another problem with the act is vagueness.

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While some criticism of Israel is clearly inflected with anti-Semitic bias, it is equally true that some is not. As written, the definition could punish perfectly legitimate speech calling upon Israel to better its treatment of the Palestinians if it does not make similar demands of other countries accused of injustice.


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  • But in the context of a discussion specifically focused on Israel, failing to mention mistreatment of minorities in China, Iran, or Russia would not be evidence of bias. By mandating consideration of such examples, the law invites false positives involving speech that matches the description in the act yet evinces no anti-Semitism at all.

    It could also have a chilling effect on free speech.

    Congress’s Anti-Semitism Act Won’t Stop Hate Crimes Against Jews

    Indeed, universities could be tempted to clamp down on legitimate speech for fear that even borderline anti-Israel rhetoric might invite a federal probe. By targeting speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, the application of the law would also invite constitutional challenge. It is also a slippery slope. If civil rights enforcers are required to consider a highly detailed definition of anti-Semitism, other groups will naturally seek legal recognition for manifestations of bias against their groups as a way to ensure their own equivalent protection under the law.


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    • Nearly 19 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in targeted Muslims; at times that percentage has been even higher, fanned by geopolitics, hateful rhetoric, and international incidents. If the federal government were to prepare an inventory of Islamophobic tropes, Muslim-Americans who view any depictions of the Prophet Mohammed as offensive might include it on the list, yet the State Department has fought vociferously against a ban on such images, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment and international protections for freedom of speech.

      Nearly half of all Americans cannot name a single concentration camp. Sixty percent of the hate crimes documented by the FBI in were motivated not by religion, but by race or ancestry. The Confederate flag is widely viewed as a racist symbol but remains incorporated in the state flag of Mississippi. Debates over Israel policy and anti-Semitism on college campuses and beyond are already highly charged and divisive; the act would inflame those tensions by feeding into existing perceptions that criticisms of Israel are unfairly stifled. Another problem with the act is vagueness.

      While some criticism of Israel is clearly inflected with anti-Semitic bias, it is equally true that some is not. As written, the definition could punish perfectly legitimate speech calling upon Israel to better its treatment of the Palestinians if it does not make similar demands of other countries accused of injustice.

      But in the context of a discussion specifically focused on Israel, failing to mention mistreatment of minorities in China, Iran, or Russia would not be evidence of bias. By mandating consideration of such examples, the law invites false positives involving speech that matches the description in the act yet evinces no anti-Semitism at all. It could also have a chilling effect on free speech. Indeed, universities could be tempted to clamp down on legitimate speech for fear that even borderline anti-Israel rhetoric might invite a federal probe.

      By targeting speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, the application of the law would also invite constitutional challenge. It is also a slippery slope. If civil rights enforcers are required to consider a highly detailed definition of anti-Semitism, other groups will naturally seek legal recognition for manifestations of bias against their groups as a way to ensure their own equivalent protection under the law.

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      Nearly 19 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in targeted Muslims; at times that percentage has been even higher, fanned by geopolitics, hateful rhetoric, and international incidents. If the federal government were to prepare an inventory of Islamophobic tropes, Muslim-Americans who view any depictions of the Prophet Mohammed as offensive might include it on the list, yet the State Department has fought vociferously against a ban on such images, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment and international protections for freedom of speech.

      Nearly half of all Americans cannot name a single concentration camp. Sixty percent of the hate crimes documented by the FBI in were motivated not by religion, but by race or ancestry. The Confederate flag is widely viewed as a racist symbol but remains incorporated in the state flag of Mississippi. Could displaying that flag on campus be cited in a civil rights complaint? Should it be? The prospect of trying to legislate every possible manifestation of bias is absurd.

      Members of Congress are right to double down on the fight against anti-Semitism, but they should focus instead on practical measures to address this menace. Education is one obvious need. A survey revealed that 41 percent of millennials thought 2 million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust and that nearly half of all Americans cannot name a single concentration camp. A bipartisan bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney would create Department of Education grants to support such programs.

      Hate crimes of all types are notoriously underreported, making FBI statistics incomplete, undermining trends analysis, and slowing law enforcement response. New policies could address these gaps by investigating the causes of underreporting and activating and incentivizing law enforcement to take action in jurisdictions where the most egregious underreporting is suspected. The Justice Department and law enforcement agencies across the country need more resources and additional coordination to break the dangerous link between hateful online ideologies and hate-driven crimes.

      Such measures would help combat anti-Semitism while also strengthening the fight against other forms of bigotry and hatred. Congress should also restore slashed funding for effective programs aimed at countering violent extremism. If lawmakers are truly committed to fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic and religious intolerance, they should begin by dropping the ad hominem attacks and modeling respectful debate that is both devoid of anti-Semitic animus and does not prejudge all criticism of Israel as suspect. State Department.

      Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola. Western governments are guilty of a double standard when it comes to policing digital hate culture. If they want to prevent the next attack, they need to recognize the threat of online white supremacists and act to stop them. Hateful chants were notably absent when Tottenham played Ajax—but opponents of the two self-proclaimed Jewish teams routinely pelt them with neo-Nazi slogans.

      Sign up for free access to 1 article per month and weekly email updates from expert policy analysts. Create a Foreign Policy account to access 1 article per month and free newsletters developed by policy experts. Thank you for being an FP Basic subscriber. To get access to this special FP Premium benefit, upgrade your subscription by clicking the button below. Thank you for being an FP reader. To get access to this special FP Premium benefit, subscribe by clicking the button below. Congregants and other members of the public attend a funeral service at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue for Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed in a shooting during a service there on April 29, in Poway, California.

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      Animus toward Jews is taking root in a new generation. View Comments. Tags: antisemitism , U. Congress , U. More from Foreign Policy. Americans Should Take Note. Jihadis Go to Jail, White Supremacists Go Free Western governments are guilty of a double standard when it comes to policing digital hate culture. Argument Bharath Ganesh.

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