By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
One week after the Hamas slaying of hundreds of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, Vice President Kamala Harris released a video on social media. She was emphatic that the Biden administration would do everything it could to “protect Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim from hate, bigotry, and violence. And to address the concern that some government policies may discriminate against Muslims.”
This is the second of a two-part series on the rise of antisemitism in America.
Harris announced at roughly the same time that FBI Director Christopher Wray was testifying before a congressional committee on Oct. 31, that anti-Semitism was nearing “historic” highs in the U.S.
Republicans and other staunch defenders of Israel quickly picked up on Wray’s warning and blasted Harris for announcing an initiative to protect Muslims but not Jews. That Harris and Biden’s attempt at being even-handed in battling antisemitism and Islamophobia was roundly criticized was no surprise.
The issue of antisemitism stirred passions and fears that were too deep to be seemingly put on the same level as anti-Muslim hostility.
It was not just the pain and shock of the Hamas attack that stirred resentment. In its annual hate crimes report the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League which compiled annual figures on antisemitic incidents had warned that antisemitic threats, harassments, slurs and physical attacks had been on a five-year sharp upturn.
Even without the numbers and latest warning, antisemitism had always lurked close to the surface in American society and had been a troubling point of tension, debate, and concern among Jewish advocacy groups in the U.S. There were just too many Americans who deeply believed one or many more of the long-standing embedded stereotypes about Jews that almost always came back to the favored vile knock that Jews supposedly controlled everything from the media to America’s finances.
The quantum leap in the number of white nationalist groups in the wake of President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House was no coincidence. He openly pandered to one of the top alleged Holocaust deniers and an avowed white nationalist, Nick Fuentes, when he had a dinner with him at Mar-a-Lago in November 2022. Trump, of course, back-pedaled fast when the predicted furor over his cozy up to Fuentes hit. He posted a blunt, “I didn’t know Nick Fuentes” on his Truth Social media site. He knew, but even if he didn’t know all of the antisemitic slurs Fuentes spewed, the fact that Trump was in the same space with him gave a quasi-respectability to an antisemite.
The hideous well-spring of racial and ethnic polarization, division and overt hostility Trump further fueled ensured that many of the old stereotypes would once again rise to the surface. While Blacks remained at the top of the list of targets of hate crimes, Jews were not far behind. The almost infinitesimal numbers made the targeting even more glaring.
Blacks made up a far bigger percentage of the population than Jews. Overall, Jews made up only about 2% of the general population.
The century-old history of antisemitism in America took yet another bizarre turn in the Trump era. Jews now were placed aside Blacks and Hispanics as the one group that was out to replace whites as the major political and economic favored groups in America.
“Great Replacement theory is the notion that people from minority populations, both here and in Europe, are replacing the existing white, largely Christian [population],” said Larry Rosenthal, lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies.
It was more than just a wacko, half-baked, paranoid theory. It had deadly consequences. Several serious acts of physical attacks were attributed to individuals who spouted on websites and in scribblings the writings of replacement theory advocates.
One of whom, Payton Gendron, who burst into a Buffalo supermarket and gunned down 10 African American shoppers in 2022, was a fanatical adherent of white nationalist hate ideology.
Biden took some heat from hard-right Republicans for allegedly catering to Muslims in the aftermath of the Gaza attack. The spur for the attack was Harris’s announcement that the Biden administration would implement new measures to counter Islamophobia. But five months before the attack, in May 2023, Biden made clear that antisemitism was a deadly threat.
“By seeking to turn the masses against the few, by scapegoating and dehumanizing others — and most of all — by stoking violence, the perpetrators of hate aim to upend our most cherished values and undermine our efforts to build a culture of respect, peace, and cooperation,” he said while announcing the formation of the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
“Protecting the Jewish community from antisemitism is essential to our broader fight against all forms of hate, bigotry and bias — and to our broader vision of a thriving, inclusive and diverse democracy,” Biden further noted.
Biden understood that the century-plus battle against antisemitism in America was not just a battle that could and should be waged by Jews alone. It was and as the repeated surges through the years in antisemitism showed it’s a battle that must continue to be fought.
The old saw scratch an antisemite and underneath there’s a racist was a truism that was horridly shown time and again. The Gaza blowback that put antisemitism back on America’s table was once more a reminder of that truism about the pervasive and deadly consequence of antisemitism to one and all.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show at 9 a.m. Saturday on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.