THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: Middle East war sparks rise in antisemitism

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

The death of Paul Kessler in an alleged clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Westlake the first week of November ignited anger, fear and anxiety among many Jews in Southern California. And with good reason. 

This is the first of a two-part series on the rise of antisemitism in America

“When violent conflicts occur in the Middle East, there are those in the U.S. that exploit these horrifying events to inflame antisemitism,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “Now, we are seeing such a dizzying array of antisemitism online, on campuses and on the streets that it is testing the ability of researchers like me to keep track of it.”

This is not hyperbole. Beyond the anecdotal reports of threats, harassment, and actual attacks and even beyond the numbers compiled by the Anti-Defamation League and FBI that showed the surge in antisemitism in the country, Gaza was the spark that ignited the surge. 

This is far different than the endemic antisemitism which was a well-documented disgraceful part of America’s past and present. Antisemitism, it was evident, has always been part of American history.

“The latest outbreak of this plague of hatred is different from earlier outbreaks,” noted American University history professor Pamela Nadell, “Alas, what is unique is the extent of the antisemitic vitriol magnified horrifically on social media.” 

This is the lethal tag team of hate that is a by-product of Gaza and inflames social media.

The legion of Nazi and white nationalist hate groups are the near absolute masters of the malicious use of social media sites to pump their antisemitic messages with minimal to no prohibitions. They are also masters in ways to skirt the checks that were there. Their messages are effective.

The proof is in the steady stream of postings, always anonymously, that called for “Gasing the Jews” or an online threat to “shoot all you pig Jews.” The hideous irony is that there is no evidence in any of these hate sites that the avowed Jewish haters show any sympathy or concern about the plight of the Palestinians much less knew anything of consequence about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The Palestinians are just another convenient ploy to verbally, and in some cases worse, attack Jews.

Typical of this ignorance and indifference toward Palestinians but using them as an excuse to assail Jews is this classic example. The Los Angeles Police Department launched a hate crime investigation against one man who shouted, “free Palestine,” “kill Jews” and “Israel kill people.”

FBI officials after a week of war essentially confirmed that much of the verbal and even physical threats and violence were made by unreconstructed anti-Semites playing off the Palestinians to spread their hate. “The volume and frequency of threats to Americans, especially those in the Jewish, Arab-American, and Muslim communities in the United States, have increased,” observed one top FBI official, “raising our concern that violent extremists and lone offenders motivated by or reacting to ongoing events could target these communities.”

There are two lethal signs that the deadly events in Gaza would make a bad situation worse. The first is that the Israeli-Hamas war would almost certainly continue to flare for a prolonged period. 

“These kinds of spikes in hate crimes are unlike 20 years ago because they are elongating,” Levin said. “We aren’t only seeing a higher number occur, but that increase is resilient and plateaus for longer. Or, after a period when hate crimes have gone down, we sometimes see them reignite like wildfire.”

As long as the war rages, it will remain at or near the top of the news with all the usual human tragic scenes of war and violence that stir people’s passions and emotions.

“When these kinds of world events take place, whether here or abroad, people feel strongly about them, “ said Frank Pezzella, John Jay College professor of criminal justice. “And when people have strong beliefs, they act out. They look at people in their neighborhoods and blame them for what is happening in the Middle East, or they blame all Asian people for what started in Wuhan, China.”

The second sign is the continued refusal of many police departments to keep accurate statistics on hate crimes and attacks in their cities. This assures that an incident or attack that may have been motivated by racial, gender or religious hate would not be categorized as a hate crime.

This further guaranteed that the number of hate crimes would be severely undercounted. The Kessler death in Westlake underscores this glaring flaw. 

There was no indication whether his death would be classified as a hate crime. This failing is yet another tormenting blowback from Gaza.

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 and the Pacifica Network.