[STAFF EDITORIAL] Antisemitism is on the rise. Let’s do something about it.

It’s a regular school day at SPA. Students walk the halls in passing time between classes. The hustle and bustle distracts most everyone, so it’s difficult to hear the antisemitic microaggressions in dialogue between two students. But one of their classmates hears it. She is Jewish and though she has heard inappropriate jokes before, her stomach still drops like it always does. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel so secure in her religious identity. Suddenly, she feels alone.

Antisemitism is on the rise on a local, national and global scale. The spread poses a serious threat to the Jewish population and must be confronted before it spirals even further. In 2022 so far, 452 antisemitic incidents have been recorded in the United States by the Anti-Defamation League. During the same time frame (January to November) of last year, the count was significantly lower, at 306 incidents. Within Minnesota, antisemitic acts have also been noticeable. For example, there was an incident in the summer of 2022 where antisemitic flyers were left around the Highland Park neighborhood in St. Paul. Though antisemitism is not a new hatred, it is clearly reaching new heights. The question is, why?

Antisemitism (hostility, hatred, or discrimination towards Jews), has been around for nearly two millennia. Throughout history, antisemitism has presented itself on a massive scale through events such as the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of approximately six million Jews. More recently, the increase in antisemitic issues has been due in part to the controversy over Israel and military conflicts in the Middle East. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle, and ultimately, antisemitism is deeply rooted in xenophobia and misperceptions about Jewish people.

In recent years, antisemitism has been shown through horrific physical violence like shootings at synagogues and bomb threats at community centers. Additionally, through the growth of social media, antisemitism has taken to digital platforms. Antisemitic remarks coming from individuals with broad platforms, either because of their celebrity status or social reach, can motivate and mobilize extremist groups to act in violent and discriminatory ways.

Additionally, these social media posts can reach student audiences. As teenagers who are still forming opinions about the world, it is crucial for students to be mindful of the media they are consuming because it can have a serious impact on what behaviors they believe are acceptable. Exposure to this kind of media also has detrimental consequences for Jews, who will likely feel insecure in their identity and afraid of having their religious differences weaponized against them.

Looking inwards at the SPA community, antisemitic microaggressions are ever-present. Though they have primarily been on a small scale, acts like inappropriate jokes and insensitivity towards Jews and their experiences can have a real impact. Antisemitic and xenophobic ideologies are the cause of these actions and the base of a larger systemic pyramid of discrimination. Though these behaviors often start small, they have the potential to grow out of control if not addressed.

The Office of Intercultural Life created a survey about identity in the 21-22 school year. According to the self-reported data collected, 9.2% of the 382 student and faculty participants identified as Jewish. It is vital that this 9.2% feels safe and respected in the SPA community. As the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy states, “SPA is committed to the principles of diversity, and strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, gender identity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identity.”

This commitment must be honored by all students, teachers and administrators to eliminate antisemitic microaggressions in the community. Adults in particular have the power to make sure that school rules, policies and values are upheld. This can involve pointing out student behaviors to them directly and/or to administration. The support of the faculty can make a big difference in creating a space free of hate speech, discrimination and other inappropriate actions.

Students, too, have a significant role to play in creating change. Often, the antisemitic jokes and comments occur in casual conversation between students, and thus, get overlooked. When someone says something that is hateful, call them out for it. Holding each other accountable is the first step to changing behavior in the future.

When someone says something that is hateful, call them out for it. Holding each other accountable is the first step to changing behavior in the future.”

 

Another critical step to take in eliminating antisemitic microaggressions from the school community is getting student-leaders involved. The Committee for Community Conduct is designed to hear cases ranging from repeated minor offenses to breaches of major school guidelines, reinforce expectations and develop restorative solutions. However, C3 has been less active recently, hearing only one case in the past four years. Antisemitism certainly goes against school guidelines, therefore it would be valuable for these incidents to be brought to C3 moving forward.

There is a myriad of ways to address and eliminate antisemitism. Everyone plays a role in solving this issue. However, it is important to avoid leaving all the work to student affinity groups like Mishpacha or other Jewish individuals. Their struggle is not one to take on alone, and moving in a direction of positive change is a task for all to be involved in. Seek education about Judaism and spread awareness about antisemitism. Apologize for past actions and stop inappropriate behaviors moving forward. All members of the SPA community must take responsibility for creating an inclusive, respectful space for everyone.