Anti-semitism in France and the US
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
When I mention that I speak and love all things French, it's not uncommon for someone to mention the purported high rates of anti-semitism in France. Five hundred thousand Jews live in France, giving it the largest Jewish population in Europe, and anti-semitic incidents, both small and deadly, occur every year. Setting aside the past complexities of Vichy France and those who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, and focusing on the current climate in France, I'm now wondering how does anti-semitism in France and in the US compare?
Anti-semitic acts in the US have risen 57% during the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Swastika graffiti appearing in public spaces and in Jewish cemeteries, defacement of synagogues and escalating alt-right tweets against Jews have become disgustingly common in our country. And on Saturday, a White Nationalist wielding an AR-15 assault rifle entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered 11 Jews in a spree of carnage. It's 2018 in the US, and it's reasonable to conclude that American Jews like me are now under attack.
How does France compare? In the past, I'd look at the far-right French candidate Marine LePen and her Nationalist Front, and I'd think: "that can't happen here." Well, we now have Trump in the White House. When White Nationalists marched in Charlottesville, VA in August, 2017 shouting "Jews will not replace us!" while carrying lit torches, did the US president condemn them? No. He said "there are good people on both sides." Anti-semitism in the US has clearly been edging closer to the European variety.
I was born in 1961 and raised in a Jewish home in the shadow of the Holocaust. My parents, both born in the US, and never victims of vicious persecution, taught me about Hitler and the Nazis from early age. I grasped the horror early on, but never experienced any overt anti-semitism. The sort of experiences my parents had--exclusion from certain colleges, conversations with realtors steering them from looking for homes in certain WASPy suburbs that basically had signs saying 'no Jews allowed,' law firms that did not hire Jews (even my rather brilliant dad)--were unpleasant but not threatening. Reformed, liberal Jews like my parents developed communities that felt welcome and secure. Growing up Jewish in suburban Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s was easy. I attended Barnard College in New York, where I was basically surrounded by Jews. I never felt threatened.
Let's jump forward to our current era.
One of the stranger phenomena to arise in the past few years--coinciding with the Trump administration--has been the use of these symbols to mark Jews on twitter: <<<Jewish person's name>>>. White nationalists began 'outing' Jewish journalists with these symbols. I say 'outing' because I, <<<Sarah Pressman Lovinger>>>, can generally spot the name of another Jewish person without these symbols, and I think my own name is obviously Jewish. I am married to <<<David Lovinger>>, after all. But White Nationalists started to mark Jews with these symbols on Twitter, a virtual yellow star for the social media age. When I learned about the use of these symbols while watching the Rachel Maddow show, I thought something had changed. The kind of anti-semitism happening in the US had moved up a notch. The level of anti-semitism in the US was now approaching levels in Europe.
No other American Jews have been murdered in hate crimes this week, but the online vilification of George Soros and other wealthy Jewish philanthropists continues. On Sunday, Rep Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is poised to become the next Speaker of the House if the GOP holds it, tweeted (and then deleted): “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA." Print anti-semitic acts are also make the news. Later in the week, The Hartford Courant reported that GOP state senate candidate Ed Charamut sent out a blatantly anti-semitic mailer featuring his opponent, Democratic state representative Matthew Lesser, looking to all the world like a money-grubbing Jew, a dated but familiar anti-semitic trope.
As an American Jew, I no longer feel wrapped in the safe cocoon of the my childhood and young adulthood. I feel like I am living in France, but without the delicious food, wine and pastries on every corner.
When George W. Bush was 're-elected' in 2004, I did a little research about moving to Canada. I learned that both Toronto and Montreal have Jewish populations of about 200,000, roughly equal to Chicago. I figured that I can tolerate very cold winters, and I speak French, so I could move to Canada with my family if it became necessary. I am no longer researching Canada or another destination. This time, I plan to stay and fight. I am an American, and together with my community, I know we can do better than this.