Hasia Diner (New York University)
Today in America we hear repeatedly how anti-Semitism, once thought to have died out here, has been reborn. In an environment in which Jews participate in the society without limits, occupy almost any position they want, get their needs catered to in the political arena, and can be Jewish as they choose, the cry has gone up that anti-Semitism is on the rise. The Jewish press, the avalanche of mailings from Jewish organizations, their flow of electronic alerts, and the board meetings of Jewish institutions, all declare that anti-Semitism is every where, and getting stronger.
The organized Jewish world now refers to whatever it finds abhorrent, unacceptable, or even at times, just uncomfortable as anti-Semitism. Much of this stems from the issue of Israel, and in today’s American Jewish communal context, criticism of Israel has come to be defined as synonymous with anti-Semitism. Those who warn about the spread of anti-Semitism see American college campuses in particular as dangerous places where Jewish students cower in fear, believing that they cannot speak their minds.
How did this elision of anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel happen? How did anti-Semitism come to be so flattened out to have lost any meaning? When and how did the charge of “anti-Semitism” become ubiquitous and devoid of serious reflection or evidence as to render it as grotesque as it is now? What are the political and cultural implications of the sloppy use of the term? Where will such rhetoric lead? Historians might very well consider studying the ways in which the labeling of anti-Semitism has changed over time, thinking about this phenomenon against the backdrop of the rhetoric that resounds in the contemporary American Jewish world.