Is Anti-Semitism Normal in Today's Society?

Columnist and author Bari Weiss in conversation with Jake Tapper at 92Y

92Y /
Sep 16 2019 | 01:45 PM

New York Times columnist Bari Weiss never thought anti-Semitism could be so open and mainstream until recently when it hit home.

On Oct. 27, 2018, everything changed when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Or L'Simcha Congregation in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, the same shul where she became a bat mitzvah.

Weiss discussed the rise of anti-Semitism and her new book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” on Sept. 15 in a conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper at the 92nd Street Y. Weiss, 35, released the book this month.

“I reject the idea that Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism,” Weiss said to the attendees. “Jews have been the target of more anti-Semitism acts than any other religious groups since 1995 in the United States.”

She recalled the tragic day that took place in Pittsburgh almost a year ago. She received a text from her sister Suzy Lee Weiss that morning telling her there was a shooting at the Tree of Life and immediately her mind raced to her father, Lou Weiss, who often attended Shabbat services.

Fortunately, he was not there that day, but she knew seven people who were killed.

“I would say that my life sort of changed with that text message,” she said. “I thought that anti-Semitism was a thing that happened to Jews in other places.”

"Could it Happen Here?"

Weiss explained that even after the shooting by white supremacist Robert Bowers, she figured it was a onetime incident. But it happened again, six months later in California when another synagogue was attacked.

“I find myself asking questions I never asked before,” she stated. “Could it happen here? Anti-Semitism is becoming socially acceptable.”

She pondered if our society has regressed and Jews no longer can walk the streets of the city freely with their yarmulkes on without being persecuted. Recently, there were two incidents in Brooklyn where Jews were assaulted; a gay Jewish man was harassed in the city two weeks ago; and a student at Hofstra University in Hempstead experienced anti-Semitism.

She contended that there are two types of anti-Semitism: Hanukkah anti-Semitism and Purim anti-Semitism. On the holiday of Purim, Jews were openly persecuted and killed, just as how Hamas and white supremacists openly hate Jews and want to kill them.

The other form, she said, is more clandestine and similar to how the Syrians and Greeks treated the Jews and forced them to disavow their religion and worship Greek gods. According to Weiss, Hanukkah anti-Semitism was used by the Soviet Union. She also referred to the growth of anti-Semitism in the left-wing Labour party in Britain.

On Netanyahu and Trump

Weiss discussed Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (also known as BDS), a Palestinian-led campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as Israel's obligations under international law. Weiss said many progressive Jews support BDS, but may not know what it is.

She explained that just because she is critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this does not make her anti-Semitic. Weiss stressed that she is a Zionist and full supporter of the state of Israel.

Weiss also touched on President Donald Trump. She found Trump’s recent remarks that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal to Israel reprehensible and completely inaccurate. This is “ringing bells that can’t be un-rung,” she said.

As she looks ahead to the future, Weiss is definitely alarmed by the rise of anti-Semitism, but feels Jews will prevail.

“We survived because we had profound values and ideas to offer to the world,” she said.