Cohen: Anti-Semitism still alive, should not be overlooked


Julia Cohen, Columnist

When I joined The Daily Northwestern, I wanted to avoid writing emotional articles. I wanted to explore my passion for political and economic analysis and become a serious writer.  I cannot avoid emotional writing anymore because today, I am terrified. My Jewish brothers and sisters in Europe are under attack, and the possible reasons for it are even more disturbing.

Before I begin, I want to preface by saying Jews are not the most at-risk group in the Western world. Our situation is small compared to the mass-incarceration of African-Americans or growing anti-Islamic movements. The Jewish people, myself included, have higher standards of living and more wealth than most – the median household net worth of Jewish Americans is $443,000, while the median in the United States overall is $99,500. However, this does not mean that we do not still face significant problems. I am not asking my readers to pity the Jews as the “privileged model minority.” I am only asking you to think critically about how we relate religion, culture, fear and hate.

What worries me is today’s anti-Semitism is either related to Jewish wealth and power or simply misinformation. With increased tension in the Gaza region, Europe began to see a spike in protests reminiscent of attitudes towards Jews in the 20th century. In one German marchprotesters shouted, “Jew, Jew! Cowardly pig,” in the streets. Activists yelled, “Death to Jews,” as they stormed a kosher supermarket in Paris. However, there is a huge difference between Jews and Israel. While Israel is the Jewish state, it does not represent the ideals and beliefs of all Jewish people. To assume that they are the same is to generalize. This misconception leads me personally in two different paths.

First, it may be that the Gaza conflict is simply a release for people who have felt this way since the Great Recession. Abraham Foxman, a prominent Jewish lawyer and the director of the Anti-Defamation League, explains that periods of anti-Semitism will often follow periods of economic distress. Canards about Jews, money and greed begin to resonate when a sector thought to be controlled by Jewish people catalyzes an economic downfall. However, it is not widely accepted today to blame the Jews for the world’s problems.  It is much easier to make anti-Semitic statements under the guise of protecting a minority group.

However, this may just be conjecture. It may be that individuals do not understand the difference between Jewish people and Israelis. While there are definitely some who unwaveringly support Israel’s actions, many Jewish people, even if just at dinner conversations, are unafraid to discuss the issues surrounding the Palestinian occupation, myself included.  At the same time, many do not understand Israel’s complex history. There are many Islamic and Christian states. There is only one Jewish state, and it is the only state with full representation in the United Nations that has its right to exist routinely questioned. That fundamental fact often gets lost in discussion about Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip. While it does not justify all Israeli actions, I feel that it does justify its focus on a strong military presence and pre-emptive actions against neighboring states.

Many people move away from religion in college. I moved toward it. Although I do not attend Synagogue during the holidays as I would like, I find myself looking to Torah portions for guidance and yearning to learn more about my heritage.  I find myself having faith in God when all else fails and wanting to make connections with those who share my sentiment.  I am told when I try to talk about anti-Semitism in the West to “check my privilege,” or that we are part of the machine fueling inequality. I am told that we are always the oppressors, never the repressed. I am terrified knowing I may not be able to discuss my Judaism without taunts, or worse, violence.

Julia Cohen is a SESP sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].