The rise of antisemitism in America


Audrey Turley

The star of david, made of two triangles opposing each other, is a symbol of Judaism.

It’s a quiet morning in downtown St. Louis at the FBI office on Nov. 5, 2021. The static of the morning is quickly dispersed as a dial tone loudly rings. The dispatcher cautiously picks up the handset while the man on the other line is silent. After a sharp inhale, he delivers his message. “I’m going to blow up a synagogue, I just feel like killing Jews.”

Cody Rush, the St. Louis man who was recorded that day, was sentenced to 30 months in prison nearly a year later according to the Department of Justice. Rush was reported to be standing outside a synagogue when he made the call to the FBI office. He was charged with one count of using a telephone to make a threat, to which he later pleaded guilty. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an institution that tracks anti-semetic hate, the number of threats against Jewish institutions rose 61% from 2020 to 2021. According to their annual report on antisemitism, hate crimes against Jewish people are at an all-time high.

[But] I think it’s important to hold your friends accountable if they say something anti-semetic.

— Ethan Fisher

Regional Director of the ADL, Jordan Kadosh, said the increase of antisemitism is a consequence of popularizing anti-semetic stereotypes in the media. Kadosh also said extremists began populating spaces where young people gather, like video games and online forums, to promote anti-semitism.

“[Social media] has been an awful tool for extremists,” Kadosh said. “Someone can reach millions of people with a push of a button, and [the ADL] has been able to correlate real-world consequences to online behavior.”

Mehmet Wilson, sophomore, said part of the rise in antisemitism was a consequence of hip-hop artist Ye (formerly known as Kanye) West’s public anti-semetic attacks. Psychologist Dr. Kevin Cokley wrote in Psychology Today that Ye’s bipolar disorder likely contributed to his actions, but stressed that Ye’s decisions still carried weight regardless of his mental health status. 

“[Because] everybody loves his music, people are always following what he’s doing,” Wilson said. “He’s got the platform to say terrible things about Jewish people.”

When someone who you admire or want to emulate comes out and says [antisemitism is] okay, [it] creates a permission structure,

— Jordan Kadosh

Kadosh said antisemitism has become more of a physical threat, as more people are willing to act on their anti-semetic beliefs. In New Jersey, the ADL worked with law enforcement to arrest a 26-year-old man who firebombed a synagogue in late January. However, he said he hasn’t lost hope for young people fighting harmful online speech. 

“When someone who you admire or want to emulate comes out and says [antisemitism is] okay, [it] creates a permission structure,” Kadosh said. “Especially for people to not look over their shoulders and keep their voice down when [they hear something anti-semetic].”

Kadosh was critical of the mainstream media’s response to anti-semetic incidents. Specifically, Kadosh said the media doesn’t push back enough on anti-semetic incidents, and just covers them as news. 

In a recent report published by the ADL, the organization identified several hate groups like White Lives Matter and the Goyim Defense League that had used Ye’s remarks and the widespread coverage to justify their extremist beliefs. 

It’s your responsibility to call them out.

— Ethan Fisher

Wilson, who bounces back and forth between his apartment in Istanbul, Türkiye and St. Louis said the antisemitism he sees in the U.S. is a cultural issue. He said the issue itself is not helped by the rise of influencers and their perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. 

“These influencers don’t have a backbone,” Wilson said. “They act like there’s all these big issues to pretend they’re not guilty. It sets the precedent that it’s okay to do what you want if you can get away with it.”

Ethan Fisher, sophomore and Jewish student, said it was important to separate Ye’s music from his actions. Fisher said he was initially drawn in by Ye’s individualism. 

“In my [day-to-day] life, I don’t see much antisemitism,” Fisher said. “[But] I think it’s important to hold your friends accountable if they say something anti-semetic. You hold a lot of power to stop people from saying [hurtful] stuff.”

Fisher also said it was important to surround yourself with people who would challenge your ideas, especially if they were harmful. The reality, Fisher said, is that anti-semetism is populated in circles where hateful behavior isn’t called out. 

“We can’t let [extremists] use Ye’s actions for [hatred],” Fisher said. “Maybe they’re in your family, maybe they say [hurtful] things about Jewish people, it’s your responsibility to call them out.”