On October 7, 2023, the Israeli military failed to protect Israel’s border with the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.  Thousands of Arab fighters crossed freely into Israel to attack the towns and villages there.  They killed the men, slaughtered the children in front of their mothers, raped the women, and led them naked through the streets of Gaza to be humiliated in public and then beaten to death.  The gruesome Palestinian attack left 1,200 Israelis dead and 200 more kidnapped.

This orgy of Palestinian violence and sadism against Jews produced horror and revulsion in most sectors of American life, and expressions of concern and solidarity with Israelis.  But in the most Progressive venues of American life, the massive Palestinian pogrom in Israel produced celebration and anti-Israel protests.   

As soon as the stomach-turning videos began circulating worldwide on social media, the televised slaughter of Jews in Israel was celebrated by various Progressive organizations in America – Democratic Socialists of America (the largest socialist organization in the United States) and a few labor unions, Black Lives Matter groups, and student clubs in Ivy League universities.   Large American cities soon saw large pro-Palestinian rallies that stunned American news audiences. 

On campus, the national chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine called the spree of murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance.” Progressive professors in Ivy League universities likewise issued grotesque responses – one (Cornell) said the Arab slaughter of Jews that day was “exhilarating,” another (Columbia) saw it as “awesome,” another (Yale) called it “an extraordinary day,” and another (Harvard) blamed Israel for the Palestinian atrocities.  At the Cooper Union (a prestigious New York City college), campus police had to lock a small group of Jewish students in the school library to protect them from pro-Palestinian demonstrators, who then tried to force their way into the library.

In the face of silence and acquiescence from university administrations and academic associations, the scope and volume of campus antisemitism has intensified further since those early days.  Such stark antisemitism leaves American Jews shaken and bewildered about their place in American society generally, and particularly in the Democratic Party.  Jews recognize stories about angry mobs chasing and beating Jews on the street, marking Jewish homes with swastikas and Stars of David, and calling for the murder of Jews as memories that their grandparents recalled from the old country, during the darkest days of the 20th century.  They themselves have never experienced such sights, and never imagined they would ever witness them in America.  Moreover, they never expected that their friends and allies on the Progressive left would remain silent, and even justify or cheer the murder and rape of Jews in Israel.

But observers of higher education question how American Jews can be surprised by these developments.   No doubt the intensity of antisemitic rhetoric and violence on campus has risen to a fevered pitch, but antisemitism has been on display in American universities for a long time.  These institutions have a quite-prominent record of bigotry and discrimination toward disfavored groups (such as Asian-Americans).  The BDS movement – which supports economic and diplomatic sanctions against Israel and Israelis, and opposes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – has thus easily found a home on college campuses.  

For the past three decades, news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has repeatedly prompted BDS resolutions in elite American universities (such as Harvard, Brown, Columbia, George Washington, Northwestern, University of Michigan, and University of California), as well as academic associations (American Anthropological Association, American Studies Association, Association for Asian American Studies, Middle East Studies Association, Association for Humanist Sociology, and National Women’s Studies Association).  Universities and academic societies have thus long applied to the Jewish state a standard and a treatment they apply to no other state.   

Moreover, student organizations too at times submit Jewish students to BDS tests.  Progressive Jews wishing to take part in campaigns to support women, African-Americans, gays, transgenders, and illegal immigrants often find themselves working with organizations that openly support antisemitic movements like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and therefore expect Jewish students to establish their bona fides by denouncing the Jewish state. 

What is new about the “new” antisemitism, therefore, is not the antisemitism, but the fact that it compels Jews to realize that they cannot escape their connection to Israel, because the attack against Zionism inevitably includes them.  Israel’s enemies and Israel friends alike regard American Jews as Zionists.  American Jews are thus made to understand that distancing themselves from Israel, from the Jewish community, and from Judaism cannot shield them from antisemitism, because non-Jews see all Jews as one people; one family.  

The “new” wave of antisemitism in the West clarifies to Israeli Jews too that they cannot escape their fate in Israel by relocating to Europe or America.  They too cannot escape antisemitism by distancing themselves from Israel.  The antisemitic murder and mutilation spree in Israel and the antisemitic celebrations of it in America revealed to both Israeli and American Jews that despite their differences, they have a shared identity and a shared fate.  As always, it is non-Jews – in the Middle East, in Europe, and in America – who remind Jews that they are brothers.

The antisemitic protestors on America’s city streets and college campuses are thus making Jews who had not lived Jewish lives in decades come face to face with their Jewish identity in a way they never did before.  That is what is new in the “new antisemitism.”