The History of Modern Antisemitism in the U.S.

Many Americans think of antisemitism (bias against or hatred toward Jewish people) as being more or less limited to the Holocaust in Germany and, recently, the incendiary remarks of a few polarizing public figures. This isn’t altogether surprising, given that American antisemitism isn’t typically well covered in our nation’s schools and colleges. Yet the US has a long and well-documented history of anti-Jewish rhetoric, policies, and violence, many of which stem from the same baseless sources of fear and rage that motivated the Nazis.

Here’s what we all need to know about modern antisemitism in the US.

Leading Into World War II

One reason that Americans are largely ignorant of their own antisemitic past is that the US assisted the Allies during World War II and helped to defeat Nazi Germany, whose Holocaust resulted in the murders of 6 million Jews. Since then, domestic school curricula, news media, and popular movies have primarily highlighted American heroism abroad while ignoring the extreme anti-Jewish climate at home, which was prevalent leading up to and during the war.

In truth, the US only intervened halfway through the 6-year world war. During Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and ‘30s, the government enacted restrictive border policies designed to keep out a variety of “undesirable” (non-white non-Protestant) immigrants, including Central and Eastern European Jews. It even denied entry to over 900 refugees from Nazi Germany in 1939, almost a third of whom were ultimately murdered in the Holocaust. Further, Nazi race laws were directly inspired by the US’s enslavement and subsequent oppression of African Americans

During World War II, in fact, domestic antisemitic rhetoric and violence were so common that they were normalized: as of 1944, 60% of Americans said they routinely encountered anti-Jewish sentiments in social interactions. Meanwhile, over half a million American Jews served in the US armed forces and supported the Allies over the course of the war, which ultimately played a significant role in changing public opinion afterward.

After World War II

American antisemitism did decline sharply after the war, and various religious leaders worked to improve relations between Catholics, Protestants, and Jews as part of a new “Judeo-Christian” core of American identity. Slowly, the barriers that had kept American Jews out of many universities, professions, and housing markets were removed or reduced, and antisemitism became a more of a fringe phenomenon than a mainstream one. Nonetheless, an American Nazi Party emerged in 1959, and it would survive under various names and iterations for decades to come.

Another popular American misconception is that the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s centered solely on Black social justice. In reality, many Jewish communities were supportively involved in the movement, and the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups in the US dealt out public vitriol and violence against Jews along with Black Americans. As Hitler did in Nazi Germany, these groups blamed Jews for the corruption of white America, and they bombed synagogues and Jewish community centers in addition to terrorizing Black communities.

In the New Millenium

In the early 2000s, antisemitism began to increase again in Europe and elsewhere as a byproduct of complex factors like immigration patterns, Israeli-Palestinian violence, and a marked uptick in support for white supremacy. 

This has carried over to the US as well in the form of white nationalism and neo-Nazi sympathizing, and it has been sustained in part by a systemic failure to correct incomplete or whitewashed public education for all Americans. It has been aided and accelerated by Republican and far-right backlash against “political correctness,” which itself often stems from a sense of complacency and entitlement, or white fragility. However, it is also fueled by the anti-Israel sentiments of some leftist pro-Palestine and pro-Muslim groups. 

In the 2020s, prejudice and hate crimes against Jews reached an all-time high. 2022 saw the highest number of harassment, vandalism, and assault incidents in the US—3,679—since 1979. Although political and celebrity figures like Donald Trump, several high-profile GOP members, and Ye (formerly Kanye West) have gained the most attention for their overt antisemitism, they are merely the current face of a far more insidious problem: the re-normalization and re-legitimization of hatred for Jews.

In the early 20th century, Adolf Hitler constructed and propagated antisemitic conspiracy theories to misdirect the public into blaming Jews for Germany’s loss of World War I. Today, such conspiracy theories (including, but not limited to, Holocaust denial and the Great Replacement Theory) metastasize on social media, and they misdirect misinformed Americans into blaming Jews for any number of socioeconomic ills.

What You Can Do To Combat Antisemitism

You can help to combat American antisemitism by educating yourself about its history and sharing related information with others in your sphere of influence. You can also support legislation, political candidates, and community organizing efforts that work to eradicate bias and hatred toward Jewish communities. There are many nonprofits and other organizations that work to eliminate racism and marginalization of all kinds. You can volunteer with or donate to these kinds of nonprofits or to Jewish synagogues or community centers near you.

Combat American Antisemitism With ARCC

The Anti-Racism Commitment Coalition (ARCC) is an inclusive coalition of dedicated people committed to eradicating racism and spreading anti-racism throughout our communities, countries, and the world. We work to help and educate people on their transformative journey to anti-racism by providing access to related support and resources.

You can help us to build a racism-free world. Subscribe to receive news and updates about our work. Be sure to check out our newsletters and ARCC of Change podcast series. Show your commitment to anti-racism by purchasing ARCC merchandise or by making a donation

Join us today!