The Fear of Religious Liberty
Essay by Richard Samuelson
Washington D. C., 03.08.2016 (Mosaic Magazine) – Not so long ago, doubts about the ability of Jews to live and practice Judaism freely in the United States would have been dismissed as positively paranoid: relics of a bygone era when American Jews could be turned away from restaurants and country clubs, when restrictive covenants might prevent their purchase of real estate or prejudicial quotas limit their access to universities and corporate offices.
None of that has been the case for a half-century or more. And yet recent developments in American political culture have raised legitimate concerns on a variety of fronts. To put the matter in its starkest form: the return of anti-Semitism, by now a thoroughly documented phenomenon in Europe and elsewhere around the world, is making itself felt, in historically unfamiliar ways, in the land of the free.
Statistics tell part of the tale. In 2014, the latest period for which figures have been released by the FBI, Jews were the objects of fully 57 percent of hate crimes against American religious groups, far outstripping the figure for American Muslims (14 percent) and Catholics (6 percent). True, the total number of such incidents is still blessedly low; but what gives serious pause is the radical disproportion.
The rise and spread of anti-Israel agitation, particularly on the nation’s campuses, is the most common case. Such agitation, expressed in the form of defamatory graffiti, “Israel Apartheid” demonstrations, and the verbal or physical abuse of pro-Israel students, feeds into and is increasingly indistinguishable from outright anti-Semitism. Even the most zealously “progressive” young Jews are targeted as accomplices-by-definition with the alleged crimes of Zionism. As one student who has fallen afoul of his campus’s orthodoxies has lamented, “because I am Jewish, I cannot be an activist who supports Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQ community. . . . [A]mong my peers, Jews are oppressors and murderers.” Such is the progressive doctrine of “intersectionality,” according to which all approved causes are interconnected and must be mutually supported, no exceptions and no tradeoffs allowed.
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Richard Samuelson is associate professor of history at California State University, San Bernardino and a fellow of the Claremont Institute.