The picture is depressingly grim across the European continent. Seeing a similar phenomenon arise in the U.S. feels for many European Jews like a scary déjà vu, confirming to Jews on both sides of the Atlantic just how bad the situation has become.
Two recent studies from the American Jewish Committee—one in France with the Foundation for Political Innovation, a French think tank, and one in the U.S. with SSRS, a leading polling firm—showed heightened anxiety among Jews. In France, 70 percent of Jews have personally experienced anti-Semitism, while in the U.S., a staggering 35 percent of the Jewish population reported that they had been the target of anti-Jewish hatred over the past five years.
A third of the respondents, both in France and in the U.S., said that they had taken concrete steps to hide their Jewish identity, including not displaying visible Jewish symbols and refraining from wearing traditionally Jewish clothing in public.
The question in Europe, and also in the U.S., is: Why is this happening now?
The causes are multiple but, most important, the rising anti-Semitism seems to be the symptom of a crisis in the current system of liberal, pluralist democracies around the world. Democracies thrive on shared values, political debate, and compromise. Majorities and minorities must respect one another. And everyone, while leaving space for debate, should at least rally around a shared vision, finding ground for common ideals rather than focusing on divisions
But unfortunately, we are living in a time of identity politics, conspiracy theories, and lies. The ties that once united our societies—truth, an idea of the common good—are falling apart. Dialogue and compromise, the essence of our communities, are dysfunctional. Radical rhetoric on the left and the right is the political language of the day, aided—and, one might even argue, provoked—by the echo chambers of Big Data and social media.
Extremists, whether religious or political, subscribe to exclusive ideologies based on the conviction that they possess the absolute truth. At a time of instability and change, they are looking for purity and authenticity, as the French author Marc Weitzmann has argued. Whether for Islamists striving for religious purity, the far right striving to be “true Americans” or “true Germans,” or even the far left seeking to rid the world of “imperialists,” Jews are and always have been the perfect scapegoats.
Read: Is it time for Jews to leave Europe?
In Europe, just as in the U.S., anti-Semitism is multifaceted. It is entrenched in parts of the left where an irrational aversion to Israel can lead to the embrace of anti-Semitic tropes. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the U.K. provides one example; statements made by Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota provide another.
As the former British Labour member of Parliament Ian Austin recently said in an interview with James Kirchick: “The idea that an institution as robust as the Labour Party and as important to Britain’s democracy could be so vulnerable to takeover by extremists and racists was unthinkable. But that should serve as a stark warning to people in the States that if that can happen in the Labour Party in the U.K., it can happen here.”