- Editors' Introduction
In the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump employed what many saw as antisemitic tropes in ads, tweets, and speeches. There was, for example, his campaign's use of the slogan, "America First," associated (perhaps especially by people like the readers of American Jewish History) with Charles Lindbergh's role as spokesman for the isolationist America First Committee, and his infamous 1941 Des Moines speech charging Jews' with trying to drag the country into war. There was a tweeted image of his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, against a backdrop of dollars with a prominent six-pointed star, proclaiming her the "most corrupt candidate ever." And there was the final ad in the campaign that featured two prominent Jewish financiers and a Jewish financial regulator as prime representatives of "global special interests."
The following year brought further alarming episodes. Early in 2017 dozens of bomb threats were made to synagogues and Jewish community centers across the country. Several Jewish cemeteries were vandalized. And at a series of demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in a mass rally in August, rightwing protesters chanted "Jews will not replace us," among other slogans.
Adding to American Jewish unease were ongoing controversies on college campuses, where, some charged, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist actions by leftwing students and faculty members often spilled over into more or less open antisemitism.
But none of these episodes were easily explained, and American Jews were divided in their reactions. After all, Donald Trump counted many Jews—including family members—as close advisors. And a substantial minority of American Jews, especially among the Orthodox and immigrants from the former Soviet Union, voted for him, often enthusiastically. The bomb threats turned out mostly to be the work of a mentally ill American-Israeli Jewish teenager (and, secondarily, a slightly less mentally ill non-Jewish journalist who wanted to pin them on his ex-girlfriend). And many Jewish academics and students denied that the atmosphere on campus was a particularly threatening one. It didn't seem that American Jews could even agree on a definition of antisemitism, let alone where the main source of the threat lay.
This was the backdrop to our decision as the then new co-editors of American Jewish History to plan a special issue on antisemitism in America. But we didn't issue a call for papers until the end of 2019, by which time deadly attacks had taken place at the Tree of Life Synagogue [End Page xi] in Pittsburgh, the Chabad center in Poway, California, a kosher grocery in Jersey City, and a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York. Added to these were a series of less lethal and largely unheralded assaults on Orthodox Jews on the streets of Brooklyn. The problem, sadly, was not going away.
The call for papers specified a number of possible topics for articles, including specific incidents of violence against Jews, or the role of violence in American antisemitism in general; discrimination against Jews in employment, housing, or higher education; antisemitism in particular social groups, including social elites, the working class, students, other ethnic or religious communities, etc., or opposition to antisemitism within those groups; the role of antisemitism in American politics, law and government; Jewish communal or individual responses to antisemitism or perceived antisemitism; Intellectual, literary or artistic expressions of, or opposition to, antisemitism; transnational aspects of American antisemitism; American antisemitism in comparative perspective; and antisemitism and other forms of hatred and racism in the United States.
The articles in this special issue join the ongoing debate over "American exceptionalism." As it applied to Jewish history, the exceptionalist paradigm held that the American experience was unique in that Jews secured equal citizenship from the start, without having to go through a long and uncertain process of emancipation. Moreover, in the exceptionalist view, America was different in that it lacked a strong tradition of outspoken, and especially of overtly political, antisemitism. In recent years, this latter claim has come under attack, as scholars point out that in many ways, American Judeophobia could be just as virulent, and just as damaging, as that found elsewhere—depending on exactly when and where. These scholars argue for the importance not only of...