ITEM: In Oakland, California, a Jewish woman walks into her son’s seventh-grade classroom on back-to-school night to see a poster that says, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

ITEM: In New York City, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, angry pro-Palestinian crowds surround a Jewish man and bloody his head with a chair.

ITEM: In Philadelphia, hundreds mob a Jewish-owned restaurant, chanting, “Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide.” The restaurant is named Goldie.

ITEM: In Berkeley, California, the only Jewish teacher at an elementary school returns to find her door covered in Post-it notes that say, “Stop bombing babies!”

ITEM: In Chicago, home to the third-largest Jewish population in America, unions organize a high- school walkout in which students call for the destruction of Israel. “I’m incredibly proud of our students for exercising their constitutional rights to be able to speak out and speak up for righteousness,” said Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

ITEM: In Washington, D.C., attendees arriving at a concert by the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu are greeted by a pro-Hamas demonstration.

At school, at work, and at play, American Jews find themselves increasingly ostracized by their peers. On college campuses, the quiet reestablishment of unofficial quotas has, over the course of a generation or two, halved the Jewish enrollment at a selection of elite universities. These days, stories of higher education’s turn against the Jews are ubiquitous. But as the above examples demonstrate, the attempt to cast Jews and Judaism out from the public square—or make Jews extremely uncomfortable inside the public square—has spread far beyond the college quad. And the statistics unambiguously say the same.

In the American Jewish Committee’s comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism in 2023, respondents were asked: “In the past 12 months, have you avoided certain places, events, or situations out of concern for your safety or comfort as a Jew out of fear of antisemitism?” Twenty-six percent—a quarter of U.S. Jews—responded in the affirmative. That is a 10-point increase over last year. In the poll, the number of those who admitted to avoiding “wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might help people identify you as a Jew,” as well as those who said they “avoided posting content online that would identify you as a Jew or reveal your views on Jewish issues,” increased as well.

All of this reflects the modern reality across the country. FBI reports show Jews are the target of more than half of all religiously motivated crimes. According to the Anti-Defamation League, over the course of the three months after October 7, there were more than 600 reported anti-Semitic incidents against Jewish institutions. And the ADL found a nearly 50 percent increase in security costs for Jewish schools in New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

It’s a trend that began before October. A survey of hiring managers commissioned by in 2022 found that a quarter were less likely to move forward with the recruiting process with a candidate after learning that the candidate was Jewish. When asked how they could know the applicant was Jewish, the hiring managers had some interesting answers. One-third of the hiring managers said they were tipped off by a candidate’s Jewish-sounding last name. Twenty-six percent said they knew just by looking at them.

Those answers compel us to recall the last time America went down this road.


In her book People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn recounts the furious response she received once when she mentioned, in a lecture, that the common story of immigration officials changing Jewish family names at Ellis Island is a myth. Immigrants’ names were taken from ship manifests, which were compiled using the immigrants’ own passports. Inspectors were there to confirm, not record, each passenger’s name.

Name-changers in the early-20th century were often Jews, but they were much more likely to be already-settled middle-aged parents of children who were pursuing a trade or a degree in higher education. In 1932, according to the historian Kirsten Fermaglich, 65 percent of those petitioning to change their name had Jewish-sounding last names. Most of the name changes—for Jews and non-Jews alike—at this time were motivated by the desire “to abandon ‘foreign’ names that were ‘difficult to pronounce and spell’ and to adopt instead more ‘American’ names,” Fermaglich writes. “These individuals were hoping to shed the ethnic markers that disadvantaged them in American society by taking on unmarked, ordinary names that would go unnoticed.”

This came at a time when public opinion in the United States had been turning against immigrants for a decade. Especially Jewish immigrants. A restrictive immigration bill would become law (over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto) in 1917. Momentum would soon get rolling toward another, even more restrictive one in 1924. Because immigration law was country-of-origin focused, there could be no official “Jewish quota.” But there were quotas for the parts of Europe that Jews were seeking to leave, and those quotas could be reduced in favor of more “desirable” countries of origin.

“The Hebrew race… in spite of long residence in Europe, is still as it has always been an Asiatic race,” thundered prominent immigration restrictionist Prescott Hall. Bolshevism, he said, was a “movement of oriental Tatar tribes led by Asiatic Semites against the Nordic bourgeoisie.” The historian Howard Sachar quotes a U.S. foreign-service officer inveighing against the Polish Jews seeking to come to America: “They are filthy, un-American and often dangerous in their habits.” Most of them “lack any conception of patriotic or national spirit, and the majority of this percentage is mentally incapable of acquiring it.”

That last line was intended to convey the point that assimilation into American ways was impossible for Jews. Therefore, one was right to be suspicious of them—whether or not they were born in America. Thus no one with a Jewish-sounding last name was spared the suspicion that he might not ever be truly American. Clubs and hotels and even residential neighborhoods tightened their policies excluding Jews. In 1922, Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell repeatedly encountered potential donors who demanded to know how the president planned to “leave our university free of this plague.” Official quotas were still controversial, but the Ivies ultimately figured out the same thing the congressional crafters of immigration quotas did: You could limit your intake of Jews by adjusting geographic quotas. By the 1930s, Harvard had dropped its share of Jewish enrollment from over 25 percent to 10 percent, and Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Swarthmore had gotten their Jewish share into the single digits.

And what of the professions? Academic departments stopped or greatly reduced their hiring of Jews. Medical schools, too, enacted stricter limits than undergraduate programs. The student body at Columbia’s College of Physicians went from 50 percent Jewish to 6 percent, the latter number soon becoming the new average at medical schools. Overall, between 1930 and 1950, Jewish medical-school enrollment would fall by half.

Some of the most dramatic battles over professional opportunities took place in the practice of law. The rise of the white-shoe corporate law firm was itself a display of Protestant elitism. Unlike the practice of medicine, law was by its very nature infused with political influence. Gatekeeping access to the law offered prestige and power. Despite claiming to seek meritocracy above all, “in order to achieve elite professional status within the profession, the large law firm constituted itself as a Protestant-inspired institution, so it could translate elite religious status into elite professional status,” as a 2008 Stanford Law Review summary of the era put it.

Ironically, this state of affairs led to one of the great Jewish success stories: the “Jewish” law firm. It came into existence in response to the “elite” firms—and beat them at their own game. While the Protestant firms practiced meritocracy within a narrower pool of recruits, the Jewish firms practiced meritocracy with none of the religious identity politics. The talent pool was wider, and talent was rewarded. Additionally, the white-shoe firms studiously avoided “low-status” areas of law, including litigation and bankruptcy law. This allowed Jewish firms to thrive in these markets and then, once they grew in expertise and reputation, challenge the “elite” firms on their own ground. All of this is our American version of the historical Jewish story in which discrimination fuels adaptation. Repeatedly overcoming such odds is a point of pride for the Jewish people, but that pride must not erase the memory of the widespread discrimination that preceded the success. The point is not to hold grudges but to learn from our own history to recognize when these systems of unofficial discrimination materialize around us.

As they are now.


A century ago, public institutions tried to keep Jews out because of quiet social bigotry. Today, the clear aim of the anti-Semites is to firmly plant their suspicions in the public square. Eventually, as the post–World War II era settled in, the drawbridges were lowered and Jews once again thrived at elite universities and medical schools, not to mention in literature and art and entertainment. The mistake back then, today’s clever anti-Semites clearly understand, was relying on people themselves to continually refresh the spring of exclusion. The enemies of the Jews now seek to bypass that by codifying their characterizations of the Jewish people—in government resolutions, school curricula, and in some cases the return of loyalty oaths. They are re-waging the post-WWI battle against Jewish participation in American life while this time hoping to salt the earth behind them.

The day after Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson praised the public-school walkout for Gaza, he cast the tiebreaking vote to pass a city-council resolution synchronizing the city’s official position on a cease-fire in the Israel–Hamas war with that of the demonstrators. He was not the first or the last to do so.

In November, an Oakland city council meeting turned into a raucous carnival of blood libels. Before voting on a cease-fire resolution, which was ultimately unanimously passed, a council member suggested adding language condemning Hamas. A chilling public-comment period followed. “Israel murdered their own people on October 7,” said one resident who was, like many of her fellow Oaklanders, keffiyeh-clad for the occasion. Many read statements likely prepared for them by pro-Hamas advocacy organizations. “Calling Hamas a terrorist organization is ridiculous, racist, and plays into genocidal propaganda that is flooding our media and that we should be doing everything possible to combat,” said one. “I support the right of Palestinians to resist occupation, including through Hamas, the armed wing of the unified Palestinian resistance,” recited another. “The notion that this was a massacre of Jews is a fabricated narrative,” yet another dutifully read from her phone. One man compared Hamas to a battered wife. A woman asked: “Did anyone else notice that those who oppose this resolution are old white supremacists?”

“It was the most antisemitic room I have ever been in,” Tye Gregory, head of the area’s Jewish Community Relations Council, told a Jewish newspaper. In February, Gregory explained to Reuters that the cease-fire resolutions “are not only fanning the flames of hate, they’re creating stronger tensions.” This is true, and it’s part of the strategy. The resolutions have only one material effect: to incite a parade of anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists to read their fever dreams into the public record, and then have the council vote to align the city with those kooks.

It’s become popular. That Reuters article surveyed the landscape of municipal intervention into the Arab–Israeli conflict since October 7, and here is what it found: “At least 48 cities have passed symbolic resolutions calling for a halt to Israel’s Gaza bombardment, with six others passing resolutions advocating more broadly for peace.” And city councils aren’t the only public bodies memorializing these lopsided priorities. Unions have leaped to the stage of these passion plays with aplomb. Oakland itself couldn’t wait. The Bay Area’s teachers’ union on October 27 posted an “official statement of solidarity” expressing its “unequivocal support for Palestinian liberation.” Let’s remember that the Palestinians in question are governed not by Israel but by Hamas, and that the “liberation” of which the union speaks entailed the crossing of Israel’s sovereign borders for the sole purpose of torturing and killing 1,200 innocents in their homes and as they listened to music, among them young children. Next, the union approved a resolution calling for the incorporation of this perspective into school curricula. An already hostile classroom atmosphere deteriorated further, and a genuine exodus commenced: Dozens of Jewish families requested and were granted transfer out of the school district.

Oakland’s success at driving its Jews from the public sphere inspired others. In January, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, school board got in on the act. It passed a resolution that equated Israeli and American hostages held by Hamas to Palestinians arrested on terrorism charges and then called for teachers to bring the conflict in the Middle East into their classrooms. The resolution was written by a local high schooler who wanted lessons based on the principle that “Palestinians are oppressed” to be taught to his peers. Yet again, Jewish parents began putting in transfer requests for their children.

One of the most prominent examples of the public unions’ transformation into Hamas propaganda outfits is the powerful Massachusetts Teachers Association. The statewide education union has made quite the journey since the war started. In November, the MTA called for a cease-fire. In December, it approved plans to build a curriculum around “Israel and Occupied Palestine” and then passed a resolution calling on the president to “stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

How might this all look in practice? To answer that, we can look to a webinar run by the MTA on educating youngsters in the ways of “anti-Zionism.” It included a presenter who had penned a worshipful ode to Hamas for its murder- and rape-fest on October 7. “When we do this together,” said one of the webinar’s other presenters, gender-studies professor Heike Schotten, “when we learn, and teach, and know about Zionism, both as settler-colonialism and as a very well-funded propaganda effort, we realize that these claims about anti-Semitism are lies.”

Jewish parents were horrified. “I heard a lot of these slogans on television when I was growing up in the former USSR,” Irene Margolin-Katz told the Times of Israel. “When I left the former USSR in the early 1990s, I never expected my own children in the United States of America to be impacted by propaganda in schools.”

Again, it must be stressed that these are public bodies and public schools giving Jew-baiting the imprimatur of the government.

No less dangerous is the manipulation of medical knowledge along similar lines. In the 20th century, medical-school quotas were aimed at limiting competition for non-Jews. In 2024, a disfiguration of the study and practice of medicine itself is under way, accelerated by events since October 7.

This past academic year, Princeton University offered a course in Near Eastern history that included among its required texts a book called The Right to Maim, by Jasbir Puar, a tenured professor at Rutgers. The story of Puar’s rise began in 2016 with a lecture she gave at Vassar College, in which she shared her thesis that Israel harvests Palestinian organs. The specific claims of Puar’s case have been debunked, of course—this is a classic blood libel. But rather than see her work rejected by her peers—who, after all, may not like Israel but were thought to respect the academic process—the lecture won her a book deal. The eventual product was published by Duke University Press. That her book is now included in the reading materials of Ivy League classes demonstrates the way pseudo-scientific anti-Semitism is becoming institutionalized.

If science has become politics, as in the Princeton case, then politics has also become science. UCLA’s medical school recently required its students to attend a lecture at which the speaker, masked and with her shoulders wrapped in a kaffiyeh, led the class in chants of “Free, free Palestine!” At Georgetown University Medical School, students have a habit of taking to social media to complain about their “Zionist colleagues.” In Zoom classes, students identify the Jews among them and message them “free Palestine” on the group chat during lectures. The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, also located in the nation’s capital, has a similar problem. A faculty panel at the school backed Hamas’s “resistance.” One student said even his classmates who are studying to be obstetricians and gynecologists were silent about Hamas’s use of rape as a tool of war. “This behavior is anathema to becoming a physician,” a Jewish professor at Georgetown’s medical school told the Times of Israel. “It’s antithetical to what they want to become. What will they do if they have to treat an Israeli patient or a Jewish patient?”

For the answer to that question, we might look to the recent news out of Britain, where a nine-year-old boy with a blood disorder is afraid to wear his yarmulke. The boy requires regular blood transfusions. On his recent visit to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital for a transfusion, it was reported in March, along with photographic evidence, that he wore his yarmulke and tzitzit. After the IV was inserted, two nurses wearing “Free Palestine” badges allegedly took his bed away and made him lie on the floor (again, there are photographs of this). For his next appointment, he left all visible indications of his religious practice at home and, his family said, was treated well. Unsurprisingly, he does not want to wear his yarmulke to the hospital any longer.

The National Health Service says it is investigating the incident. I’m not sure that is going to make British Jews feel much better. The Jewish Chronicle obtained records showing that since October 7, 66 medical professionals were reported to the General Medical Council for anti-Semitism on the job. Lest anyone think such reports are common or frivolous, in 2022 not a single such complaint was made. Jewish medical professionals are unnerved when their fellow doctors are posting online such messages as “I’ve always wanted to know why Hitler was hellbent on killing.”

Medicine is no more immune from the march of politics than any other discipline; it’s just that the stakes are so much higher in a field where ideological and nationalist zealots can decide whether or not a patient gets proper treatment. And the consequences cannot be contained to the classroom. The visibly, proudly Jewish director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learned that firsthand. In late January, the Washington Post revealed that the CDC had tried to send medical professionals to Egypt to join a team seeking to prevent disease outbreaks in Gaza, but they were kept at arm’s length by the World Health Organization. WHO was worried that Americans wouldn’t be trusted because the U.S. supports Israel. At around the same time, CDC staff began turning on the agency director, Mandy Cohen. After the Hamas attacks, Cohen had sent around an agencywide email decrying the loss of life. The Post makes sure to point out that Cohen “speaks frequently about the importance of her Jewish faith.” Her employees seem to have connected the two: 160 CDC staffers sent not one but two open letters criticizing her for the CDC’s absence in Gaza. The whole episode is what happens when conspiratorial identity politics get hold of the rank-and-file at perhaps the most important epidemiological agency in the world.

And what of that prestigious arena of great Jewish success, the law? It is another battlefield.

In 1881, Theodor Herzl was studying law in Vienna when he was accepted into one of its more selective fraternities, only to resign when the club’s anti-Semitism surfaced. He would likely recognize the problem raised by a civil-rights lawsuit against the University of California at Berkeley Law School, filed by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education. It alleges that “no fewer than 23 Berkeley Law student organizations have enacted policies to discriminate against and exclude Jewish students, faculty, and scholars.”

For example, membership in some student groups is dependent on a student’s willingness to accept and at least tacitly support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that seeks the elimination of the Jewish state. In many of these organizations, no potential guest speaker is considered until he or she first repudiates Zionism. The suit alleges that the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice prohibits Zionists from writing in its pages. Loyalty oaths for Jews are back in fashion.

Meanwhile, defending one’s equal rights is grounds for disqualification at Columbia University Law School, if one is a Jew. Nine newly formed student groups applied to the law school’s student senate for recognition. Eight of them were approved. The only one rejected? Law Students Against Antisemitism. Members of the student senate were afraid that the group might seek to accuse someone or something of anti-Semitism. The decision was reversed when the school was contacted by free-speech groups that explained that this was something the student senate really shouldn’t, and maybe even legally couldn’t, do. It was perhaps a good lesson for law students to learn, if they did indeed learn anything from it.

Jews are also feeling the pinch of cultural exclusion more acutely than they have in generations. The incident at the Matisyahu concert in D.C. was actually a success compared with several other stops on his tour because the show went on that night. Four venues had previously canceled the singer’s concerts on the day of the performance. One of them was the House of Blues in Chicago. All of the venues blamed security threats, which they certainly did receive. But it soon became clear that at least some of the problem was caused by staff unwilling to work a show by the Jewish performer. The venues in most cases seemed to be looking for an excuse to cancel. Matisyahu told me before his D.C. gig, in fact, that he would cancel a show himself if he thought there was any real danger to his fans, but “I haven’t felt that yet or seen it.”

Brett Gelman appears to be in a similar boat. The television star and writer recently had several bookstore appearances canceled on him. The explanations in those cases were security-related as well, but there had been no controversy around him until he spoke up after October 7 to defend a Jewish co-star who had been the subject of a smear campaign. Noah Schnapp, Gelman’s fellow actor on the Netflix series Stranger Things, had an angry Internet mob set after him by other entertainment figures when he showed support for Israeli victims of Hamas’s massacre. Schnapp eventually recorded a video seeking to tamp down the “controversy,” as entertainers are wont to do. Gelman defended him and began speaking at events publicizing the hostage crisis. Suddenly Gelman’s scheduled events started getting scrubbed from venues.

Gelman’s experience isn’t unique. Jewish writers are finding their books getting “review-bombed” online—organized, mass one-star reviews intended to drive down a forthcoming book’s reputation before it can be read—and subject to boycotts because of their “Zionism” (read: Judaism). The novelist Gabrielle Zevin was targeted because she had given a speech to the Jewish women’s organization Hadassah. The supernatural novelist Neil Gaiman came under fire for supporting Israel’s right to exist (though he also expressed support for Palestinian self-determination). Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas has been on the receiving end of boycott calls for, as one entertainment outlet put it, having “said in a years-old interview that marking Shabbat at the Western Wall in college was full of ‘joy and energy.’”

Several literary journals have gone to great lengths to declare their solidarity with Hamas—but none more clumsily than Guernica. The leftist magazine saw a staff meltdown and wave of resignations after it published an essay by a Jewish writer who had moved to Israel as a teenager. The writer didn’t serve in the IDF and described at length her ambiguous feelings about her adopted country. She was also inspired by the war to risk her own personal safety and ferry Palestinians to Israel to get medical care. But her byline was an acknowledgment that Israel existed at all, and that was enough to make the publication’s staff walk off the job. Guernica apologized and retracted the essay.

Amid all this, the nearly century-old Jewish Book Council has launched, in its own words, “an initiative for authors, publishers, publicists, agents, editors, and readers to report antisemitic literary-related incidents.… We encourage reports of both smaller-scale incidents (such as an individual getting review-bombed because their book includes Jewish content) and larger incidents (such as Jewish literary professionals facing threats of intimidation and violence).”

Anti-Semitism is presenting much the same challenge as it did a century ago by explicitly incentivizing Jews to hide their faith as a condition of acceptance in society. The erasure of Jews and Judaism from public life must be rejected loudly, forcefully, and out of hand. It is monstrous that even in the America of 2024, Jews must fight for the rights and recognition that others can take for granted. But the good news is we’re only in this fight again because we won it the last time. We shouldn’t have to be fighting it now. But we’ll win it again.

Photo: AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron

We want to hear your thoughts about this article. Click here to send a letter to the editor.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link