Anti-Semitism seen on the rise again in nation, Oregon
Anti-Semitism is on the rise again in America — and Oregon — according to the director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Portland.
But unlike past occurrences, Bob Horenstein says the attacks are coming from the political left, not just the right, even though some of the attacks come from self-styled supporters of President Donald Trump.
Horenstein said Monday (June 26) at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum luncheon in Beaverton that he doubts Trump is anti-Semitic.
"But his lack of decorum, his nastiness, his personal insults have mainstreamed that type of behavior now, so it's coming out of the woodwork. We're seeing it in the Jewish community," he said.
"The political landscape in America is so poisoned by the deep divisions found within the political culture that it gives license to forms of negative social expression."
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks more than 900 hate groups across the country, including 11 in Oregon and four in the Portland area.
Horenstein said examples of anti-Semitism can be found in Portland, where swastikas — a symbol of Nazi Germany — were carved into a dorm-room door and drawn on a bathroom wall at Portland State University.
A poster in the cafeteria at Lake Oswego High School depicted Nazi extermination of Jews — 6 million Jews died in the World War II genocide known as the Holocaust — and an overpass banner on Interstate 205 in Portland proclaimed "Jews did 9/11" before it was taken down the first weekend in June.
"Some say there is a cycle of hate in our country," Horenstein said.
He referred to the 1920s, when a resurgent Ku Klux Klan — founded after the Civil War to advocate white supremacy over blacks — took on hostile overtones toward Catholics, Jews and immigrants.
(In Oregon, voters elected a governor with KKK support and banned private and parochial schools by initiative in 1922, although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban in 1925.)
During the era, federal laws restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe by setting national quotas, which were finally abolished in 1965. Federal authorities also deported many immigrants, including some Jews, accused of being Communists during the first Red Scare between 1917 and 1920.
Horenstein mentioned two studies, one in 2015 by the Louis D. Brandeis Center at Trinity College in Connecticut, the other in 2016 conducted by the Amcha Initiative.
The first study found that 54 percent of the 1,157 Jewish students questioned had experienced bias. The second counted 287 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses during the first half of 2016, an increase of 45 percent from the same period in 2015.
Attack from the left
Horenstein said that a resurgence of traditional anti-Semitism from the far right is coupled with the surge of anti-Israel sentiment on the far left.
"It is deeply insidious — and I think actually more dangerous than the old-fashioned, undisguised hatred of white supremacists — because we are starting to see it seep into the mainstream," he said.
"They have had success in getting their anti-Semitic campaign of delegitimation to take hold within certain segments of mainstream society."
It is known popularly as the BDS (boycott, delegitimize, sanction) Movement.
He said Oregon examples are a 2016 resolution by the student senate at Portland State University — despite criticism by now-departed president Wim Wiewel that it was "divisive and ill-informed" — and activist pressure on the Portland City Council to divest itself of investments in Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers to the Israeli armed forces. (The council voted in April to drop all corporate investments.)
The Portland State student resolution was largely symbolic, because the Oregon State Treasury — not individual campuses — manages state investments.
"On the left, Israel is depicted as a gross violator of human rights and is a pariah state that does not belong to the family of nations," Horenstein said.
He said some have gone as far as comparing present-day Israel with Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa — and some of that stance can be traced back to a 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, and a 2001 UN conference that Israel and the United States walked out of because of its narrow focus.
But Horenstein said such critics go beyond opposition to Israeli policy and align themselves with opposition to Israel's existence as a nation. He said that stance is decried by people such as Pope Francis, Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid — an Israeli political commentator — and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
"Others have recognized this is not just the Jewish community crying wolf," he said.
"If I want to read legitimate criticism of Israel, all I have to do is go to the Israeli press or listen to the Jewish community."