Say­ing No to Hate: Over­com­ing Anti­semitism in America

  • Review
By – July 8, 2024

In his newest book, Nor­man H. Finkel­stein writes, In the more than two-thou­sand-year his­to­ry of the Jew­ish dias­po­ra, no coun­try has offered Jews more free­dom, legal pro­tec­tion, and oppor­tu­ni­ty than the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Yet, Amer­i­can Jews have always been aware of a residue of anti-Jew­ish hate lurk­ing in the back­ground, ready to emerge at any time.” Indeed, Say­ing No to Hate traces the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can anti­semitism and the Jew­ish community’s response. It offers us a deep­er under­stand­ing of how events in America’s past have informed the mete­oric rise in hatred and vio­lence we see today. 

Orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly, the book first explores the roots of anti­semitism in Europe, which pre­ced­ed the arrival of North America’s first Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in 1654. It then describes anti­se­mit­ic sen­ti­ment through the cen­turies, guid­ing read­ers through events such as Grant’s Gen­er­al Order Num­ber 11, the Great Wave” of Jew­ish immi­gra­tion in the 1880s, Amer­i­can anti­semitism dur­ing the Holo­caust and after the estab­lish­ment of the State of Israel, the not-too-dis­tant attacks on the Pitts­burgh and Poway syn­a­gogues, and the rise of Jew­ish hatred fol­low­ing Octo­ber 7, 2023. The author con­cludes with two appen­dices, one on fight­ing anti­semitism with advo­ca­cy and pride and a sec­ond on how to pre­pare for an active-shoot­er attack. 

Toward the end of the book, a chap­ter titled Zion­ism = Judaism?” explores the chal­lenge of try­ing to rec­og­nize when anti­semitism is being dis­guised as a legit­i­mate cri­tique of Israel. Here, the author address­es the BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions) move­ment, the rise of anti­semitism on uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es, the claim that Israel is an apartheid state, and the adop­tion of the Inter­na­tion­al Holo­caust Remem­brance Alliance’s work­ing def­i­n­i­tion” of anti­semitism. The con­clud­ing chap­ter, titled The Chang­ing Land­scape of Hate,” con­sid­ers social media’s role in foment­ing anti­semitism, as well as the inter­sec­tion of Jew­ish hate and the insur­rec­tion­ist move­ments that came to light dur­ing the Capi­tol riots of Jan­u­ary 6, 2021. This chap­ter also exam­ines the rhetoric of extrem­ist voic­es in Con­gress, includ­ing those of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene and Sen­a­tor Josh Haw­ley. Both use tropes that ques­tion Jew­ish loy­al­ty to coun­try and Amer­i­can val­ues — an anti­se­mit­ic sen­ti­ment that can be traced back through the centuries. 

Finkelstein’s book is not just a nar­ra­tive of oppres­sion. It also shares how the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, through insti­tu­tions such as the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, the ADL, and Hil­lel, have respond­ed to Jew­ish hatred. Say No to Hate offers read­ers an acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to anti­semitism in Amer­i­ca. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for a gen­er­a­tion of Jews who, until recent­ly, were shield­ed from the overt anti­semitism that plagued Jew­ish Amer­i­cans of years past.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions