Jonathan Weisman's new book '(((Semitism)))' 
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Jonathan Weisman's new book '(((Semitism)))'
Credit: Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

As hate crimes rise, a journalist confronts American anti-Semitism

Jonathan Weisman is a veteran journalist. He also happens to be Jewish. In 2016, that fact led to a deluge of harassment — and a new perspective on what it means to be Jewish during the Trump presidency.

That year, Weisman, who is deputy Washington editor for the New York Times, tweeted out a link to a piece written by the Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan. The headline read: “This is how Fascism Comes to America.”

It came as a surprise to Weisman when, in short order, he received a response from someone going by the handle @CyberTrump. It said simply:

“Hello (( Weisman ))”

Weisman would soon come to understand that the parentheses cradling his name — also known as "bells"— were a way of marking him as a Jew. That, plus a Google search tool called The Coincidence Detector used by Neo-Nazi groups to identify Jewish journalists, led to a deluge of anti-Semitic harassment, imagery and threats in the thread.

Since then, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have been widely reported. In August of 2017, a mob chanted “Jews will not replace us” during the Charlottesville, Virginia “Unite the Right” rally. The following year, a gunman killed 11 people worshiping at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This past November, the FBI reported a 37 percent rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2017. The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) cites a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, including crimes, harassment and vandalism, for the same period. It was the third year of increases in a row, after a previously consistent downturn.

In Weisman's new book, “(((SEMITISM))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” he warns against complacency.

“Anti-Semitism is a pestilence that has survived millennia, raging at some times, retreating at other times into carriers that have passed it on in silence through the generations," Weisman writes. "The questions, then, are what triggered its latest outbreak, how were we again caught unawares, and what are we going to do about it?”

Weisman spoke with KUOW’s Kim Malcolm at The Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island on January 17. Michael Garnett provided our recording.