A Hatred Immune to Education

In 1939, St. Louis, a German ocean liner filled with Jewish refugees landed in Havana, Cuba. Refused entry, the ship proceeded to the United States and Canada, who promptly likewise denied asylum to the desperate passengers. Returning to Europe, some were able to find safety in western Europe. Still, 254 out of 937 passengers were killed in the Holocaust. 

The anti-Jewish sentiment that led three different countries to turn away these desperate refugees and the horrific death some of them suffered soon after, is exemplary of the antisemitism of yore—the centuries-old ethnic hate, going back to antiquity. 

We vowed it would never happen again. We created memorials, museums, remembrance days, curriculums, and laws to ensure that the devastating consequences of unchecked hate and antisemitism would always remain before the world’s eyes. And yet the events of October 7, 2023 revealed that despite our most valiant efforts to squelch it forever, there is a new antisemitism afoot. Where did we go wrong?

The New Brand of Antisemitism

When it comes to antisemitism in America, it is out with the old and in with the new. The new antisemitism is a more “respectable” variety that masquerades as social justice rather than hate, boldly claiming to be, in fact, an act of love for the oppressed—in this case, Palestinians. Dissected, the anatomy of this new antisemitism begins to reveal that it may be more dangerous than its older, less pretentious cousin.

The new antisemitism is a more “respectable” variety that masquerades as social justice.

When the news of Hamas’ attacks first broke on that day in October, the shock over the horrific and grotesque violence inflicted on innocent civilians, including women, children, and elderly Holocaust survivors, was quickly overshadowed. Media coverage swiftly shifted to covering Israel’s military response of striking the Gaza Strip. As someone with a Jewish background, as a dual American-Israeli citizen, as someone who believes in Jesus, and as a mother, I felt sorrow for the suffering of civilians—both Israeli and Palestinian. 

It was striking for me to see, however, that this was not the reaction on many an elite college campus. Rather, protests on college campuses this fall took an overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance. The federal government launched civil rights investigations into some of these instances, but perhaps the moment that best captured the horror of this development involved the congressional hearing in December 2023, at which the presidents of three of the nation’s most prestigious institutions—University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and Harvard—would not, when asked directly, condemn the antisemitism of students on their respective campuses as a hate crime. 

They weren’t lying. They were openly testifying to the true nature of this new antisemitism and their own fear of opposing it. This anti-Jewish (and anti-Israeli) sentiment presents itself not primarily as hatred, but as righteous wrath against oppressors on behalf of their long-suffering victims. The oppressors to be condemned in this case are Jews in the abstract and Israel in particular, whereas the victims who demand unmitigated compassion are the Gazans and Palestinians overall.   

Just how pervasive are such sentiments? How deep does this new antisemitism go? The Harvard-Harris poll conducted on October 18–19, 2023—less than two weeks after the Hamas attack—offers some concrete insights. The college-aged bracket in the poll (18–24) consistently indicated stronger anti-Israel sentiment than any other group. Most telling of all was the response to the question “Do you think the Hamas killing of 1200 Israeli civilians in Israel can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians or is it not justified?” A chilling 51% responded: justified. 

A conflation of categories is happening in the process, whereby all Jews worldwide, Israeli or not, become condemned uniformly as oppressors.

We can—and should—object to this harrowing justification of violence against Israeli civilians, just as we should object to threats of violence against Jewish students on American university campuses. It is important to note the conflation of categories that is happening in the process, whereby all Jews worldwide, Israeli or not, become condemned uniformly as oppressors, whereas all Palestinians, whether innocent civilians in Gaza or active members of Hamas, get a free pass for rampage as the victims of the evil colonizing empire that is Israel.

This new antisemitism is more alarming, I contend, than that old-fashioned hatred of Jews simply qua Jews that spurred so much persecution including (but certainly not limited to) the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the pogroms that devastated Jewish communities in Germany and eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and culminated with the genocide that claimed the lives of six million—including some of the passengers on the St. Louis. Why is this new form of Jew-hatred more dangerous? To understand this, we need to consider traditional responses over the past 80 years for combating the old antisemitism. 

Has Holocaust Education Failed Us?

Ever since 1945, when the atrocities of the Holocaust became undeniably and patently clear for the world to see, the preferred response for preventing its recurrence has been Holocaust education. If only people are better informed about the horrific degree of the atrocities that hatred wrought, the argument goes, they would understand why antisemitism (and, really, all genocide) is bad. This has been the premise behind Holocaust museums worldwide and their attempt to show the events as deeply personal through the documentation of the stories of real people who suffered and died for no reason other than being Jewish. 

Holocaust education for the general public and also Holocaust research by academics have both focused on documenting the atrocities and Nazi crimes to prove that yes, they really happened, and worse, that regular people could commit such horrific violence against other people. Works from historians such as Jan Gross and Christopher Browning have become standard reading for Holocaust education and are routinely used in college classes. 

There has been no shortage of thorough documentation and educational resources on the Holocaust readily available to the public for decades. But the problem is, the new antisemitism that has sprouted to the surface this fall is coming from the most educated students: those in the Ivy Leagues. These are students who have been to Holocaust museums, have learned plenty about the evils of genocide, and have possibly even read Browning’s Ordinary Men for a class, perhaps even this very fall semester. And yet, all they could say about the events of October 7 is “Jews deserve this.”

The new antisemitism that has sprouted to the surface this fall is coming from the most educated students.

This unapologetic antisemitism is a provocation that contends that the previous history of oppression against the Jewish people doesn’t matter or apply. In fact, some have weaponized the historic experiences of the Jewish people back onto them, going so far as to call Gaza a concentration camp and accusing Jews of being Nazis. 

Clearly, more education won’t help here. So how do we respond when things are so bad that Harvard required the menorah to be taken into storage for safekeeping every night of Hanukkah this past December to avoid sure vandalism? How do we respond to such openly impenitent declarations of hate, spouted by respected intellectuals? 

How to Battle New Antisemitism

In his book Fear, Jan Gross uncovers an oft forgotten instance of horrific anti-Jewish violence in a small town in Poland. The attack itself reads like something typical of the early 1940s. After all, there were many other such attacks whereby the non-Jewish majority of a town would slaughter the Jewish neighbors, sometimes even before any official Nazi command for such acts. But what sets the pogrom at Kielce apart from others is not what happened, but when it happened. It did not take place in 1941 or 1942. It happened, rather, in 1946—a year after WWII had ended, at a time when everyone knew about the Holocaust. The non-Jewish residents of Kielce who took this opportunity to attack the tiny Jewish remnant in their midst knew exactly what had happened to those who did not return home after the war’s end. More Holocaust education would not have cured Kielce’s residents of their antisemitism.

When hatred is so illogical, responding to neither reason nor history, what is its root?

When hatred is so illogical, responding to neither reason nor history, what is its root? When our contemporary understanding of a subject is rendered useless, we’re forced to consider a decidedly premodern explanation that, in turn, forces us to acknowledge our own powerlessness in stopping it: that antisemitism has a spiritual dimension. The story the Old Testament presents already in antiquity is that God has chosen us and set us apart. A disproportionate amount of opposition has followed Jews from at least as early as the days of Israel’s slavery in Egypt.

But if there is an existence of evil that acts in reaction to God’s plans, it also means there is a spiritual force for good that is at work preserving our people against the odds. Just as antisemitism has manifested itself in mutating forms throughout history, so divine goodness has also appeared in many forms. Some of the most common include faith, hope, and love. Perhaps our victory isn’t in the eradication of the insidious hatred that has followed us through time and place, but in the testimony of our continued existence—and that our faith and hope persist in the face of this hatred.

Even after the Jewish passengers of the St. Louis were rejected entry into three countries, its German Captain Gustav Schroder remained resolute in his decision to rescue them from returning to a deadly fate in Germany. Defying expectations, the captain found asylum for them across western Europe, resulting in 683 passengers aboard the “Voyage of the Damned” surviving the Holocaust. Over 25,000 men and women, including Captain Schroder, have been identified by the State of Israel as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor awarded to non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. Their legacies represent something that remains true today: our calling to be a light to the nations garners hatred, but it also attracts allies.

Our divine calling is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal in this spiritual battle. As we continue to combat hate in all its forms, our confidence can be grounded in the fact that God has staked His own reputation on our survival, saying, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15–16).


  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, “Voyage of the St. Louis,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, accessed January 4, 2024.
  2. Collin Binkley, “Ivy league institutions and other colleges face U.S. inquiries over alleged antisemitism and Islamophobia,” PBS, accessed January 4, 2024.
  3. Harvard Caps Harris Poll” (PDF), accessed January 4, 2024.
  4. Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed January 4, 2024.
  5. Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022).
  6. Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men (New York: Harper Collins, 2017).
  7. Jacob Baime (@JacobBaime), “A key clip: Rabbi Zarchi says @Harvard requires the menorah to be taken down and hidden after each night’s lighting because the university is concerned the menorah will be vandalized by antisemites. How are Jewish students supposed to feel safe in a climate like this?” Twitter, December 13, 2023, 10:36 PM.
  8. Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  9. Yad Vashem, s.v. "Gustav Schroeder," accessed January 10, 2024