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2018 Annual Assessment

The rate of anti-Semitic incidents in North America is significantly lower than in Europe or the Arab world. However, recently U.S. Jews have voiced concern about rising anti-Semitism, based on radical groups that find common purpose with the Trump administration. For the Israeli or European observer, it is difficult to understand the cause for these concerns: the acceptance and presence of the Jewish people in the American political and cultural elites, even if they maintain clear outward symbols of Jewish identity, has no parallel in modern Jewish history.3 Despite this, there is concern over a “slippery slope” and a reversion to previous eras (prior to the 1950s and 1960s), in which Jews were discriminated against in the social, academic and economic spheres.

The successful integration of Jews in North America was possible due to the separation of church and state, and therefore the notion of a religiously neutral public sphere. It ultimately facilitated the concept of multi-culturalism and reinforced the ideal of meritocracy. The sense of empowerment felt by Evangelical Christian groups following the election of Donald Trump to president, as well as the efforts of Orthodox Jewish groups along with conservative Christian groups to challenge the existing separation of church and state (mainly by seeking government funding for religious schools), could upset the prior, delicate order that had, to a large extent, removed Christian elements from the public sphere.

It is no coincidence that leading the efforts against public funding for religious education is a Jewish organization, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), which champions individual rights and seeks to maintain American government neutrality on matters pertaining to the funding of religious institutions. In practice, this argument is more of an internal Jewish debate than it is between the Jewish community and non-Jewish community. The ADL and others working to prevent public funding for private schools (mostly religious) identify in this effort a weakening of the separation of church and state, and view those elements who support such funding as pouring gasoline on the fire, lacking responsibility or long-term perspective. They believe that the result of their actions could contribute to the reversion of the U.S. back to an era when Jews were excluded from key positions of influence in politics or the economy.

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