Opinion: Antisemitism Gets Normalized by Good People Who Do Nothing

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/X/Getty/Handout
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/X/Getty/Handout

I’m in North Africa shooting a TV show. I have never been a good sleeper and have gotten into the bad habit of checking my phone in the middle of the night.

Last night, I read The Daily Beast article, “Did I Witness a Hate Crime in Manhattan’s Liberal Melting Pot?” It was texted to me by my great friend Ben Sherwood, which isn’t strange at all—we’re always texting articles. What is strange is that he wrote it. (Full disclosure, he’s also the new CEO of The Daily Beast.)

More importantly, he’s a veteran journalist, having reported from serious war zones, and the last thing I expected was this story.

Did I Witness a Hate Crime in Manhattan’s Liberal Melting Pot?

Aleksander Janik was seen on video and by witnesses (including Ben) hitting Rabbi Chezky Wolff with his bag, sending the rabbi tumbling to the street.

Wolff claimed that in addition to the alleged assault, Janik called him a “dirty Jew,” which Janik denies, claiming Jewish heritage himself. (It is not insignificant that Janik hails from Poland, a land with its own centuries-long legacy of widespread antisemitism.) Janik was later arrested and charged with committing a hate crime, assault with injury, and assault with intent to cause injury.

But Ben’s story is one of optimism—about the response of the well-meaning denizens of Manhattan responding to this act of violence.

These attacks on Jews are becoming, sadly, commonplace in every city where there are Jews. But there’s something about how often they’re happening in New York—home to the most Jews anywhere on this planet outside of Israel—that’s particularly disturbing.

The head of the Brooklyn Museum’s home was vandalized last week, with a faux-blood-stained banner calling her a “WHITE-SUPREMACIST ZIONIST.” The NYPD reported antisemitic hate crimes surged by over 40 percent over the past year. And some anti-Israel protests on college campuses have made Jewish students and faculty reasonably fear for their safety.

We are becoming inured to the danger that comes with the normalization of Jews being scapegoated and targeted for violence.


Let me take you from Ben Sherwood in 2024 Chelsea and introduce you to Benjamin Schumann—his doppelganger in 1933 Berlin.

He’s an upstanding Jewish journalist having a kaffe mit schlag at the Romanisches Cafe. A cafe frequented by so many Jewish artists, writers and musicians as to earn the moniker the “Rachmoines” (“take mercy” in Yiddish) cafe because the place was in a kind of romantic shambles, in a pre-war charming way.

All of its denizens would have been surprised to know that by 1942 it would be bombed by the Allies, with many of its previous customers gone—fled, deported, or murdered.

In 1933 Berlin, an incident like the one Ben witnessed would have elicited similar responses from well-meaning bystanders.

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By 1943 Berlin was declared Jew-free. Almost without exception the Germans who had shopped in Jewish stores, gone to Jewish doctors, and utilized their Jewish lawyers had supported or joined the Nazi Party and watched as Berlin Jews were carted away to Terezín and Auschwitz, among other places.

Benjamin would not have believed that this could be the fate of the Jews of Berlin, but he most likely would have been dead.

Those of you who think the comparison between the 1933 Berlin and 2024 Manhattan is absurd, are being short-sighted.

My father was a Holocaust survivor (and a member of the Czech resistance). My grandmother perished in Auschwitz. And my aunt died in the ghetto in Terezín, so none of this is new to me.

It is exactly the normalization of these events that are leading Jews in the diaspora to wonder if we’re sleep-walking into another Holocaust, or if enough decent people will call out what’s happening for what it is.

Like what Ben saw happen in Chelsea.

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This is how real hate crimes happen. They’re not always planned attacks by groups targeting Jews (those are coming), but often by a man who feels he is safe attacking a rabbi, striking him to the ground, and walking away to post his next influencer hot take on sockless loafers.

It is our banality that is in question, not the banality of evil that is referenced in the article. Yes, there were good samaritans among the New Yorkers who witnessed the assault and came to the rabbi’s defense—but that’s not enough.

If we are to become a society that, at least nominally, has a chance at keeping civility civil before it once again slips into banality, we must hold the perpetrators of hate crimes guilty and punish them accordingly, or be at risk ourselves. And we need to tell the truth about the past, so we can live in a better future.

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