USA – On the rise in the U.S., antisemitism is seeping into the workplace

By Arianne Cohen / Bloomberg

At a recent working lunch, Renee Fellman was told that someone wouldn’t network with her because she’s Jewish.

Fellman, who’s a corporate turnaround consultant based in Portland, Ore., was stunned — not by the mere existence of antisemitism, she said, but that her brush with it was so overt.

“I doubt there’s more antisemitism now than 10 or 20 years ago,” said Fellman, who previously had more subtle or difficult to interpret experiences of discrimination, such as snubs. “People are just expressing it. It’s become OK to say it.”

Across American culture, politics, and even business, expressions of antisemitism have grown louder in recent years. It’s not just high-profile statements made by the rapper Ye and basketball star Kyrie Irving or politicians increasingly cozying up to white supremacist groups. Incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault reached a 42-year high in 2021, the most recent year with available data, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And there’s evidence that discrimination is seeping into the workplace, too.

A 2022 study published in the academic journal Socius surveying 11,356 workers of all faiths found that more than half of the Jewish respondents experienced discrimination at work, a higher percentage than any other religious group, besides Muslims. A smaller survey from November of 1,131 hiring managers and recruiters commissioned by had even starker findings: Nearly a quarter said they wanted fewer Jewish people in their industry and a similar share admitted they’re less likely to advance Jewish applicants. Among the top reasons cited for those discriminatory behaviors: perceptions that Jewish people have too much power and wealth.

“It would seem to confirm our concerns that the growing antisemitism in our society is also spilling over into the workplace,” said Vlad Khaykin, national director for programs on antisemitism at the Anti-Defamation League. “It suggests that contemporary workplaces can often be hostile to Jewish employees.”

Bloomberg News spoke with a dozen Jewish workers in industries as varied as public relations and supply chain logistics, living in cities across the country. Many expressed a sense of increasing discrimination in their daily work lives, including overhearing antisemitic comments from co-workers or noticing the ranks of Jewish workers thin at their organizations. Most didn’t want to use their names fearing it might damage their careers or draw further harassment.

One communications executive from the Midwest said that she’s experienced “astonishing” antisemitism in the workplace and that her Jewish friends and family advise her to not tell anyone her religion or to work with Jewish-owned organizations. Another diversity and inclusion coach said that a non-Jewish employee reportedly put a face mask on his head like a yarmulke and sang “The Chanukah Song” by Adam Sandler. In a separate incident, that same employee used the phrase “Holocaust moment” to describe his group’s poor performance. He later told investigators he thought his behavior was permissible because he didn’t think any Jewish people were present.

“It’s something on my mind. I’m scared about it,” said Andy Heller, a San Francisco real estate investor and entrepreneur. His fears were, in part, realized by the survey’s findings: that some perceive Jewish people as money-grubbing, cheap or power hungry.

“Too much control, power and wealth — these are long-standing antisemitic tropes that have been used to justify violence against Jews,” said Rachel Schneider, a religious studies researcher at Rice University and one of the authors of the Socius study. “Antisemitism is alive and well. We need to attend more to its presence in the workplace.”

Heller said that he feels a responsibility to counteract caricatures of Jewish people by providing substantial bonuses, paying vendor bills promptly and in full, and tipping generously. “Some people may only interact with one or two Jews in their entire lifetime,” he said. “We need to do our part to ensure that those touch points don’t advance stereotypes.”

“Antisemitism is alive and well.”

While Jewish Americans overall have relatively high incomes compared with other groups — half live in households making at least $100,000, compared with 19% of U.S. adults — they span the economic spectrum. A Pew Research Center survey released in 2021 found that a quarter of Jewish respondents had difficulty paying for medical care, their rent or mortgage, food or other bills. Roughly half of Jewish Americans said they live “comfortably,” the survey found, but 15% said they have only just enough to meet basic expenses.

Religious discrimination complaints from workers to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are up from two decades ago. The numbers, however, go through only 2021 and the agency doesn’t break out Jewish-related incidents specifically.

According to Jocelyn Samuels, vice chair of the EEOC, the commission has fielded a consistent series of allegations involving anti-Jewish discrimination over the years and she expects there was an uptick in the last two years. “When you have high-profile people like Ye or Nick Fuentes or Kyrie Irving making explicitly antisemitic remarks, that emboldens people to say aloud things that reflect centuries of bias and stereotype,” she said.

The ADL runs an initiative called Shine A Light that helps organizations such as J. Crew, Airbnb and the National Basketball Assn. to integrate antisemitism education into their trainings and to start Jewish employee resource groups. Still, most workplace diversity and inclusions trainings don’t explicitly mention antisemitism, and instead broadly counsel employees to avoid religion-based harassment.

“I’m not aware of any organizations that directly and specifically address it,” said Tracey Levy, co-founder of harassment-prevention company Impact Workplace Training.

Levy herself just added an example of office antisemitism to her own curriculum and advises organizations to do the same. In it, a worker expresses support for a celebrity’s antisemitic remarks. When a coworker expresses interest in reporting it to his manager or human resources, a colleague encourages him not to, saying, “it’s best if everyone gets along.”

Levy advises employees to identify antisemitic behaviors, tell their managers and see that they report it to human resources. “The response should never be to ignore it,” she said.

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