Utah tech entrepreneur Dave Bateman resigned from the Entrata board last week just hours after sending an antisemitic email to business leaders and government officials claiming that Jews are behind “a sadistic effort … to euthanize the American people.”
In the email, which was first reported by Salt Lake City’s Fox 13, Bateman claimed that “the pandemic and systematic extermination of billions of people” will pave the way for the Jews “to consolidate all the countries in the world under a single flag with totalitarian rule.”
Although Bateman’s email sparked widespread outrage and condemnation, experts said that the incident was unsurprising. Despite the strides American Jews have made in recent decades, antisemitism is deeply embedded in our culture, in general, and in the business sector, in particular, they said.
In theory, American Jews — a group that once faced educational and professional restrictions and widespread prejudice — have come a long way. Jews now attend the nation’s top universities, including schools that once sought to restrict their admission; Harvard has even had a Jewish president.
Additionally, there are about three dozen Jewish politicians in Congress. And a 2019 study conducted by Pew Research Center found that Jews are the most warmly regarded religious group in the United States.
But, as Bateman’s email suggests, antisemitism is still alive and well.
One scholar explained that it’s best not to think of antisemitism as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Rather, “It’s better to think about a spectrum — where have Jews been included and why and where have they been excluded and why. Both are always happening at the same time,” said Britt Tevis, an American Jewish historian affiliated with Indiana University Bloomington’s Borns Jewish Studies Program.
There are certain sectors that still seem particularly susceptible to stereotypes about Jews, among them the business world, Tevis added.
“In many respects these accusations of Jewish dishonesty by leading business figures is nothing new,” she said, pointing to the “long history that dates back at least to the 1840s” of business leaders considering Jews to be “shady and untrustworthy and participating in schemes to defraud their organizations.”
Many forms of antisemitism
Tevis offered two examples from the 19th century. “Fire insurance companies concluded and promoted the idea that Jews were arsonists and would commit arson fraud,” she said, noting that Aetna’s manual told insurance agents not to insure Jews.
And as the credit industry sprung up, credit agents “routinely denied business loans to Jewish business owners because of their ‘untrustworthy’ character,” Tevis said.
As late as the 1970s, Jewish Americans faced exclusion from different dental and bar associations, Tevis added.
By that time, however, being openly antisemitic had already become, for the most part, unacceptable.
“Antisemitism used to be quite open until after World War II,” said Helene Sinnreich, director of the University of Tennessee’s Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies. The allied liberation of the concentration camps was a “turning point,” Sinnreich said, after which articulating anti-Jewish sentiments “becomes not OK because we are now on the side of the liberators and not the Germans.”
While antisemitism was driven underground, it didn’t disappear.
Antisemitism is “engrained in many layers of our culture,” Sinnreich said
Despite this, many American Jews felt largely assimilated in recent decades — that is, until the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.
For the country’s Jewish community, that event, Sinnreich explained, “reopened this window into the idea that as much as Jews have progressed as a society there is still this undercurrent of antisemitism.”
The number of antisemitic incidents and hate crimes have risen since 2016 and hate crimes reached their highest level in a decade in 2019, according to The Associated Press. In 2020, however, the number of antisemitic events declined while anti-Black and anti-Asian attacks surged.
Sinnreich pointed out that antisemitism can also be expressed in less obvious ways than antisemitic violence, such as when someone refers to haggling as “Jewing” the other person down. And philosemitism — or a love of or admiration for Jews — can also be a form of antisemitism, Sinnreich noted.
“Philosemitism is predicated on stereotypes about Jews — it’s the other side of the same coin,” said Sinnreich. Some seemingly positive stereotypes, like Jews being good with money, are “underpinned by an (antisemitic) idea about Jews controlling world finances and being greedy and stingy.”
Even when the stereotype isn’t rooted in something bad, it’s still a way of delineating Jews as an “other,” said Amy Shapiro Simon, Farber Family Chair in Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History at Michigan State University, who explained that, historically, in Europe, Jewish people were considered to be not just of a different religion but also of a different race — “the quintessential other.”
The question that remains today, she added, is “How do you stop being that other?”
Conspiracy theories and antisemitism
Because being overtly antisemitic is no longer acceptable — as the reaction to Bateman’s email shows — antisemitism in America today has become largely coded, said Simon, adding that many of the conspiracies embraced by QAnon believers are based on older antisemitic tropes, even if they don’t overtly reference Jews.
When reading excerpts of Bateman’s email, Simon heard echoes of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a booklet penned by a non-Jew that pretends to “spell out the alleged secret plans of Jewish leaders seeking to attain world domination,” according to the Anti-Defamation League’s website. Like the “Protocols,” Bateman’s email revolves around a conspiracy theory that the Jews are out to take over the world.
Tevis said it’s important to consider the broader political moment, in which conspiracy theories are rampant.
“If you have come to accept all these other ideas — the idea of the election being stolen, the idea that Trump was booted out of office because he was about to uncover this ring of child kidnapping that was being promoted by the Hollywood elite and George Soros — if you have accepted all these other ideas then the idea that Jews are promoting vaccines is not a leap,” she said.
Even so, incidents like Bateman’s email can be shocking, including for American Jews, Tevis said, noting that, among Jews, there’s an element of denial when it comes to facing antisemitism.
“In the Jewish community, there’s been difficulty recognizing the consistency of antisemitism. We think of these things as individual events, as outliers,” she said.
Another challenge when it comes to dealing with antisemitism is that Jewish people want to believe in the “Cinderella story … about Jewish success and of being slowly integrated” into American society and culture. But “the waters are muddier than we often want to see,” Tevis said.