Health Effects of Antisemitism

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 04, 2022
4 min read

Jewish Americans make up just 2% of the U.S. population. Yet, research shows that in recent years, as many as 1 in 4 Jewish people experienced hate speech or other forms of antisemitic remarks and behavior. 

Antisemitism is the practice of social exclusion, hostility, discrimination, prejudice and, in some cases, violence and harassment against Jewish people. And the incidents have been rising steadily. But this isn’t a new trend. In fact, some experts say antisemitism is among the oldest forms of hatred and  has been around for over 2,000 years.

The unfounded anti-Jewish ideology is often rooted in  cultural stereotypes, tropes, and conspiracy theories against Jews, which often trigger an “us vs. them” mentality within society. A person who holds such beliefs is called an antisemite.  

Research shows that senseless hatred or othering of a group of people based on their social identities like religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, or beliefs can lead to harmful long-term effects on physical and mental health. It can suppress personal identity, too.

Antisemites target people who belong to the Jewish community. Being Jewish can mean different things to different people. Around 8 in 10 Jewish Americans identify as Jewish because they practice the religion, while around 2 in 10 people identify as Jewish based on cultural heritage, ancestry, and ethnicity. 

While it’s common to link the beginnings of antisemitism to the hate-filled acts against Jews during the Holocaust in 1930s Europe, antisemitism has been around much longer. And it persists today. 

Historically, Jews have been stigmatized, isolated, and removed (exiled) from their homelands; have been falsely accused of a number of things; excluded from being able to enlist in the military or  enroll in schools or colleges; or marry non-Jews. 

Today, antisemitism still exists, but it might look a bit different. Modern-day incidents can range from: 

  • Hate speech
  • Slurs or taunts
  • Social isolation
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Use of anti-Jewish symbolism like the swastika
  • Using negative stereotypes against Jewish people in jokes
  • In extreme cases, using physical violence in places of Jewish worship like synagogues 
  • Hateful or threatening messages or interactions from internet trolls on social media apps, forums, and websites 

When you experience discrimination, bullying, or hatred from another person, or from establishments like schools, colleges, or work, it can take a toll on your mental health. It can affect your day-to-day quality of life.

It can trigger:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Doubt
  • Insecurity
  • Crankiness
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse through drug and alcohol use

Research shows that Jews who might need professional help with medicine or substance abuse treatment might avoid it due to most programs being rooted in Christian aspects.  

Fear of antisemitism can also cause a person to suppress their personal identity. This means it could stop someone from being and bringing their whole selves into various social events or situations due to fear of their identity being used against them. 

It’s important to find mental health professionals who can provide culturally competent care. Find those who are either from the community or an ally who can understand the complexity of being a Jewish person and help you cope with the damaging effects of antisemitism. 

Mental health can directly affect your physical well-being, too. When you face antisemitic incidents, discrimination, micro-aggressions, threats, or violence, your body is hard-wired to react to this form of stress. 

These stressors can lead to:

  • Higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s triggered by chronic stress
  • Increased heart rate
  • Inflammation
  • Weakening immunity
  • High blood pressure

Doctors or other health care providers might often dismiss your concerns, especially if they lack awareness about the link between physical health and antisemitism or hold antisemitic beliefs themselves. 

If you’re faced with an antisemitic incident, whether it’s from someone you know or don’t, there are a number of ways you can handle it. 

If it’s a verbal attack or behavior, you should:

  • Check your location, safety, and surroundings before you respond . If you think the attacker could get physical or hurt you or your loved ones, don’t engage. Get to safety as soon as possible. 
  • If it’s a friend or someone you know who makes “joking” remarks, tell them to stop and explain why it’s offensive to you.
  • If you feel you’re in danger, call 911 or alert people around you and seek help.
  • Record or screenshot messages from the internet or messaging apps. Use this as evidence if you plan to alert authorities. File a complaint to the company or organizations running those sites. 
  • Block internet trolls or those who harass you and report them.
  • Ask your children, teenagers, or elderly relatives with language barriers to let you know if they face antisemitism.

If it’s a physical threat or attack, you should:

  • Call 911 and alert the police.
  • If you’re hurt, get medical help right away. Head to the nearest hospital or ask someone nearby to help you. 

Such incidents can rattle your sense of safety and overall well-being. Seek support from your community and reach out for professional help If necessary. they can help guide you or cope with the after-effects of such incidents. 

If you’re just learning about the impact of antisemitism on the Jewish community and you want to help make positive change, you should:

Educate yourself. Make it a point to learn about Jewish culture, beliefs, practices, and history in the U.S. and around the world.

Learn about implicit bias. Your unconscious thoughts and beliefs might affect your behavior and attitudes toward others in society. This is called implicit bias. Take an implicit bias test to see how you can improve your self-awareness.

Become an ally. Find ways to support the Jewish American community through local or national organizations. If you see or suspect antisemitic incidents, report them to authorities.