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Jeffrey Goldberg Of 'The Atlantic' On Recent Anti-Semitic Threats And Attacks

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's been a rash of anti-Semitic threats and attacks this year in America. In the last few weeks, three different Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized. Scores of Jewish community centers have received threatening calls. And just yesterday, a former journalist was arrested for allegedly making a series of threats against several Jewish organizations. At one point, he was an intern at one of our member stations. Jeffrey Goldberg is editor in chief of The Atlantic, and he joins us now in our studios. Jeff, thanks so much for being with us.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Thank you.

SIMON: Do you believe anti-Semitism is on the rise or just more visible?

GOLDBERG: I think it's - on social media, I think it's on the rise. We certainly saw that during the campaign - the run-up to the campaign - particularly on Twitter, particularly on people associated with the Donald Trump campaign. That said, statistically, it's actually been falling for the last 10 years. We might be in a bit of a resurgence, but I don't - I don't see this - I don't see us in a crisis right now, in terms of the number of anti-Semitic events. I think the visibility is very high for a number of reasons.

SIMON: What do you make of the social media platforms? Last summer, you wrote about what you called Nazi trolls on Twitter.

GOLDBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.

SIMON: As we are standing here, I know we're both going to get some anti-Semitic tweets. I get about a dozen a week.

GOLDBERG: Oh, a dozen.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: I could - I could send you some of mine if you're - if you're feeling low.

SIMON: Well, remember, I'm only half as Jewish as you are.

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

SIMON: So I get fewer, I'm sure.

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

SIMON: But in any - what do you make of this?

GOLDBERG: I - you know, the bar - the bar is extraordinarily low - or has been extraordinarily low - to entry into the - into the sort of prejudice sweepstakes on social media. It used to be if you wanted to express prejudice, you'd have to go outside and hold a sign up. You'd have to write long letters to people. Now you just tap it out an anonymous Twitter account, and so the barriers to entry are lower.

I do think the whole discourse in our country has changed. It's become more - it's become coarsened. I think there's much more dog whistling going on on all sides about a lot of different issues. And the dog whistling done by politicians leads to people overinterpreting or interpreting correctly what they should be doing in terms of expression of prejudice.

You know, there's a corollary here to the rise of Obama. We thought Obama becomes president. Some people thought that marks the end of racism. You don't really mark the end of racism, and you don't really mark the end of anti-Semitism. And these things come in - come in waves. And I think we're in a - we're in a period now where we might be seeing an uptick.

SIMON: And do you tie this to the political rise of Donald Trump?

GOLDBERG: Well, this is what's happening. What's happening right now is that people are making that argument. I think if you actually look at the - over the last 10 years, you look at the history of anti-Semitism - there are a series of events over the past several years. There was a fatal attack in Seattle on a Jewish Federation Center. There was an attack on the Holocaust Museum. Remember, a security guard was murdered at the Holocaust Museum.

These things happened before Donald Trump, and they happen from two - there's two main streams of anti-Semitism. Obviously, one is from the - you want to call it the neo-Nazi right or something along those lines. The other is Muslim extremists. These incidents over the past 10 years have been committed by people from both sides of that.

What happened right now, I think, is because of a certain narrative just developed around Donald Trump. People are saying this is the cause of these incidents. And I just think that that might be a little bit premature or a little bit oversimplistic. We've had serious incidents of anti-Semitism in this country for years and years and years. They did not start on January 20.

SIMON: Many African-Americans say that they feel scared and threatened. Many Muslims...

GOLDBERG: Sure.

SIMON: ...Have have told our reporters and yours that they - that they feel scared. Many immigrants feel targeted, but it doesn't sound like you believe anti-Semitism is at the same pitch.

GOLDBERG: I have a problem in the sense that I've spent the last few years tracking anti-Semitism in Europe, where there are regular, really terrible kinds of attacks on Jewish communities. And so I am comparing in my own mind, I think, what's happening here to what's happening there - relatively powerless Jewish communities in Europe versus relatively powerful Jewish community here with political access and all of that and size. And so - and also I'm prone or - prone to argue against panic and hyperbole because these things are so dangerous, and you can make them worse and make the reaction worse by sort of overreacting.

That said, I don't want to discount the fear. I don't have a kid in a - right now - in a Jewish community center kindergarten or nursery school. If I did, in one of these places being - one of these places that's being targeted with these phone call threats - I might feel a little bit differently. I don't think we're quite at the level that some people are arguing.

And I think, by the way, some people are arguing that it's a crisis moment, and they're arguing this out of opportunistic political reasons. That's the problem - that anti-Semitism becomes this political football. If it's a right-wing government in power in America, they blame - they blame the right and vice versa. And so I'm just - I just want to maintain my own composure on this, and I think other people should maintain their composure, as well.

SIMON: Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic - Atlantic Media - thanks so much for being with us. Good to talk to you again.

GOLDBERG: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.