Opinion

American leaders must stand up to antisemitism

At the county, state and federal levels, there is much to be done.

Swastika stickers found on the Alaska Jewish Museum and “Mad Myrna’s” bar on May 26, 2021. Credit: Anchorage Police Department.
Swastika stickers found on the Alaska Jewish Museum and “Mad Myrna’s” bar on May 26, 2021. Credit: Anchorage Police Department.
Yoni Michanie
Yoni Michanie
Yoni Michanie, a former paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, holds a master’s degree in diplomacy and international security from IDC Herzliya. He is an Israel advocate, public speaker, Middle East analyst, and a campus adviser and strategic planner at CAMERA.

Antisemitism continues to make headlines in the U.S. Jews are facing physical attacks and verbal harassment on the streets, along with a torrent of online bigotry, especially on social media.

From the spray-painting of Nazi symbols on synagogues to violent assaults on Jews, the current situation in America and worldwide is one of increasing menace. A new report  from the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s Antisemitism Research Center, examining the first two months of 2023, found 33 media-reported antisemitic incidents in which Jewish institutions were targeted globally, 12 of which were U.S. synagogues.

This was a 71.4% increase from the seven such incidents the previous year. This disturbing statistic demands serious attention from American policymakers.

The study showed that Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues were all targeted. The perpetrators did not discriminate according to degrees of religious observance. In their eyes, all Jews and Jewish institutions are legitimate targets.

On Feb. 6, a neo-Nazi entered a synagogue in San Francisco, exclaiming, “Hello my Jewish friends. I want to show you something,” before firing blank rounds into the air.

On Feb. 15 and 16, two visibly Jewish men were shot in drive-by attacks as they left synagogues in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles. The suspect, 28-year-old Jamie Tran, told officers after his arrest that he had searched for “kosher markets” on Yelp and selected his victims because of their “head gear.”

On Feb. 21, surveillance cameras showed a masked individual spray-painting graffiti, including Nazi swastikas, on Temple Israel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

These incidents and others have serious repercussions for American Jews. A recent American Jewish Committee survey found that 41% of Jews in America felt their status was less secure in 2022 than the previous year.

There are also vast gaps in how Jewish and non-Jewish Americans view contemporary antisemitism. Some 80% of Jews believe it is increasing, compared to 47% of the general population.

Regardless of this difference in perception, the reality is that American Jews are experiencing a heightened sense of fear and see antisemitism as a growing problem.

From coast to coast, north to south, a multitude of states, both “red” and “blue,” have experienced incidents of antisemitism involving vandalism, physical attacks (including the use of Molotov cocktails and firearms), hate speech (manifested in the display of Nazi flags), Holocaust denial and the distribution of antisemitic literature.

Antisemitism, similar to other forms of racism, is a culture with its own practices. When it is allowed to fester with impunity, it slowly permeates mainstream behavior and discourse.

Combating antisemitism, then, is not just about denouncing mass-scale incidents after they occur. It also means prioritizing the fight against the “practices” that fuel it.

Counties around the U.S. have already begun to take action. For example, an emergency ordinance in Palm Beach County, Florida, intended to interdict antisemitic graffiti, declared that anyone who puts an image on a building, structure or public place without the owner’s permission can face a fine of up to $1,000.

In Ohio, following the distribution of antisemitic propaganda (often by members of the white supremacist Goyim Defense League), the city councils of Bexley and Orange Village passed resolutions condemning antisemitism and declaring their commitment to combating all forms of Jew-hatred.

At the state level, Maryland’s General Assembly, acknowledging an alarming rise in violent antisemitic incidents, approved a resolution to establish a permanent Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention.

Much more remains to be done at the local, state and federal levels. It will require a greater willingness by politicians to prioritize the safety of Jewish communities, even if it means denouncing antisemitism when it appears on their own side of the ideological spectrum.

The phenomenon of antisemitism must be addressed with a non-partisan “all hands on deck” approach. When it comes to fighting and ultimately defeating antisemitism in the U.S, there is no room for political polarization. This is not a Republican or Democratic cause, but rather a vital American endeavor.

Taking action to thwart and punish the dissemination of antisemitic propaganda, improving and funding Holocaust education programs, supporting the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism and denouncing all forms of modern-day Jew-hatred are just some of the steps policymakers around the country can begin to take.

The late U.K. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said, “The hate that starts with the Jews never ends there.” Antisemitism is a symptom of a ruptured society. If not effectively countered, other minority communities will be threatened by a culture that has normalized hatred of a specific group. Combating antisemitism effectively means transcending the virulent political tribalism of our times, using the valuable lessons of history as a guide.

Yoni Michanie is research and data manager for the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM).

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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