By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
Nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. experiences antisemitism. It’s become normalized across our culture — on social media, in pop culture and politics, and on the streets, writes the organizers of a Shine a Light event in which Jews were called upon to proudly display their identity in lighting the menorah at Times Square. Leaders from President Joe Biden and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and on down have declared that antisemitism, bigotry and hate will no longer be tolerated.
Antisemitism is on the rise across the United States. The Anti-Defamation League which tracks antisemitic behavior nationwide, found 2717 incidents in 2021, a 34 percent rise over 2020 – accompanied by unabashed rise and weaponization of fascism and political violence, the attacks more brazen, more violent, more deadly and more politically strategic.
Charlottesville (where a woman was murdered, after which Trump said there were “good people” on both sides). The Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.
“This is the highest total we have ever tracked in more than 40 years of doing this work,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League said on Newshour on PBS. “And we should keep in mind that antisemitic acts were going down in the United States for almost 15 years, and then, in 2016, they started to move up. And we’re now at the point where we have nearly triple the number of incidents today that we did in 2015.” In 2022, assaults increased 167 percent, with increases in incidents of vandalism and harassment.
“So I think antisemitism really isn’t just a Jewish problem. It’s an American problem,” he asserted. “[Antisemitism] is typically the canary in the coal mine. And so, as things are beginning to unravel more broadly, the Jewish community is often the target of scapegoating and victimized in that way.”
Antisemitism is not new in America, but Greenblatt noted, “We have never seen a situation like this before. You had Jews being beaten and brutalized in broad daylight, say, in the middle of Times Square or Los Angeles or the Strip in Las Vegas, where people who were simply identified as Jewish came under assault and attack. That was new. And I think what you’re seeing is a kind of normalization of antisemitism and extremism.”
Taking a cue from Trump, whose entire political career has been built upon fear-mongering bigotry, politicians who once would never have dared profess support for Hitler and Nazism will actually be in positions of power in Congress, including Marjorie Taylor Greene (who charged that Jewish space lasers were to blame for California’s wildfires and who embraces QAnon, which has repackaged the Jewish Blood Libel conspiracy from the Middle Ages to incite attacks on Jews), while others, like Speaker Wannabe Kevin McCarthy and incoming Congressman George Santos, stand by instead of denouncing attacks.
Celebrities like Kanye West, who command the following of millions use social media to incite attacks on Jews. Only last week, a 63-year old man was attacked in Central Park by a man who shouted anti-Semitic slogans and had a sign, Kanye 2024.
In just the few weeks since the recent takeover of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk, who fired moderators and brought back those who were thrown off for inciting violence, hate-filled tweets have increased fivefold.
“The Holocaust didn’t begin with systematic murder of 6 million Jews, it began with rhetoric, normalization of rhetoric that the average person picked up on and ran with; it began with attacks on individuals, businesses, communities, perpetrated by citizens with permission by rhetoric,” Rabbi Michael Knopf, Temple Beth-el, Richmond, told “All Things Considered’ on NPR.
“We ought not to wait around for another Charlottesville, another [Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in] Pittsburgh. “When it manifests, it requires calling out.”
The Jewish community, he said, has a propensity to dismiss anti-Semitic rhetoric, and not draw too much attention. “That is really dangerous. Not just celebrities, but celebrities endorsed by and in relationship with incredibly powerful figures, the former president, refuse to distance themselves from that ideology, welcome and embrace it”. Indeed, they embrace them as their voting base.
But the time is passed for dismissing, or ignoring, or minimizing.
Nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. experiences antisemitism. It’s become normalized across our culture — on social media, in pop culture and politics, and on the streets, writes the organizers of a Shine a Light event in which Jews were called upon to proudly display their identity in lighting the menorah at Times Square. Antisemitic incidents and attacks have mushroomed on college campuses, even at City University of New York – indeed, the menorah was lit by four CUNY students who have been victims of antisemitism. Washington DC-area high schoolers, interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, how they are made to feel like outsiders, diminished, less equal, and have new fears of being attacked.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, chairing the first-ever White House summit to combat antisemitism and hate-fueled violence, cited “an epidemic of hate, a rapid rise in antisemitic rhetoric and acts. Let me clear, words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are literally screaming them.”
President Biden is taking action, establishing an inter-agency group led by Domestic Policy Council staff and National Security Council staff to increase and better coordinate federal government efforts to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination. The President has tasked the inter-agency group as its first order of business to develop a national strategy to counter antisemitism by raising understanding about antisemitism and the threat it poses to the Jewish community and all Americans, and addressing antisemitic harassment and abuse both online and offline. The President also has secured the largest increase in federal funding ever for the physical security of non-profits, including synagogues and Jewish Community Centers.
One can almost process antisemitism in rearing up in places where there are few Jews and therefore so easy to fabricate the fantastical conspiracies and caricatures. But New York City? Long Island? New York State, which has the largest population of Jews outside of Israel, which is the most richly filled melting pot of nationalities, religions, races on the planet? What does that say?
Governor Kathy Hochul, who came out to the Shine a Light on Antisemitism event in Times Square on Monday, days earlier announced the launch of a new statewide Hate and Bias Prevention Unit, within the state’s Division of Human Rights. The unit is charged with leading public education and outreach efforts, serving as an early warning detection system in local communities, and quickly mobilizing to support areas and communities in which a bias incident has occurred.
“New York State will use every tool at its disposal to eliminate hate and bias from our communities,” Governor Hochul said. “We will not let the rise in hate incidents that we see happening online, across the country and across the world, take root here at home.” Among the issues she raised during the Shine a Light event was the need to teach about the Holocaust with substance, not passing lip service. Holocaust education is mandated in the state’s curriculum.
The Governor announced $96 million in state and federal funding to safeguard nonprofit, community-based organizations at risk of hate crimes and attacks; and directed $10 million in state grant funds to support county governments as they develop domestic terrorism prevention plans and threat assessment and management teams.
The Hate and Bias Prevention Unit will be responsible for establishing and implementing a statewide campaign promoting acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of diversity, as required by legislation signed last month by Governor Hochul, The campaign will coordinate and cooperate with public and private organizations, including, but not limited to, local governments, community groups, school districts, places of worship, charitable organizations, and foundations and will develop educational materials to be published on the internet, social media, and other platforms to reach the public. The Division also works with the New York State Police to educate New Yorkers on the State’s hate crimes laws.
The Shine a Light event – which drew New York Attorney General Letitia James (who called antisemitism “a malignant cancer” that must be wiped out) in addition to Governor Hochul and was organized by UJA Federation New York, AJC New York, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, ADl-New York/New Jersey– was aimed at giving Jews an opportunity to proudly display their identity and commitment to their faith and heritage and raise awareness more broadly of antisemitism.
The MC of the event, comedian Ariel Elias, who grew up in Kentucky (very few Jews there) related how a video of her performing in a comedy club went viral after someone threw a beer can at her. She only connected it to antisemitism after noting the timing of the incident: it coincided with Kanye West’s “defcon3” tweet.
“What I was talking about [before the beer can was thrown] was being Jewish and growing up in Kentucky,” Elias said. “But because antisemitism doesn’t always look the way it used to, it took a long time for me to connect the dots when it first happened.”
“Antisemitism is intensifying. Our efforts to fight it must be even stronger.Nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. experiences antisemitism. It’s become normalized across our culture — on social media, in pop culture and politics, and on the streets,” the Shine a Light organizers stated. Shine a Light comprises more than 80 Jewish and non-Jewish organizations which are committed to addressing rising antisemitism.
Antisemitic incidents and attacks have mushroomed on college campuses, even at City University of New York – indeed, the menorah in Times Square was lit by four CUNY students who have been victims of antisemitism. Washington DC-area high schoolers, interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, how they are made to feel like outsiders, diminished, less equal, and have new fears of being attacked.
UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein, who spoke at the Shine a Light event, told the New York Jewish Week that putting on an event like this in a public place is important in order to show that Jews are standing up to antisemitism. “A really important piece of this is to live [a] proudly public, happy Jewish life.”
Around Manhattan, there were numerous trucks manned by Orthodox Jews, playing festive music. “Are you Jewish,” someone would ask, and offering a Hanukkah kit in a box.
We are here. We are here to stay.
“We live in a very challenging world, and the only thing we can use to overcome hatred, intolerance, prejudice and antisemitism is light – because light overcomes darkness and hatred,” Nassau County Legislator Arnold W. Drucker (D – Plainview) said at a “Latkes and Lights” celebration at the county executive building.
Drucker, a member of the county’s Task Forceto CombatAntisemitism which was formed in May, said “The biggest problem is education. The task force intends to meet with school district administrators to get input –from faculty, student body – as to the root cause of antisemitism “rearing its ugly head. We are seeing symptoms throughout the country. We don’t want it to happen here. One example is too many.” He said he has reached out to Hochul’s office to being named as a Long Island representative on the satellite offices she is setting up throughout the state.
But in fact, there are been many instances, now, of antisemitism on Long Island, including leaflets left in neighborhoods suggesting a Jewish cabal controlling government, and only weeks ago, a Long Island man arrested at Penn Station with weapons who had made threats against the Jewish community.
Just this month, Municipal Leaders Against Antisemitism was formed to counter an uptick in antisemitic incidents in Long Island. There were 28 incidents in Nassau County so far this year, up from 24 in 2021.
At a Hanukkah reception at the White House, Biden stated that in the face of emboldened antisemitism in the US and around the world, “silence is complicity and we must forcefully say that all forms of hate, antisemitism and violence can have no safe harbor in America.”
Still, the question must be despite all these positive pronouncements and announcements and initiatives, whether it is just lip service or actual action, and whether these programs will be sustained long enough to reverse course again, making antisemitism culturally deplorable.
Happy Hanukkah for all those who celebrate – proudly.
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