First published in The Times of Israel
NEW YORK – Not a week seems to go by without an anti-Semitic attack in the United States – either verbal or violent – against Jews.
“Unfortunately anti-Semitism has become fashionable again,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president for the New York Board of Rabbis, told The Times of Israel. “It’s not a big deal to hate the Jews. The first group that gets attacked is the Jews.”
In January, pro-Palestinian protestors stormed a New York City Council meeting that was discussing a resolution commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. And later in the month in California, two swastikas were found spray painted onto the wall and at the doorstep of the Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity at UC Davis.
“Unfortunately, far too few have said too little for too long,” Potasnik said.
The New York rabbi couples these recent domestic examples of anti-Semitism to what’s going on in the rest of the world. The terror attack this week outside a synagogue in Denmark in which a 22-year-old lone shooter killed volunteer guard Dan Uzan is the latest in a string of violent European incidents.
The United States is not immune to the scourge.
“The world is witnessing an alarming rise in acts of anti-Semitism, and we must all do what we can to respond to this growing threat,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. “History has shown us the ramifications of silence.”
The Anti-Defamation League warned in a recent statement just what those ramifications are.
“There must be a clear and consistently reinforced and maintained understanding that the hatred, bigotry and prejudice against Jews that threatens the future of Jewish life in many places is indeed an assault on the well-being and sense of security for all minorities and on society as a whole,” said Michael A. Salberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s Director of International Affairs.
And while the number may wax and wane in the United States from year to year, the fact is more than half of all religiously motivated hate crimes target Jews and Jewish institutions.
“Very disturbingly nearly 60 percent of religious-based crimes are against Jews,” said Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center for the Anti-Defamation League.
Of the 5,928 hate crime incidents reported to the FBI in 2013, crimes motivated by religion accounted for 1,166 of the reported offenses, with 56.7% identified as anti-Jewish cases. (These statistics are the most updated from the FBI.)
For the FBI report, 15,000 out of 18,000 police departments in the US reported their data. More than 90 cities with populations over 100,000 either didn’t participate in the FBI’s data collection program or affirmatively reported zero hate crimes.
Fewer anti-Jewish hate crimes were recorded in 2013 than in 2012 when 6,573 cases were reported. However, the actual number may be higher because the FBI relies on voluntary reporting to collect its data.
“It’s a positive step that the number is down… in the last two to three years. But the types of crimes and the levels of violence perpetuated against Jews in the Diaspora is unprecedented,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, SCN, the international homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America.
In April 2014, four people were shot to death outside a Jewish Center in Kansas City. In late August, a visibly Jewish couple was attacked on New York’s Upper East Side by a gang carrying Palestinian flags.
Yet, Goldenberg said, in spite of these incidents, “the Jewish community remains open for business.”
Goldenberg recently returned from Paris where he coordinated with the French National Police and the French Jewish community in the wake of January’s attacks there. In the US, Goldenberg said that the Department of Homeland Security and the majority of local law enforcement are working with the Jewish community on how to behave and respond when there is a threat.
“When something happens, say someone spray paints a swastika on a synagogue, we don’t want the first reaction to be to whitewash it or sandblast it away. Yes, absolutely do that, but first call the police,” the ADL’s Lieberman said.
Together with European governments and the Department of Homeland Security, Goldenberg’s SCN developed a national faith-based outreach and engagement strategy, which includes the two-year-old “If you See Something, Say Something” campaign in the Jewish community.
Unlike in Europe, with the exclusion of the United Kingdom and France, Jewish communities in the US aren’t hesitant to report hate crimes. There is a trust that law enforcement will respond.
The ADL reinforced the need for such cooperation in its recent statement: “Government and political leaders must set the tone and devote the political capital to encouraging every sector of society to recognize the broad dangers posed by expressions of hate and to engage together to combat the scourge.”
This inter-community response is vital, the ADL’s Lieberman said. “It takes more than Jews to fight anti-Semitism.”