Jews need others to stand with us to confront antisemitism
Often referred to as the oldest form of hate, antisemitism has been around for 2,000-plus years. The prevalence and prominence we are witnessing today have never caused the type of fear and security issues in the US for the Jewish community. Leading experts on hate consider antisemitism to be the "canary in the coal mine,"; indicating that hatred towards other traditionally marginalized ethnic groups is not far behind.
So what exactly is antisemitism? Antisemitism "is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."
Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated, "A full 63% of religious hate crimes are motivated by antisemitism—targeting a group that makes up just 2.4% of our population. Foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS have promoted antisemitic violent extremism for decades. They continue to target Jewish Americans in their attack plots. But we also confront the threat of people here, on our soil, whose hateful views—often paraded online—boil over into acts of violence."
It isn't just the recent violence towards Jews that has made us feel unsafe; it's also incidents of intimidation. Remember the photos and videos from the 2016 Charlottesville, VA, "Unite the Right" rally where white supremacists chanted, "Jews will not replace us!" The recent string of flyers strewn on driveways throughout the community linking Jews to everything from COVID to "how every aspect of Disney child grooming" or "Trump's Campaign Funding" is Jewish is another form of intimidation.
Add these incidents to the pervasiveness of antisemitism online, and the Jewish community feels like we are being hit from all sides, and the very essence of Jews' right to live is under attack. For example, recent surveys have indicated that Jews now feel frightened to wear a Star of David necklace or a yarmulke publicly for fear of being identified as a Jew. It has also hindered what they may say that could "out" them as being Jewish.
Elkan Pleat, a 16-year-old in Northern California, recently told his school board that he had been hiding his Jewish identity at school for the last two years for fear that he would be attacked if fellow students knew he was Jewish. He reported seeing over 20 swastikas around his campus and hearing jokes about how someone should "finish what the Nazis started," often referencing gas chambers and ovens.
Jewish organizations are trying to raise awareness of this issue. This includes an innovative pink billboard ad campaign with messages like "Here's an idea: Let's ask everyone who's wondering if Jew hate is real to wear a yarmulke for a week and report back" and "Can a billboard end antisemitism? No. But you're not a billboard."
More still needs to be done, and we need help! The Jewish community needs the non-Jewish community to not only stand with us but confront and combat this climate of hatred. Here are a few ways to help:
- Be our ally. Your voice carries weight, especially if you aren't the target of the hatred. Call out any antisemitic or hateful comments you hear. Let people know that you are personally offended by these incidents.
- Ask your spiritual leaders to deliver a sermon against antisemitism. They can leverage their position of influence to help educate fellow congregants.
- Reach out to local officials, school districts, and corporations demanding they take action and make statements against antisemitism. Encourage these leaders to pass resolutions denouncing antisemitism, condemning hatred of all kinds, and committing to creating a safe environment.
- Educate yourself about antisemitism's impact. We need more people to view specials like Dana Bash's CNN Special Report "Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America." This program focused on the idea that we can combat this crisis head-on through education.
The Jewish community needs you as our ally. Stand with us as we confront this existential crisis of hatred directed towards Jews. Help us take action and use our collective voice to say that hatred of all kinds is wrong, and we will not tolerate it in our society.
Jason Moss is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, an organization that serves as the Jewish voice for the community, whose mission is to strengthen and enhance Jewish life in the community, from Glendale to Rancho Cucamonga.