Every Saturday, Jewish worshippers are forced to confront two pandemics. One is a virus. The other is a rising tide of violent antisemitism.
Last Saturday, the worst of both worlds visited the Congregation Beth Israel, a reform Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. A stranger appearing to seek shelter, entered the premises and then drew a gun, taking Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other hostages. The 11-hour ordeal was livestreamed, first to horrified worshippers seeking safety from COVID, and then the world.
The suspect had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and known anti-semite convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan.
The hostages were able to escape, in large part because the rabbi threw a well-timed chair at him which let himself and two others escape. He had been prepared for the worst, Cytron-Walker said.
“Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network,” he said in a written statement. “We are alive today because of that education.”
Synagogues across the country are taking extra security measures, including those offered by the Secure Community Network (SCN). Brad Orsini, who provides security training for SCN, ticked through four recent attacks—two synagogues, a deli and a rabbi’s home—as proof the training is necessary. “Since Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, [Monsey], four different attacks in a 14-month period, where we lost members of our community by violent extremism,” Orsini told Pittsburgh’s Action News.
In response to the Colleyville violence, police departments in New York City, Los Angeles, and Dallas worked with elected officials and other organizations to institute increased safety measures for Jewish communities.
As incidents increase, anxiety is rising among Jewish communities.
Last October, The American Jewish Committee released a report titled The State of Antisemitism in America that details the rise of antisemitism, the increasing anxiety of Jewish populations and increasingly divergent views from the general public on how to respond. Some 90% of Jews surveyed identified antisemitism as a very serious or somewhat of a problem, and 82% said it had increased in the U.S. over the last five years. Only 44% of the non-Jewish general public believes that to be the case.
And hate spreads unabated online.
Last August, a report from the report from the Center to Counter Digital Hate (CCDH) an NGO based in the U.S. and the U.K. studied 714 hate-filled, anti-Jewish posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok which had collectively viewed 7.3 million times. The companies failed to flag or remove 84% of the posts.”The study of antisemitism has taught us a lot of things … if you allow it space to grow, it will metastasize. It is a phenomenally resilient cancer in our society,” Imran Ahmed, the CEO of CCDH told NPR.
It should not take a mob of white men in khakis and tiki torches shrieking “Jews will not replace us,” as they did during the Charlottesville Unite the Right event in 2017, for us to see that we have a deadly antisemitism problem.
While the situation seems increasingly untenable, one important countermeasure remains in limbo.
In July, President Biden nominated Deborah Lipstadt to be the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism — a position recently elevated to the rank of ambassador. And yet, her appointment has been lost to Congressional stonewalling.
“But along with hundreds of other Biden nominees, Lipstadt’s confirmation has been obstructed by Republicans, some of whom appear to want her to apologize to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who in March said that the if Jan. 6 rioters had belonged to Black Lives Matter or antifa, instead of being Trump supporters ‘who love this country,’ he would have felt in real danger,” says opinion writer James McAuley.
“This is white supremacy/nationalism,” Lipstadt tweeted in response. “Pure and simple.”
Lipstadt is an outstanding choice, a historian, professor, Holocaust expert, and a thoughtful and outspoken explainer of the Jewish experience around the world. Her famous victory in a libel suit brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving was made into a riveting movie called Denial starting Rachel Weisz, and offers a master class in the rhetorical sleights employed by bigots and how to combat them.
But other countermeasures may be available, though corporate America has yet to step up, says StopAntisemitism.org.
According to their report, Antisemitism in Corporate America, published last August, few corporate giants have noted the rise in antisemitism, or flagged no-tolerance for antisemitism as part of their inclusion standards— though L’Oréal received one of only two ‘A’ grades for its Employee Human Rights Policy which explicitly prohibits antisemitism as an “expression of hatred.”
So, that brings me back to you. Is anti-semitism a part of your inclusion strategy? How are your faith-based ERGs responding? What are the best practices? Who is remaining silent? Let’s open up a conversation about hate and make sure that our Jewish colleagues know that they are not alone.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.
BlackRock CEO to the world: Think long-term Larry Fink’s annual letter to the CEOs of the companies BlackRock invests in has become a line in the sand for leaders around the world. This year’s letter is a full-throated cry for the kind of expansive leadership that considers needs of people and planet. “Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke,’” he writes. He covers the new world of work, the necessary shift to net zero, and a pointed focus on adding more voices to ESG votes. “That is why we are pursuing an initiative to use technology to give more of our clients the option to have a say in how proxy votes are cast at companies their money is invested in.” And COVID has changed everything, so it’s time to build something new. “In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity, childcare, and mental health – and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work.”
A bill to prohibit schools and businesses from making white people “feel discomfort” receives its first approval. Guess where? Frankly, it could be anywhere these days, as critical race theory panic continues unabated across the U.S. But this bill, supported by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, got its first nod from Florida’s Senate Education Committee. It’s designed to hamstring curriculum and discussions found everywhere from classrooms or the workplace—any place where bias or history may be discussed. Fearing future censorship, harassment, and a spate of frivolous lawsuits, state Democrats pushed back. “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?” asked state Senator Shevrin Jones.
André Leon Talley has died The legendary fashion editor, author, and television personality had become a larger-than-life trailblazer in a white, insular, and elitist industry. He was 73. “André Leon Talley was a singular force in an industry that he had to fight to be recognized in,” said Ford Foundation president, Darren Walker, who confirmed his death, calling him a “creative genius” with a “deep academic understanding of fashion and design.” Talley had been beset by a series of health issues, but the fashion tragedy goes further back, this piece details the end of his life, muddied by lawsuits and a move to evict him from his home. His memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” while sold as a juicy tell-all, is as much an inside look at how a Black boy from the Jim Crow South became a front row icon of Paris fashion.
New York Times
A new bankruptcy plan for Puerto Rico Five years ago, Puerto Rico became the first U.S. state or territory to declare bankruptcy. Yesterday, a federal judge approved a new plan that will reduce the island’s government debt obligations of $33 billion by about 80 percent, to $7.4 billion. Puerto Rico will begin repaying creditors at a deeply discounted rate. When Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in May 2017, it had more than $70 billion in bond debt and more than $50 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Other debt remains unresolved. Among other things, critics of the deal say the arrangement will cause budget cuts to already bare-bone essential services, and burden the government with payments for three decades.
New York Times
Puerto Rico, the bankruptcy backstory The liberal American Prospect blamed vulture investors, saying “Puerto Rico is just the latest battlefield for a phalanx of hedge funds called “vultures,” which pick at the withered sinews of troubled governments.” The New York Times adds on with a political twist. The investors, who had been soaking the island for a 20 percent return on loans, have stepped up their attempts to influence government after the 2010 SCOTUS Citizen’s United decision. “On the surface, it is a battle over whether Puerto Rico should be granted bankruptcy protections, putting at risk tens of billions of dollars from investors around the country. But it is also testing the power of an ascendant class of ultrarich Americans to steer the fate of a territory that is home to more than three million fellow citizens.”
New York Times
Save the date: How to talk to your boss about race Y-Vonne Hutchison is one of my favorite thinkers on race and equity, an early raceAhead supporter, and the the CEO and founder of ReadySet, a diversity and inclusion training firm. Her new book, How to Talk To Your Boss About Race, promised to build on years of work in the field, helping employees have effective conversations with powerful leaders and live to make a difference. The TechEquity Collaborative is hosting a free webinar with Hutchinson on Feb 2, 2022 at noon Pacific Time. Y-Vonne is a treasure, please share widely.
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