January 19, 2022
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.