So it turns out that in the year 2017, we need a strategy to combat rising anti-Semitism.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been 100 bomb scares at Jewish institutions nationwide. Last month vandals attacked and desecrated a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery, toppling more than 170 tombstones. The New York Police Department reported a doubling of anti-Semitic crimes in 2017 through Feb. 12 compared with last year, from 13 to 28. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Jewish Journal there’s been a doubling of hate incidents in Los Angeles since the November election as well.
This week began with the vandalism of 75 to 100 gravestones at a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery. On Monday, there was a new wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers, including the Westside JCC.
And since the Journal goes to press Tuesday, you’ll have to read this online for updates. The week’s not over yet.
Our response to all of these fresh outrages have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime.
In the former category is Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s call for his country to prepare for a flood of American Jews fleeing to Israel. In response, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg offered a perfect one-word tweet: “Chill.”
A less hysterical response came from Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who published a 10-point plan the Trump White House could follow to counter rising anti-Semitism from the left and right sides of the political spectrum.
Greenblatt called on the administration to fund a civil rights investigation into the bomb threats, convene a federal inter-agency task force on fighting hate led by an appointed coordinator, support state and local legislation protecting college students from religious harassment and discrimination, breathe life back into the Countering Violent Extremism program, address cyber-hate in a comprehensive manner, increase federal funds for anti-hate content in local schools and “call out bigotry at every opportunity.”
While he is holding his breath for a White House reply to these sensible, minimal steps, I want to offer another list as well, this one aimed at what American Jews could do.
Until now, most of us have done little more than repost reports of anti-Semitic acts on Facebook with sad emoticons and snide remarks about the president or his Jewish daughter and son-in-law. But it is time to stop playing defense, to stop being passive spectators to our own persecution. Here’s my Jewish community to-do list:
1. More cameras, more guards. Your local used car lot has more security cameras than many cemeteries. That has to change. We don’t need Paris-style security cordons around our synagogues and centers, but we do need to beef up surveillance and private interdiction.
2. Anti-Semitic “SWAT” teams. Remember those volunteer lawyers who swooped down on airports in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s Muslim travel ban? We need teams of former prosecutors, law enforcement experts and lawyers at the ready who can, in coordination with existing Jewish organizations, help local authorities catch and convict hate perpetrators. And high-profile guard watches at Jewish cemeteries and elsewhere will likely scare off most of the cowards who creep out at night.
3. Fight non-Jewish hate, too. The hate virus is highly contagious. We need to fight it wherever it breeds. Breitbart.com and “The Alex Jones Show” are two Petri dishes of hate. Every time a Muslim says “boo” in Sweden, there’s a front-page splash on Breitbart, but more than a week since the hate-crime murder of an Indian immigrant at a Kansas bar, Breitbart still has not featured it. Meanwhile, Breitbart did find home page space to attack the Forward newspaper for reporting Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka’s ties to anti-Semitic Hungarian groups.
4. Join forces. Those Muslim groups helping repair Jewish cemeteries? Embrace them. Thank them. Come out when they need help. Yes, you probably don’t see eye to eye with them on Israel or women’s rights, but we’re going to need allies. We are in this particular fight together.
5. Don’t do their job for them. Hate crimes begin with hate speech. The strategy of the alt-right and the Trump administration is to pit Jew against Jew. They want to divide conservative, more religious, Bibi-supporting Jews from more liberal, secular, pro-two state Jews. It was shameful to see mainstream Jewish organizations like Jewish Federations of North America line up behind Trump ambassadorial nominee David Friedman after he used hate speech to describe other Jews — language that only fuels hateful acts.
Look, we needn’t be hysterical, but neither do we have to be passive. I don’t think the American-Jewish community is under dire threat, and I certainly don’t predict a flood of us heading to Israel any time soon. Think of it this way: There are an estimated 200,000 Israelis living in the United States. Many of them are trained by the Israel Defense Forces and have access to America’s bounty of guns and ammunition. I don’t see them running away because some troll speed-dialed a JCC. When push comes to shove, I see them — and all of us — taking the fight to the enemy.