Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press
(As antisemitic fliers continue to appear in the Colleyville, Texas, neighborhood, it’s essential to reprint this article)
Since the hostage-taking incident at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue, my inbox has been full of articles, videos, and conferences on antisemitism. The outrage and worry isn’t surprising given that about 60% of religion-based crimes are against Jews. Hints of the future increase in those numbers are easily seen in the antisemitic fliers left on doorsteps in Florida, Texas, and Iowa.
And don’t discount individuals like the young woman who accosted a couple of Jewish kids outside a synagogue in New York. The children’s father reported that she said, “something along the lines of Hitler should have killed you all.” When his 8-year old son responded that he’d save his little sister, the woman spit on him and said, “we will kill you all, I know where you live, and we’ll make sure to get you all next time.”
It’s no surprise that the FBI and Dept. of Homeland Security issued this warning two days after the Texas synagogue incident: “Faith based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists.”
We need to be more aware and pro-active against the online forums that fuel this hate. They’ve weaponized the usual claims about Jews running the country, the banks, and the Federal Reserve. But these online forums now blame Jews for Covid-19, the outcome of the 2020 election, the 9/11 bombing, and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan along with resettlement of Afghans in the United States.
My first encounter with the impact of such claims was in Chicago, back in the 1980s. I was in charge of security for the American Jewish Committee, along with coordinating interfaith programming. I was unaware how the two assignments intertwined as I led the office evacuation during a bomb threat. But I saw it more forcefully when I led the Oklahoma Say No to Hate Coalition after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Our Coalition of ethnic and religious leaders collaborated with the FBI to provide security training. Extremists were leaving threatening racists and antisemitic fliers on doorsteps and recruiting new members intensely. International Holocaust Denier David Irving came to Tulsa, taking advantage of the tense environment to claim that the Holocaust never happened and Hitler actually liked the Jews. Counteracting this propaganda was as essential as security training.
Chattanooga’s own Council Against Hate demonstrated the power of collaboration as religious leaders joined cohorts in businesses, education, and law enforcement. Whether by fate or coincidence, my committee’s assignment was to address the language and conspiracy theories spread online. I guess I’m meant to confront this cesspool of hate-filled lies.
While lives were saved at the Texas synagogue due to training by the nonprofit Secure Community Network, some federal and state officials downplayed the antisemitism involved. They never mentioned the synagogue when referring to the hostage crisis, praying for “all involved”. Muting the reality like this just encourages conspiracy theorists and copy cats.
If we’re to counteract hate, we must educate about antisemitism and the real history behind it. That’s why the United Nations recently adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust Denial and asking social media to fight antisemitism.
Where are we Americans on this issue? Recognizing the threat, President Biden nominated Holocaust educator Deborah Lipstadt to a newly created antisemitism position. Yet, Lipstadt’s confirmation in Congress is stalled by Republicans. This is unacceptable! It’s time for religious leaders to rally the faithful to lobby for confirmation. Otherwise, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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