New national strategy fighting antisemitism is more necessary than ever | Opinion
By Ari Mittleman
Last week, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff released the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
This is an acknowledgement by the entire federal government that the global rise in hatred against Jews is a fundamental challenge to the principles of American democracy.
The national strategy details 100 concrete new actions the federal government will take over the next year and outlines 100 different ways the private sector can partner to combat hate.
As our nation prepares for its 250th birthday, this necessary and bold initiative will not only combat antisemitism, but will also celebrate the religious diversity and pluralism which makes America great. The national strategy is a firm and unrelenting response to the disturbing rise in hate our nation has seen in recent years.
The Jewish community is painfully aware that the deadly antisemitic attack in Pittsburgh was followed in 2019 by other deadly attacks in Poway, Calif., Jersey City, N.J., and Monsey, N.Y.
According to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in 2021, more than all other states Pennsylvania had the highest level of white supremacist propaganda incidents. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 30 hate groups across Pennsylvania.
On Memorial Day, as we reflected on the brave Americans who died fighting fascism in Europe, all Pennsylvanians should be deeply disturbed by recent incidents.
For example, the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza was defaced a Nazi SS symbol. Separately, a Delaware County middle school student yelled “Sieg Heil” raising his arm in the Nazi salute before a Jewish classmate. The deeply disturbing ideology that drove the attacker to massacre worshipers in Squirrel Hill.
Manifestations of antisemitism are often the first indicators of a societal sickness.
In 2020, more than 7,700 criminal hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI. This was an increase of about 450 incidents over 2019. Attacks targeting Black people rose to 2,871 from 1,972. Anti-Asian hate crimes grew exponentially. In New York, for instance, there was a 223% spike.
The federal government needs innovative state partners to combat the rise in hate.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would often say, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Confronting hate and building bridges is exactly what state Reps. Jordan Harris and Jared Solomon, both Philadelphia Democrats, did last month in launching the first of its kind Black-Jewish Caucus.
Representing incredibly diverse Philadelphia neighborhoods, they know that no Pennsylvanian should have to live in fear because of who they are. Reflecting on our original national motto hatched in Philadelphia, “e pluribus unum,” there is no better way to celebrate our diverse democracy than this type of commitment to building coalitions.
This recent epidemic of hate and the fear, pain and anger it causes cannot be normalized in our society. We must be able to live proudly and safely in our own communities.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul launched a statewide Hate and Bias Prevention Unit. This is in response to both the devastating attack on Black shoppers in Buffalo and continuing antisemitic violence on the streets of Brooklyn.
The unit is responsible for spearheading public education and outreach efforts. It serves as an early warning system and quickly mobilizes when bias incidents occur. This approach includes regional councils comprised of diverse local leaders who share concerns and work with the full weight of the New York state government on hate crime prevention programming.
The Shapiro-Davis administration should closely examine the new national strategy and this New York model.
In the national strategy, the federal Department of Education has a role to play. Last week, they launched an Antisemitism Awareness Campaign. This is a model that the Shapiro-Davis administration could adopt in partnership with both the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the State System of Higher Education.
American Jews account less than 2.5% of the population, but they are the victims of 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the FBI.
As a deranged gunman held a synagogue in Texas hostage, it was an adjacent Catholic church which opened its doors to the family members of congregants.
As the Jewish community grieved in Pittsburgh, it was the Muslim community who raised the initial funds to cover funeral expenses.
The ability for all to worship without persecution living together in harmony was William Penn’s vision.
He would often say, “Let us try what love can do to mend a broken world.”
I am confident this historic initiative utilizing the full weight of the federal government will help mend it.
Ari Mittleman is a native of Lehigh County. He is the author of ‘Paths of the Righteous’ from Gefen Publishing House.