Baltimore leaders band together as anti-Semitism surges

The murder of 11 Jews in a synagogue on the Sabbath is the devastating consequence of our decaying national discourse. Hate speech is wielded by profiteers and politicians whose goal is to divide, devalue and dehumanize. They conjure mythical hordes of black, brown and Middle Eastern “barbarians” invading our southern border. The dog-whistle has become a bullhorn. And people like the Pittsburgh shooter are listening.

White nationalists have answered the call in cities and towns across America. Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville with tiki-torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and one used his car as a deadly weapon. Here in Baltimore, a man shouted “heil Hitler, heil Trump” during the intermission of a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Hippodrome Theatre on Wednesday. Anti-Muslim bigotry has led to an unprecedented spike in hate crimes and bias incidents. Some women have taken off their hijabs to avoid being targeted, and communities have been plagued with an epidemic of faith-based bullying where, according to recent reports, over half of Muslim students are harassed in U.S. public schools. Members of the Ku Klux Klan have been emboldened to distribute racist recruitment pamphlets in communities all over the United States including here in Maryland. ICE raids have ripped children from parents, including a father who was taken in Southeast Baltimore outside of his son’s elementary school. We’ve seen a spike in suicide attempts among immigrant teenagers who worry that their families could be next. The toxic political climate is literally killing us.

Yet, within our own local communities, we have the power to embrace a different vision. We can work to overcome centuries of segregation and mistrust by standing up for each other. As Jewish, Muslim, black and first-generation immigrant advocates and elected officials, we come from different backgrounds, but we share a commitment to Baltimore and a bond with each other. We see strength in our diversity. We place our faith in democracy. Our message is simple: We need each other — now more than ever.

We stand together in this moment because we have worked together and built relationships over time. We mobilized for police accountability and criminal justice reform through the federal consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and Baltimore police. We fought to preserve after school programs and transportation for our students. When the father of a 9-year-old child was detained in Baltimore in an ICE raid outside his son’s elementary school, we worked together to pass a City Council resolution to reaffirm the city’s status as a Welcoming City. We started an immigrant legal defense fund.

After the massacre of Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh, the Council on American-Islamic Relations provided security and solidarity through their presence while congregants of Hinenu, Baltimore’s newest Jewish synagogue, gathered for Shabbat services. We see a direct connection between the mass incarceration of black Baltimoreans, the bullying of Muslim citizens, and the unjust imprisonment and deportation of immigrant members of our community. We are changing the conversation from one of hate to one of unity, right here in our own backyard.

Our history is filled with moments of powerful connection and deep division. At our best, we have fought together, prayed together, marched together and defended each other’s right to exist. At our worst, we have been actively complicit in each other’s oppression. We cannot pretend away our differences, ignore the pain we have caused or dismiss our complicated politics. But we can use this moment of national discord, to heal at home. We have decided that in Baltimore, we will not fear each other. We will stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for each other. We encourage you to join us.

Shalom. Salaam. Paz. Peace.

Zeke Cohen (zeke@zekecohen.com) represents Baltimore’s First District on the City Council. In addition to Mr. Cohen, this op-ed was conceived and co-written by: Molly Amster, Baltimore director of Jews United for Justice; Liz Alex, senior director of community organizing at CASA De Maryland; Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland outreach at the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Kris Burnett, Baltimore City Council (Eighth District).

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