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Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 14% last year; a Baltimore task force confronts the crisis | COMMENTARY

A Hasidic man stands where he was attacked last year in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, on Feb. 10, 2020. Jewish people were the victims in more than half of the hate crimes in New York City last year, with many of the crimes committed in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods, according to the Police Department.
A Hasidic man stands where he was attacked last year in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, on Feb. 10, 2020. Jewish people were the victims in more than half of the hate crimes in New York City last year, with many of the crimes committed in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods, according to the Police Department.

Eighteen months ago, The Associated and Baltimore Jewish Council convened Baltimore’s Jewish community leaders to confront the challenges of anti-Semitism. We needed to address not just the high-profile horrifying attacks, but the dramatic rise of anti-Semitic incidents of all types — the swastikas being spray-painted in our communities, the hateful insults exchanged on high school sports fields and in supermarkets, the harassment that college students encounter on campuses.

As co-chairs of the Baltimore Community Task Force on Antisemitism, we now stand ready to present our work to all who believe in a civil and more just society. We now issue a statement that makes clear what we believe constitutes anti-Semitism and how we all have a responsibility to confront it. Accompanying our statement is an action plan that lays out steps we need to take to educate, to advocate and to partner with allies across our region.

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Our work has also been framed by findings from The Associated’s 2020 Community Survey of the region’s Jewish population, which identified significant concerns about anti-Semitism. Though residents expressed greater concerns about anti-Semitism at the national level, the survey found that nearly two out of 10 adults in Baltimore reported personally experiencing anti-Semitism in the past year. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and law enforcement report growing numbers of hate crimes and incidents against Jews and other minority groups. Just a few days ago, the FBI noted that there was a 14% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes last year in the U.S.

Before going any further, we want to be clear about what our work was not about — physical security. Our synagogues and other Jewish institutions have spent years making significant investments in upgrading security and devoted many hours to planning and training exercises. We greatly appreciate the elected leaders and law enforcement officials who have supported us through government grant funding, expertise and partnerships.

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For the work of our task force, we started with the incredibly complex question of defining anti-Semitism. Simply put, anti-Semitism is hostility to or prejudice against Jews. But within our community statement defining anti-Semitism, we also sought to tackle the tough question of when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitic language, as well as the importance of education and allyship when we confront hate in its many forms.

Broadly speaking, the action recommendations of our task force centered around four main areas:

  • Education: To battle anti-Semitism, we must better educate both our Jewish community, and our broader community across the region.
  • Advocacy: Standing up for our community against anti-Semitism and hate requires advocacy to ensure that laws keep up with new forms of harassment, threats and violence.
  • Relationship Building: In the battle against bigotry, to have allies, one must be an ally. Combating bigotry, in all its forms, is a core Jewish value.
  • Monitoring and Responding: To confront anti-Semitism, we must better understand the frequency and types of hate that members of our community are experiencing.

The recommendations are ambitious, and we recognize that not all can be accomplished at once. Some will require investments of new resources and staff. Synagogues and organizations will be asked to help. We are pleased to have strong relationships with national partners like ADL, which is already working with us on specific recommendations related to education and incident tracking.

We need to be clear that this is not about any one political party or elected official. We see anti-Semitism from all points of view, and we believe it must be confronted no matter the source. We also know that anti-Semitism, like other forms of bias, is often expressed through misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about one another. Together, we can learn and appreciate each other to make change.

Our battle against anti-Semitism is part of a broader societal fight against racism and hate. All of our communities have a responsibility to stand with anyone and everyone who is being attacked for their race, faith, sexual orientation, or any other reason. When we have been threatened, the support of friends in other faiths has been invaluable.

Expressions of hatred are on the rise, and this is especially true with expressions of anti-Semitism. We must recognize it, confront it, educate about it, and join together with like-minded people opposed to hatred and bigotry.

Debra S. Weinberg (dweinberg@associated.org) served as co-chair of the Baltimore Community Task Force on Antisemitism and is the immediate past chair of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. Rabbi Andrew Busch (abusch@baltimorehebrew.org) served as co-chair of the Task Force and is the president of the Baltimore Jewish Council; he is a rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

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