Anti-Semitism costs the Jewish community significant tangible and intangible resources. Responding to hate crimes, security for special events, and day-to-day costs of protecting Jewish organizations from threats all take financial and emotional tolls on non-profit organizations, taxpayer-funded public agencies, and the members of our community.
The tangible costs include money Jewish organizations must budget for bullet-resistant glass, access controls, cameras, lighting, and security personnel. There are less tangible, but no less serious costs — stress, worry, and anxiety — the distress Jewish college students feel when confronted by ugly rhetoric on campus; the revulsion that arises at the sight of a swastika defacing a shul’s wall or inflammatory bigotry on a social media post; or the struggle that parents experience trying to answer a child’s fearful questions about hate directed at Jews.
“The cost of anti-Semitism highlights the importance of the communications network, training, and the preparedness tools the Federation provides to the community through the SAFE Washington program,” says Nancy Greer, President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
The U.S. Jewish community is facing a “perfect storm” in which extremist white supremacists and jihadists can use social media to spread hate and incitement, seek recruits, and show how acts of violence can be perpetrated, all at lightning speed, says Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, a 12-year-old homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Goldenberg is also a senior adviser to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
At the Anti-Defamation League’s groundbreaking #NeverIsNow summit on anti-Semitism held in November 2016, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said, “All of us fear that something has changed. There are troubling signs.” He pointed to “threats from the radical left that seek to delegitimize Jewish peoplehood and an extreme right that is embracing white nationalism and other racialist ideas that are anti-Semitic to their core.”
Of the 1,354 religion-based hate crimes reported nationally in 2015, over half — 695 — targeted Jews, according to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report. ADL’s 2015 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents shows there were 941 anti-Semitic incidents in 2015. Ninety of those incidents took place on college campuses, compared to 47 in 2014, the ADL report shows.
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 100 anti-Semitic incidents nationwide in the 10 days following the Nov. 8, 2016 general election. In December 2016, over 160 Holocaust organizations, scholars, and educators issued a statement sounding an alarm on a surge of “unabashed racism and hate speech” against Jews and other targeted groups.
Close to home, information from the Seattle Police Department documents increases in anti-Semitic actions in western Washington between 2011 and 2015, including harassment, graffiti, vandalism, and threats. SPD information also notes increasing youth involvement in such actions.
The Federation works closely with local and national law enforcement agencies — providing a communications network, training, and preparedness tools to Jewish organizations through the SAFE Washington program — and identifies and assists local Jewish organizations to apply for security grants through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS has provided $1.3 million to Puget Sound Jewish community organizations through its Non-Profit Security Grant (NPSG) Program.
Goldenberg says the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has set a strong example for bringing a “culture of security” to Jewish communal organizations. “You’ve been a thought leader. I use Seattle as an example of best practices, as to how the Federation system should address security.”
On average, approximately 23 organizations that own their buildings and participate in SAFE Washington have invested nearly $100,000 in security equipment and infrastructure for their property. Further identified needs include more extensive camera systems, improved lighting, and supplemental fencing. Additionally, organizations participating in SAFE Washington spend an average of $45,000 annually on security personnel to cover regular operations and special events.
The Federation is working with the Jewish Federations of North America and Washington’s congressional delegation to increase funding for the DHS Non-Profit Security Grant program.
The costs of anti-Semitism, however, involve more than installing cameras, building fences, and hiring security guards. Fears and distress inflicted by seeing ugly graffiti, hearing ill-chosen words or deliberate slurs, or being exposed to anti-Jewish tropes and stereotyping are an additional cost.
StandWithUs’s Northwest Regional Director Rob Jacobs says on campuses Jewish students are confronted by criticism directed at Israel’s government that often descends a slippery slope into anti-Semitism identifiable by the “three Ds” definition of anti-Semitism used by the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism: 1) demonizing Israel, 2) a double standard that singles out Israel among all countries for attack, and 3) denying Israel’s right to exist.
The use of anti-Semitic memes in opposition to Zionism was spotlighted by the University of California Board of Regents in a report accompanying their 2016 Principles Against Intolerance, which the regents adopted March 24, 2016. The report stemmed from increasing anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses during the 2014–2015 academic year. “Opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture,” the report says.
Mark Bloome, who founded SAFE Washington following the 2006 shooting at the Federation, said the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement has been “extraordinarily astute” in wrapping demonization of Jews and of Israel’s existence as “peace and human rights,” a strategy he characterizes as “Orwellian.” Bloome says he has been actively fighting anti-Semitism full-time for the past six years. Over that period, “most Jewish institutions have recognized the growing anti-Semitism emanating from this movement,” but he says more work needs to be done to raise individual Jews’ awareness and willingness to confront anti-Semitism. “BDS continues to grow,” he adds.
Jacobs says that in the context of debates about Israel and the Middle East he has seen a subtle form of bias emerge: “The increased willingness of good people to believe something horrible about Jews that they wouldn’t believe without proof for other groups. They’re not bad people. But there’s a willingness at some low level to believe something atrocious about Israel.”
Today’s media environment is an anti-Semitism accelerant. Unfiltered social media posts and websites trafficking in fake news can rapidly spread rumors and falsehoods. A fractured media landscape makes it easier to limit one’s exposure to media, reinforcing beliefs and avoiding information challenging those beliefs, which makes combatting anti-Semitism by presenting facts “incredibly difficult,” Jacobs notes.
For parents, answering their children’s questions about the what and why of anti-Semitism presents difficulties of a different sort. “My 8-year-old son asked me why people hate Jews and Israel,” says Lila Cohen, AJC’s Seattle regional director. “I didn’t sugarcoat it for him. I told him people hate Jews and have hated Jews for many years.” Cohen shares her guidance for her young son: “Be proud of who you are and keep facing forward.”
Education is crucial, Cohen adds. To that end, the Federation works closely with state legislators to fund educational projects to teach the values of tolerance, justice, and equality. In 2016, for example, Federation advocacy secured $200,000 for completing the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s permanent exhibit and $250,000 to help endow the Jaffe Professorship of Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Western Washington University, the leading institution of higher education in the state preparing future social studies teachers.
For adults, “the only way forward is balanced dialogue,” Cohen adds. Reach out to allies in the faith community and elected officials. “Show them the face of the Jewish community.”
Actions that “move the needle” are urgently necessary, Bloome says. “To win this battle,” he adds, “Jewish organizations and the community need to get past internal divisions, territoriality, and institutional inertia and work together for the sake of the Jewish nation — in other words, Jews everywhere.”
The dangers of anti-Semitism are high, but preparedness, vigilance, and resilience are the keys to countering these dangers, Goldenberg says, and above all, he adds, don’t let anti-Semites win by changing how we live. “They succeed if they shut us down. Never live in fear.”