April 13, 2024
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Top Officials Convene at OU Summit on Fighting Antisemitism

On December 12, the Orthodox Union convened at Lincoln Square Synagogue with government officials to address rising antisemitism across the United States with Orthodox Jewish communal leaders. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senator Chuck Schumer, Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams spoke directly to these leaders whose members face these threats, prompting further discussion on how best to combat it.

OU Executive VP Rabbi Moshe Hauer began: “We’re here because of the spike in antisemitism. This isn’t an area the OU wanted to be involved in. It’s a tragic turn in our country that we have to deal with this on every level.

“Our community is keenly aware and constantly conscious of its history,” Rabbi Hauer continued. “Why isn’t this 1939? What makes us different? Are we naive? When things like this start to happen with such frequency, why have the Jewish people moved from a once-hospitable country to another, then to another? Is this moment any different? Can we have any sense of security? Our elected officials are leaders of law enforcement. Express zero tolerance!”

Schumer said: “We gather during troubling times. Like all of you, I feel the same fear and that past generations of Jews felt, when antisemitism rears its ugly head. After decades of progress tamping down antisemitism in America, we experienced a dramatic resurgence the last few years—not only slurs, graffiti and threats, all of which are unacceptable, but also physical violence, sometimes deadly. Poway, Jersey City, Monsey, Pittsburgh.

“Unless we can come together as a community and a country to address this crisis, I fear we’ll have to add more names,” Schumer continued. “As the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history, I feel a special responsibility to this community. I want to thank the OU. Together, we have created the nonprofit Security Grant Program, which helps religious institutions protect themselves from hate crimes and terrorist attacks. From $90 million in 2020, rising to $250 million this year, they’re working to get $360 million.” Schumer added,” We must persist fighting anti-Semitism from wherever it comes, no matter our political disagreements.”

Adams acknowledged, “I get it, as you watch loved ones being attacked because of their religious and life beliefs; a 125% increase we’re witnessing in the city. Swastikas have become so common that some are afraid to put on a yarmulke, ride the subways and [walk the] streets. I spent 22 years in the NYPD protecting the people of the city, not surrendering to those who believe hate is going to have a stronghold in this city. It will not happen.

“We have to look at the historical relationships between communities, specifically the Black-Jewish relationship,” Adams said. “We have failed to be creative in how we build a new pipeline of leaders: young people coming together in our schools, communicating with each other. There should be a no-plea-bargaining rule. If you’re arrested for hate crimes, you shouldn’t have assault downgraded to harassment. I don’t believe we’ve had one person arrested for a hate crime who served time. That’s unacceptable.”

In addition, Adams called for “a full-frontal assault on social media for spewing hate. Platforms have a social and corporate responsibility to identify those with hateful speech and rhetoric, and immediately stop them from proliferating and poisoning minds.”

During her remarks, Hochul officially announced “a statewide Hate and Bias Prevention Unit embedded within our Department of Human Rights. It’s not just going to be sitting in a back office. This is going to be a statewide initiative to educate and be an early-warning system.”

Mayorkas quoted FBI reports that 63% of religious hate crimes are motivated by antisemitism. The ADL has reported 2,717 anti-Semitic incidents nationwide in 2021, a 34% increase over the prior year, the highest on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic acts in over 40 years.

“It’s very important that we’re gathered to discuss the rise in antisemitism, and what we can and must do to combat it,” the homeland security secretary said. “Over the past 22 months, we have issued more than 100 advisories, bulletins and alerts to ensure that we’re informing communities of the threat landscape and how best to stay safe. We’ve deployed 100 protective security advisers from our cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency to provide security assessments, advice and training in response to increasing threats our communities are encountering.”

“In our Faith-Based Security Advisory Council meeting a few weeks ago, Rabbi Hauer made a very important point: There’s no such thing as a small act of antisemitism. … It reverberates throughout our community, our country and even the world. It spreads fear without borders.”

Mayorkas continued: “We must respond accordingly. … we must also hold perpetrators of targeted violence of whatever scale accountable. Our Department of Justice is fully dedicated to prosecuting hate crimes. We will be engaging investigators and prosecutors to ensure violent antisemitic acts and other forms of hate are addressed at every level to the fullest extent of the law.”

Schumer concluded: “During Chanukah, we remember the Maccabees’ bravery and God’s divine providence. This year, I humbly offer a prayer that one day we’ll live in a world totally free of antisemitic violence, where we no longer need miracles just to survive. I believe that world is indeed possible.”

By Judy Berger

 

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