Despite the cease-fire agreed to between Israel and Gaza in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, there is rising fear in the Jewish community that the unrest will be used as an excuse for hate crimes against them.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, it has received close to 200 reports of possible anti-Semitic acts, an increase from the 131 it received the week before the most recent conflict between Israel and Gaza began.
“I think our country is bifurcated; I think our country is polarized,” said Rabbi Joseph Black, Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Denver, one of the country’s largest synagogues. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I mean, we see it everywhere from children in school and swastikas written on lockers, or statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not every statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is anti-Semitic, but a lot of it is used for that.”
Even before this most recent conflict in the Middle East, the number of reported anti-Semitic acts was already going up due to recent rises in Neo-Nazism.
According to the FBI’s most recent hate crime statistics, hate crimes in 2019 reached their highest level in more than a decade as more than 7,314 incidents were reported. Of those, more than 1,521 were related to religion, and of those, 953, or two-thirds, were against Jews. That number is five times higher than the next closest religious group, Muslims, which saw 173 reported hate acts, and a number 14% higher than it was the previous year.
“We have to be careful,” Black said. “We’ve had to up our security. Over the last five years, our congregation has had to invest heavily in guards, in protective cameras and security apparatuses, and every congregation has had to as well, unfortunately. There are two messages: one is we need to be vigilant. The other is we can’t be afraid. We can’t let this drive us underground.”
The 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh was the most notable act of antisemitism in the U.S. and the deadliest attack against Jews in American history after a white supremacist killed 11 people and injured seven others.
Today’s current rise in acts of hate is now smaller and more frequent, according to some in the Jewish community, as they come in the form of a passing comment or aggression.
Earlier this week, Jewish diners in Los Angeles were attacked by people flying Palestinian flags.
“There’s no question that antisemitism has been rising in the United States in recent years,” said David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
Since its formation, the AJC has worked with global governments, including the U.S., to create policies that allow for more coexistence and understanding between cultures.
In 2016, it created the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, an interfaith group used to strengthen Jewish and Muslim ties, while also combating anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is first and foremost an attack on me, on Jews, but ultimately it’s an attack on much more than me,” Harris said. “Anyone who goes after a Jew is going to go after an African American, is going to go after a Muslim, is going to go after a member of the LGBTQ community, is going to go after anyone who doesn’t fit into their own definition of self and society.”