Opinion: Those in Power Must Be Held Accountable for Their Antisemitism

A new wave of virulent antisemitism — elevated by those in positions of power — is reaching critical levels in the United States. Amid the backdrop of  disproportionate rates of anti-Jewish hate crimes, political institutions and elected officials — both Republican and Democrat — have unabashedly singled out Jews for criticism and shared antisemitic tropes, reinforcing negative stereotypes with the potential to incite violence. A failure to hold these influential figures accountable compromises the safety of Jews everywhere.

The New York area — once considered a refuge for Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution — has become a hotbed for antisemitic hate crimes in recent years.  Last year, a man — who believed Jews were “imposters who inhabit synagogues of Satan,” according to his social media posts — shot and killed three inside a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., just across the river from Manhattan. Two weeks later, a man killed one and wounded five more at a Chanukah party in Monsey, N.Y. In Brooklyn, Jewish residents have endured assault after assault after assault.

According to the New York Police Department, more than half of violent hate crimes in the first quarter of 2020 were antisemitic attacks. That’s despite Jews making up just 13 percent of the city’s population, compared to Blacks who make up nearly 25 percent of the population and experience 14 percent of hate crimes, and Muslims who make up 9 percent of the population and experience 1 percent of hate crimes. Nationwide, FBI data show that nearly 60 percent of hate crimes are motivated by anti-Jewish bias (Jews make up less than 3 percent of the United States).

To his credit, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did increase the police presence in Jewish neighborhoods last winter after the wave of attacks, and even appointed a “multi ethnic interfaith” group to combat the issue. But not even a year later, that didn’t stop him from sharing a series of disparaging tweets in which he singled out and blamed the Jewish community for the spread of COVID-19 following a funeral gathering, despite later supporting and attending large protests that violated his own safety standards. Even the mayor’s own words were cited by assailants who attacked Jews and ripped off their face masks in May. “You Jews are getting us all sick. The mayor says you Jews are the reason we’re getting sick,” a couple allegedly yelled. And in August, a Long Island man was arrested after threatening to attack a Jewish day school that he alleged was not social distancing. He said: “If I got to go out there with a freaking machine gun and shoot all these people, I will.”  Police later recovered 14 weapons from his home.

Sadly, New York’s mayor is not alone in his complicity.

This summer, at least two incumbent members of Congress and one primary winner used antisemitic tropes in their election materials. Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia ran an ad that manipulated Jewish Democrat opponent Jon Ossoff’s nose to make it look bigger, an age-old antisemitic trope used in Nazi propaganda. The Republican Jewish Coalition criticized Marjorie Taylor Greene, the since-nominated GOP congressional candidate also in Georgia for fueling antisemitism and conspiracy theories when she called Jewish Democratic donor George Soros a “Nazi” (in addition to her other racist remarks), and for posting a photo of herself with a former Ku Klux Klan leader on social media. And of course, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently made headlines of his own this year when he went on air to promote conspiracy theories about Soros.

Within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — whose documented past of such rhetoric includes tweets suggesting that Jews are buying political influence, and “Israel hypnotized the world” and does “evil,” continues to reach new heights in her disdain for Jews. Despite later apologizing, she recently disseminated campaign literature publicly exposing three Jewish donors supporting her primary opponent with the message “Can We Trust Antone Melton-Meaux’s Money?”

And just this past week, the Democratic National Convention hosted Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour as speakers, despite their having been dropped from the Women’s March in 2019 over years-long allegations of antisemitism. (The Biden campaign later issued a statement distancing itself from Sarsour, but then apologized for the statement during a private briefing with Muslim and Arab activists).

The seemingly unending trend of those in power unfairly blaming Jews for unrest and bolstering antisemitic tropes and attitudes inadvertently filters down into public consciousness, influencing some to act violently as we saw in the New York area not even one year ago, and in Miami, in Poway, California, and in Pittsburgh before that.  If we do not hold these responsible parties accountable for their use of antisemitic rhetoric, the rise in antisemitic hate crimes will only continue.

 

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