The growing crisis of antisemitism in America
The hostage crisis at a synagogue in Texas is a time to reflect. May we all come together to support one another, heal, and collectively commit ourselves to fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate.
This past weekend’s hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas was another nightmare come true for the American Jewish community and a shocking reminder of the current state of antisemitism in America.
Details are still emerging about the specific motivations of the hostage taker, Malik Faisal Akram. What we know for sure, though, is that Akram purposefully chose to target and take hostages in a synagogue during weekly Shabbat services. The role that antisemitism may have played in motivating the suspect must be part of the investigation.
Unfortunately, being on edge and being vigilant is very much part of the recent American Jewish experience. This has particularly been true in the aftermath of the mass shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California in 2018 and 2019, respectively, both carried out by white supremacists, and the subsequent attacks on Jewish targets in Jersey City and Monsey, New York. As well, there have been other times of crisis, such as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and brazen assaults of Jews near Times Square and in a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles last spring.
In the past few years, as antisemitism has reached a high-water mark in the United States, Anti-Defamation League polls have shown that American Jews are increasingly concerned about antisemitism and their personal and communal security.
The last four years, for example, have seen the highest rates of antisemitic activity in the Midwest since our organization began annual tracking in 1979. Nationally, in 2020, ADL tracked a 40% increase (from 234 in 2019 to 327 in 2020) in reported incidents at Jewish institutions, such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and schools — an alarmingly dangerous reality.
A recent ADL survey also showed that three-quarters of American Jews are more concerned about antisemitism in the country than before the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas last May. Forty percent are more concerned about their personal safety than before the conflict as well.
Fight all forms of hate
A whole community approach is needed to address this growing issue — and immediate action is required.
First, the U.S. Senate must confirm Dr. Deborah Lipstadt as America’s next Antisemitism Envoy. Lipstadt, one of the world’s leading scholars on antisemitism, was nominated by President Joe Biden six months ago, yet her confirmation hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been blocked. The White House resubmitted her nomination last week, and her leadership in this pertinent role is desperately needed with antisemitism on the rise in the U.S. and abroad.
Second, Congress should increase funding for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program. This federal grant program has provided millions of critical dollars to not-for-profits to invest in necessary security measures to protect houses of worship and facilities. Last year, the House of Representatives approved $360 million for the program, an increase from $90 million in 2020. But in the legislative back-and-forth, the funding total was ultimately cut in half and the program fulfilled less than half of the applications it received in 2021.
Lastly, and perhaps most critically, we need to be there for one another. It was overwhelming to receive and see the outpouring of support for the victims and Jewish community from groups and individuals across the spectrum this weekend. We hope this type of support will continue — and not just in times of crisis, because hate is unrelenting.
For example, we have already seen posts on social media attempting to scapegoat Muslims for Saturday’s hostage crisis in Colleyville. Collectively and without hesitation, we must reject these acts of Islamophobia and set the record straight with facts and strength.
It will take time for American Jews to recover from this weekend’s hostage crisis. For many of us, it was impossible to watch the event unfold without imagining it playing out in our synagogues and during our own Shabbat services. It was a painful reminder that the threat to the Jewish community in America remains at a significant and lethal level.
May we all come together to support one another, heal, and collectively commit ourselves to fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate to ensure what happened this weekend in Texas does not happen again.
David Goldenberg is the Midwest Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Trent Spoolstra is Associate Midwest Regional Director for Jewish Community Engagement for the Anti-Defamation League.
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