Local and State Government Action Items

Recommendations for Local and State Governments, as part of AJC's Call to Action Against Antisemitism in America.

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According to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, 47% of American Jews approve of how their local and state governments are responding to antisemitism in the United States– a seven percentage point increase in one year (40% in 2022). As antisemitism threatens the well-being of the Jewish community with renewed vigor after the events of October 7, 2023, and the subsequent war between Hamas and Israel, local and state elected officials have an opportunity and the responsibility to protect Jewish security, establish structures to prevent and address hate, and prevent the politicization of antisemitism.

Please note that the suggestions offered below are not exhaustive. There is always more that can be done.

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Understanding Antisemitism

Promote a standard definition | The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is globally recognized as the authoritative definition. It is a proven, flexible tool embraced by more than half of U.S. states and dozens of local municipalities. Utilize the IHRA Working Definition to deepen awareness amongst educators, members of law enforcement, prosecutors, and others. The U.S. Departments of Education and State have used the definition for years. Several European countries and agencies are already using the definition in innovative and effective ways

Use educational resources | AJC’s Translate Hate glossary helps identify and expose antisemitic tropes, words, and symbols that often hide in plain sight. Elected officials and departments of education can share resources such as Translate Hate on their websites for educators and constituents. Public libraries around the country can offer copies. As anti-Israel protests continue to disrupt schools, campuses, and government business, resources like American Jewish Committee’s Recognizing when Anti-Israel Actions Become Antisemitic can help officials identify and respond to Israel-related antisemitism.

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Responding to Antisemitism

Issue unequivocal condemnations | When an incident occurs, elected officials should speak out loudly and clearly using their broad reach, raising awareness that antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem, but an assault on American values. Leaders must confront antisemitism head-on, especially when it emanates from colleagues, from those within their party, and/or their offices or staff. Strong statements of condemnation should come immediately and should:

  • Specifically name and condemn antisemitism when it occurs, even in the larger context of free speech. 
  • Offer pathways forward, including resources for victims, that can help the community heal while also proactively addressing antisemitism by generating an improved understanding of Jewish history, identity, and heritage. 
  • Define antisemitism. Dozens of cities and municipalities across the country—as well as corporations, sports leagues, and universities— have embraced the IHRA Working Definition, to help determine when incidents may be deemed antisemitism.

Depoliticize the fight against antisemitism | While bipartisanship has been critical to U.S. success in countering hatred of Jews in the U.S. and abroad, the fight against antisemitism is increasingly politicized. When considered only through a partisan lens, antisemitism is not being countered, but instrumentalized. Antisemitism must not be a partisan issue used as a wedge within the Jewish community. Especially in advance of elections, we encourage candidates and elected officials to be mindful of politicization and reach across party lines to address antisemitism.

Appoint a liaison | Mayors, governors, and municipal leaders should tap a point person to be a central address for the Jewish community, especially when a security need arises. Many elected leaders have Jewish advisory groups or interfaith/interethnic task forces. State and local leaders should also work with Jewish and other religious communities to ensure that calendars for public schools and elections consider the major holidays of religious groups of all faith communities and that appropriate religious accommodations are made. 

Train staff | The staff of elected officials should be trained to identify and respond to antisemitism in their communities. Local Jewish community representatives should be present during this training to demonstrate the priority placed on the issue and to localize the specific forms of antisemitism they are facing. If they are to be effective, trainings cannot ignore antisemitism masked as anti-Zionism, despite any concern or hesitation about veering into political matters. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel is textbook antisemitism. 

Encourage reporting of hate crimes | Year after year, Jews are the largest target of all religiously motivated hate crimes, despite accounting for just 2% of the U.S. population according to the FBI’s 2022 Hate Crimes Statistics report. That report also highlights gross underreporting of hate crimes in cities across the U.S., including dozens of cities with 100,000 or more residents, significantly hindering our nation’s ability to effectively counter rising antisemitism and all forms of hate. In AJC’s recently published State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, over nine in 10 Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, say it is important that law enforcement be required to report hate crimes to a federal government database. Currently, reporting is voluntary. Making matters worse, many hate crimes go unreported to law enforcement by victims. 

Examine bail laws | States should examine existing bail laws to ensure that violent offenses, especially hate crimes, are included on the list of offenses for which a judge may order bail. For example, New York mandates that persons charged with less than class D felonies may not be detained and may not be subject to a bail requirement, which often deters victims from reporting instances or pursuing criminal charges. Because nearly all antisemitic attacks are less than class D felonies, victimizers walk out of court with what appears to be impunity.

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Preventing Antisemitism

Invest in Jewish community security | Increased threats necessitate additional resources for community security. Synagogues, Jewish educational and cultural sites, and individuals must receive the protection and security training they need. Local authorities should encourage religiously affiliated institutions to apply for nonprofit security grants from the Department of Homeland Security to fund physical security enhancements. According to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, 46% of American Jews say they altered their behavior out of fear of antisemitism. In 2022, this number was 38% — a significant eight percentage point jump in one year.

As fear rises and numbers of incidents mount, local and state governments must work hand-in-glove with law enforcement. For more information on how law enforcement can work to protect Jewish communities, see AJC’s tailored recommendations

Implement a comprehensive strategy | Elected officials should consider an action plan to outline a comprehensive state or city-wide strategy to respond to and prevent antisemitism. These plans, while taking into account local and regional contexts, can focus on schools, the workplace, law enforcement, and other local entities which need to be prepared. For example, the U.S. states of California and Virginia have published state action plans, and New York has announced comprehensive state action to counter antisemitism. These plans should be bipartisan and not politicized. The appointment of a designated official to facilitate and streamline coordination is also recommended. 

Convene stakeholders and engage leaders in community coalitions | Local elected officials can convene community partners—as well as law enforcement—to discuss antisemitism and hate crimes, and create a diverse network of community leaders. Elected officials should join in and lift up exemplary cross-community partnerships like AJC’s Muslim Jewish Advisory CouncilLatino Jewish Leadership CouncilBlack/Jewish coalitionChristian-Jewish relationship building, amongst other coalitions in solidarity and action against antisemitism. 

Host antisemitism trainings | Partner with AJC to plan trainings for elected officials, law enforcement, corporations, sports teams, higher education institutions, and nonprofits in your jurisdiction to help them recognize antisemitism, raise awareness, and address it using a variety of tools. To schedule a training, contact antisemitism@ajc.org.

Offer targeted engagement programs focused on prevention State and local governments should leverage resources provided by federal agencies to strengthen community-based violence prevention efforts and expand trainings with state and local partners to prevent violence motivated by hateful ideologies. For example, the Department of Homeland Security's Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention grant program and the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) Regional Prevention Coordinator program can work with Jewish communities to address concerns, build trust, and ensure accessibility. The Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice can provide awareness raising training and conflict mediation in hot spots around the country.

Encourage media literacy | Several recent attacks against Jews originated on social media. Following the Hamas-instigated conflict in Israel in May 2021, and again after the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7, 2023, posts and videos demonizing Israel were viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times which led to real life attacks against the Jewish community. State and local governments, via informal and formal education, can raise awareness about the need to check sources and question bias. State and local governments should promote media and digital literacy and critical thinking, especially among educators. 

Strengthen education on Jews, antisemitism, and the Holocaust | Thirty-nine states have taken some sort of action on Holocaust education and yet a Claims Conference study found most Millennials and Gen Z lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust. Short of mandatory Holocaust education, state and local governments can urge responsible formal or informal educational opportunities to educate youth about the Holocaust. In addition, educational curricula should include Jewish history and the contributions of Jews to America. According to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, 91% of American Jews and 85% of U.S. adults believe it is important that public schools invest more resources in teaching age-appropriate lessons about the Holocaust for all students. Furthermore, 87% of American Jews and 81% of U.S. adults say it is important that statewide studies are conducted to assess how effectively public school districts are teaching the Holocaust. 

Include Jews in ethnic studies curricula As states consider ethnic studies curricula, lessons should include Jews, Jewish history and contributions to America, Jewish diversity, and contemporary antisemitism. Because antisemitism presents itself in unique forms, teachers should be trained both to teach about the topic accurately and to be alert to its presence in the classroom. AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report found that 77% of American Jews and 72% of U.S. adults say it is important that state and local governments include Jewish studies within the ethnic studies or history curricula in public schools. 

Educate to prevent antisemitism | State and local elected officials should ensure they are marking and hosting educational opportunities and events around key dates, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day designated by the United Nations to take place annually on January 27. Elected officials should issue public statements, use the opportunity to encourage Holocaust education, and hold community events reaffirming the fundamental guiding lesson of the Holocaust: never again. Commemorating the Holocaust should also focus on contemporary forms of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial and distortion. 

Celebrate Jewish American heritage and diversity | Jewish American Heritage Month occurs each May. Celebrating Jewish heritage, Jewish life, and Jewish contribution to American society in May is vital to educate about who Jews are as a people and can also help mitigate antisemitism.1 AJC offers many resources specifically designed to help elected officials celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, including talking points, customizable social media posts, and press release templates. Consider including Jewish American Heritage Month on the online calendar of official websites if other heritage and history months are recognized. May is also Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and state and local officials may consider roundtable discussions about issues of common concern for Jewish and Asian constituents. AJC’s regional offices can also help plan community events in partnership with local and state government offices. 

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