State and local elected officials are often on the front line of combating antisemitism, protecting Jewish communities, and supporting American values. They can leverage resources 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.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is globally recognized as the authoritative definition. Adopted or endorsed by more than half of U.S. states and dozens of local municipalities, it is a proven, flexible tool to identify antisemitism.
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. Resources like AJC’s Recognizing when Anti-Israel Actions Become Antisemitic can help officials identify and respond to Israel-related antisemitism.
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.
Depoliticize the fight against antisemitism | Antisemitism has been increasingly politicized. When considered only through a partisan lens, antisemitism is not being countered, but instrumentalized. Politicians must call out hatred within their party, before pointing fingers across the aisle. Bipartisanship is critical to American success in countering hatred of Jews in the U.S. and abroad.
Establish institutional mechanisms | 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 taskforces. Jews appreciate when official calendars (schools, elections, etc.) consider major Jewish holidays.
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. Making matters worse, many hate crimes go unreported to law enforcement by victims. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans experience an average of 250,000 hate crimes each year, but most are not reported to the police. It is impossible to address hate crimes when we do not understand their extent. Local governments can leverage Department of Justice (DOJ) resources for hate crimes bias training and establishing hate crimes hotlines so vulnerable communities feel comfortable reporting hate crimes. Elected leaders should ensure all law enforcement agencies transition to DOJ’s National Incident-Based Reporting System to submit hate crimes data to the FBI for its annual report.
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.
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 can encourage religiously affiliated institutions to apply for nonprofit security grants from the Department of Homeland Security to fund physical security enhancements for high-risk nonprofits.
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. The appointment of a designated official to facilitate and streamline coordination is recommended. Relatedly, the staff of elected officials should be trained to identify and respond to antisemitism.
Convene stakeholders | 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.
Encourage media literacy | Several recent attacks against Jews originated on social media. Following the Hamas-instigated conflict in Israel in May 2021, posts and videos demonizing Israel were viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times. 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 recent 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.
Include Jews in ethnic studies curricula | As states consider ethnic studies curricula, lessons should include Jews, Jewish history and contribution 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.