June 18, 2019 — New York
This piece originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.
When the FBI views threats against a candidate for Seattle’s City Council so ominous it considers around the clock protection for him and his family, citizens should be concerned. When that necessary preventative law enforcement action does not break the inexplicable silence of local political leadership, citizens should be outraged.
The facts that the targeted politician, Ari Hoffman, is an Orthodox Jew, that the threats are laced with blatantly antisemitic comments and that this is happening amid a rise in reported assaults on Jews across the United States is distressing.
Sixty-five percent of American Jews think they are less secure today than a year ago, according to the 2019 American Jewish Committee (AJC) Survey of American Jewish Opinion. Only 15% feel more secure and 17% feel about the same. The 2019 survey, released earlier this month on the first day of the AJC Global Forum, indicated a significant increase in Jewish insecurity. In AJC’s 2018 survey, 55% stated they felt less secure, 18% more secure and 25% about the same.
The sense of foreboding in 2019 is uniform across age groups, with 57% of those 18-29 years old, 64% of those 30-49, 66% of those 50-64, and 71% of those 65 and over stating they feel less secure than a year ago. And, by denomination, 68% of Modern Orthodox, 63% of Conservative, 72% of Reform and 71% of secular Jews reported that they feel less secure than a year ago.
“Last year was the worst year for antisemitism homicides that we have ever seen,” Brian Levin – director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino – told the AJC Global Forum in early June. “The only thing that stopped this year from being worse was the fact that a violent antisemite’s gun jammed,” referring to the April fatal attack at the Chabad in Poway, California.
In Seattle, the acuteness of the threats against Hoffman was revealed last week by MEMRI. My colleague Regina Friedland, director of AJC Seattle, condemned both the online threats and the failure of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to speak out.
“This is totally unacceptable,” said Friedland. “Inaction has consequences. Whatever one may think about Mr. Hoffman’s policy positions on local Seattle issues, inserting his faith or the State of Israel into the discourse should be rebuked as out of bounds.”
Indeed, in a local political contest focused on Seattle’s burgeoning homeless crisis, police department corruption, and the economy, referencing the State of Israel is the last thing one would expect to see raised.
Yet the taunts posted on 8chan, a notorious online forum frequented by adherents of white supremacist ideologies, called on Hoffman, who was born and raised in the US, “to go back to Israel” and made various threats to physically harm his children. The shooters who carried out the fatal attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad in Poway spent time on 8chan and similar hateful internet sites.
Threatening words delivered verbally, digitally or in print should never be ignored. When these words single out Jews, they are clearly antisemitic. Still, as of this writing, Mayor Durkan has not commented on the attacks on Ari Hoffman. Nor has any sitting member of the City Council.
The lack of a response is even more mystifying, given the release last month of a new Seattle City Auditor’s Office report on hate crimes that showed an increase of nearly 400% since 2012 and of nearly 25% between 2017 and 2018. There were 521 hate crimes reported to Seattle police in 2018, and 106 in 2012.
Black and LGB individuals are the most prevalent victims of hate crimes, accounting for about 200 incidents each from 2012-2016. During that period Jews reported nearly 50 incidents, far ahead of other faiths listed in the report, including Islamic, Christian, Catholic and Sikh.
The Seattle Police Department has one Bias Crimes Coordinator, a position created in 2015, to handle hate crimes reported by victims. The city auditor, recognizing this and other shortcomings in the department, recommended that “given the growing number of reported hate crimes, the City of Seattle may want to evaluate the resources dedicated to hate crime investigations and outreach.”
Ari Hoffman, however, cannot wait for the Mayor’s Office and City Council to evaluate the auditor’s report and come up with effective ways to act to prevent, investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Acknowledging antisemitism and responding with unqualified determination should be instinctive.
The absence of any reaction from the Mayor’s Office, from faith and civic leaders and even from the city’s main daily, The Seattle Times, only compounds the loneliness of the target. “This is just life as a Jew and it’s unfortunate,” says Hoffman. He continues to campaign, aiming to emerge victorious in the August 1 primary.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.