March 9, 2023 — Miami
The following column originally appeared in the Miami Herald.
By Brian Siegal
Antisemitism is a toxic virus that continues to mutate.
The Holocaust may have been the ultimate manifestation of what is known as the world’s oldest hatred, but it did not abate following the liberation of the Nazi death camps 78 years ago. In fact, antisemitism has been rising in the United States and Europe at alarming levels, fueled in part by social-media rants, conspiracy theories and naked anti-Jewish hate.
As people search for easy explanations for intractable, societal problems, the allure of conspiracy theories and the search for scapegoats thrive and too often lead to anti-Jewish tropes.
It is a global problem that requires a global response. As antisemitism has increased, so, too, has the call for governments to act comprehensively to address it.
That is why American Jewish Committee convened a White House meeting on Feb. 28 of envoys who combat antisemitism in other nations as part of the efforts of an interagency group created by President Biden to build a U.S. national strategy to fight this hate.
The more we can learn about strategies other nations have deployed to fight antisemitism, the better it can inform how law enforcement and government respond to anti-Jewish hate in the United States. These nations can learn from our experiences and strategies, too.
AJC recently brought to Miami two of these envoys — Fernando Lottenberg, from the Organization of American States, and Felix Klein, of Germany — for discussions with local elected officials, Jewish community leaders and others.
In our meetings with these envoys, it was evident that action plans mandate a whole-of-government approach that includes, among other measures, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, collecting hate-crime data, ensuring the security of Jewish communities and training law enforcement and prosecutors to recognize and respond to antisemitic incidents.
These discussions were informed by last month’s release of AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America report, a comprehensive look at how American Jews and the general public view antisemitism and the threat it poses in the United States. The report makes clear that rising antisemitism has had a deeply disturbing impact on America’s Jewish community.
The report found nearly nine in 10 Jews and the general public believe antisemitism is a serious problem in the country, and more than eight in 10 Jews believe it has gotten worse in the past five years. More than 40% of Jews say their status in the United States is less secure than it was a year ago — 10 percentage points higher than in 2021. And four in 10 Jews have altered their behavior in public to avoid being identified as Jewish.
Jews are playing defense here and abroad. That is no small feat when Jews represent just 2% of the U.S. population and 0.2% of the world population. It would be easy to dismiss antisemitism as a Jewish problem, one that is left for Jews to solve. Nothing could be further from the truth. AJC’s survey found that over nine in 10 U.S. adults believe antisemitism is a problem for everyone, affecting society as a whole.
If we cannot protect our Jewish population, what hope is there for any other religious or ethnic group? To not forcefully respond to antisemitism is to put our democracy in mortal peril.
To be silent is to be complicit. Klein represents a nation that continues to grapple with its legacy of Hitler and a Nazi killing machine that slaughtered two-thirds of Europe’s Jews.
Germany has explicit laws against Holocaust denial and the dissemination of Nazi propaganda as well as strict hate-speech laws that require online platforms to send suspected incidents of hate speech directly to the federal government. They were enacted, in part, because a growing tide of far-right and extremist rhetoric once again threatened to wash over German society.
Those rules here would run afoul of our First Amendment. In America, we fight hate speech with more speech, ever mindful of the fact that the virus of antisemitism may not go away.
But when nations work together, there is much we can do to contain its spread.
Brian Siegal is regional director in Miami and Broward counties for American Jewish Committee.