February 18, 2022 — Miami
This piece originally appeared in the Miami Herald.
By Brian D. Siegal and Umer Rahman
We have seen a worrying increase in violent incidents of antisemitism and hate in recent weeks in South Florida, in the United States and around the world. It is time for communities to come together and speak out against bigotry.
We cannot sit idly by as extremism and bigotry escalate to violence. The forces of division exploit the discontent, needs and desires of ordinary people. We must stop them at the same time we address the grievances that lead people to such hate groups.
Even in the present polarized political climate, we have much more in common than we do that divides us. We must affirm that bigotry and hatred are not compatible with our values and work to expunge them from American society.
As Muslims and Jews, we stand united in our commitment to promote solidarity, understanding and friendship among our faith communities.
This was the impetus behind the American Jewish Committee working with Muslim and Jewish groups to form the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC), which brings together Jewish and Muslim leaders to advocate jointly on issues of common concern. The council is a network of hundreds of Muslims and Jews across the country who take tangible action together for the good of our communities and to all Americans. Since its founding in 2016, MJAC has been at the forefront of advocacy for improved public response to hate crimes and domestic terrorism.
In 2017, we created an MJAC of South Florida (MJAC), to build a cohort of business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities and have held meetings with local and national elected officials regarding hate crimes reporting in Florida.
MJAC condemned the heinous, targeted violence at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas last month. Members committed to redouble their efforts to combat antisemitism.
The numbers paint a troubling picture. Jews make up 2% of the U.S. population, yet account for nearly 55% of hate crimes motivated by religion, according to 2020 statistics from the FBI. That’s more than all other religions combined. Muslims, who account for 1% of the U.S. population, were the next-largest religious group targeted at 9%.
Antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry are more than attacks on our faiths and religious freedom. Ultimately, they are assaults on the fabric and fiber of democratic societies. Domestic terrorism and targeted violence threaten the safety of all Americans. Each of us has a role to play in keeping our communities safe.
Although violent extremism breeds mass-casualty events, it also manifests as incidents of hate and bias against individuals. And even without physical violence, those who purvey hate, intolerance and incivility tear at the fabric of our nation.
We must also strengthen local networks and enhance community resiliency. That is the goal of the Tackle! Upstander Training program. Over 25 members of law enforcement, policy makers, municipal leaders and other key stakeholders recently joined us for training to strengthen prevention frameworks against targeted violence and domestic terrorism. The Tackle! curriculum was developed with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by AJC in partnership with Muflehun, an organization that focuses on providing solutions to complex social problems.
Tackle! takes a public-health approach to the challenge of preventing violence motivated by hate and extremism. It teaches individuals and communities how to recognize the threat of targeted violence, violent extremism and extremist recruitment tactics; and understand how hate narratives can incite violence, including antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry.
During the training we discussed the attacks in Parkland, Colleyville, Pittsburgh and many more. Hearing from community leaders and Muslim and Jewish coaches made us aware of the threat of extremist ideologies to all Americans and will strengthen efforts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to prevent these heinous attacks.
This is a defining moment for all who cherish free, democratic societies. We have an opportunity, indeed an obligation, to defend our values and see diversity as a national strength, not a weakness.
Brian D. Siegal is director of the Miami-Broward office of the American Jewish Committee. Umer Rahman is program director of UP Labs at Florida International University.