August 22, 2023 — Chicago
Jews have settled all across America for centuries, not just in big cities. While the Jewish presence in rural areas may be smaller, antisemitism remains a growing problem in those communities.
How to change that narrative is part of the U.S. National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, released in May by President Biden. Gavriela Geller, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/AJC Kansas City, said the focus on rural areas was both needed and welcome.
“Antisemitic incidents in urban areas that are home to the largest concentration of Jews often get the most attention. However, hate can originate anywhere,” Geller said. “Lack of exposure to Jewish communities can also affect how easily stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Jews are spread.”
Geller was part of a panel discussion on rural antisemitism and Islamophobia last week at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, the world’s largest interreligious gathering. She was joined by representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
AJC has formed a Task Force that will deploy dozens of AJC staff and lay leaders to help ensure the strategy is implemented. The White House’s plan includes the following proposals for rural America:
- A meeting convened by USDA with rural and land-grant colleges to share their best practices on confronting antisemitism and other forms of hate and bias.
- The development of materials for rural universities to create opportunities to learn about Judaism, Jewish culture, and the Holocaust, and ensure university calendars are inclusive and accommodate religious observances for Jewish students.
- Providing educational opportunities for 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and other rural youth groups to learn how to identify and counter antisemitism.
- A dialogue with religious leaders in rural America centered on building solidarity among faiths and assessing the state of antisemitism in their regions.
- To address security at Jewish institutions, FEMA will make Nonprofit Security Grant Program funds easier to access. This includes enhanced training, new technical assistance, and engagements with rural and underserved communities to ensure they are aware of the program.
AJC will also provide its Translate Hate glossary to USDA for their enforcement agents to learn how to identify and counter antisemitic discrimination.
Geller said there are other steps the Jewish community can take to build connections across rural America, including working together to address challenges that affect farming communities. “The challenges facing farming communities ultimately affect all Americans - and especially those living in regions that depend on the agricultural industry. Israel is a world leader in innovative agricultural technology, including water technology. Connecting American farmers to this technology can help address major issues in these regions, such as the consequences of severe drought.”
USDA has also made increasing broadband access a priority, which is crucial for the success of farms, businesses, and even health care in rural communities. Yet this access will also contribute to the spread of online extremism and misinformation, Geller said.
“Whether it’s spreading misinformation and bias against Israel or white nationalist extremism, antisemitic beliefs and conspiracy theories often gain traction online. AJC has long identified media literacy as an important step to combating antisemitism in the modern world,” said Geller. “Laudable efforts to expand broadband across America should also be accompanied by media literacy efforts which will also help keep extremists on the fringes where they belong.”
AJC is the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people. With headquarters in New York City, 25 offices across the United States, and 14 overseas posts, as well as partnerships with 39 Jewish community organizations worldwide, AJC's mission is to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and to advance human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.