December 31, 2019
As we close 2019, AJC looks back on the news of the past year that fueled our advocacy and demonstrated that our diplomacy and campaigns do make a difference.
- White Nationalist Attacks Poway Synagogue
On April 27, the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday, a gunman brandishing a high-powered rifle fired shots inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue north of San Diego, killing one and injuring several others.
Congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died at the doors to the sanctuary. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was wounded in both hands and lost an index finger. Another congregant and his 8-year-old niece were wounded.
Prosecutors charged then-19-year-old John Timothy Earnest with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the attack. He also is charged with arson at nearby mosque. Earnest’s online manifesto resembled those of the shooters at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh and the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and included references to the American roots of white nationalism, an ideology rooted in white supremacy, which targets Jews.
- Antisemitism Reaches Capitol Hill, White House
Controversies about antisemitism touched both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill this year. In January, House Republicans agreed to remove Iowa Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from two House committees after he was quoted saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Meanwhile, controversial remarks by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) that evoked antisemitic tropes such as an affinity for money and allegiance to Israel forced Democrats to re-affirm their support for the Jewish state.
But Republicans and Democrats also set aside their discord to address the rise of antisemitic violence. Shortly after her trip to Israel with AJC Project Interchange, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) teamed up with U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) to launch the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. The task force in the House of Representatives grew from 110 members to 175.
Meanwhile, in August, President Trump declared that Jews who support Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” His remarks were excoriated for evoking an antisemitic trope that Jews have a “dual loyalty” and are often more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.
AJC CEO David Harris said the president’s charge of disloyalty was especially dangerous to American Jews, because it politicized antisemitism and implied that Jews don’t belong in the U.S.
- Israel Elections, Plural
Israel faces an unprecedented third election on March 2, 2020 after two elections in 2019 failed to produce a prime minister who could build a coalition government. After an overwhelming victory in his own Likud party primary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted on bribery and corruption charges, is expected to run once again against Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman.
Because transitional governments are limited in what they can do – they can’t annex territory; they can’t implement peace plans; they can’t pass a budget – the unprecedented series of elections meant Israel operated without a fully empowered government for all of 2019.
Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu could build a coalition after Israel’s historic second election. Perhaps the third time’s a charm?
- Antisemitism Pervades College Campuses
At New York University, student clubs declared a boycott of the school’s Tel Aviv campus. At the University of Michigan, two professors refused to recommend students seeking to study at Tel Aviv University. And at Pitzer College, a private liberal arts school in California, a faculty council voted to take away the opportunity for students to study together with Jewish and Arab Israelis at the University of Haifa. This year’s developments signaled an effort on the part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement to target study abroad programs.
But the targeting of travel abroad programs weren’t the only troubling signs on campuses across the U.S. and Canada. At the University of Toronto, the graduate student union initially declined to support the local Hillel’s efforts to expand the campus’s kosher menu. Pro-Palestinian students at York University disrupted an event featuring IDF reservists. And when several student leaders at McGill University accepted an invitation to travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on a trip organized by Hillel Montreal, McGill’s student government censured the student who was Jewish for violating the organization’s conflict-of-interest policy, while saying nothing about the non-Jewish leader’s plans to participate.
In December, Donald Trump added some presidential heft to combating antisemitism on campus by signing an executive order that instructed the federal government to apply a broad definition of antisemitism in order to enforce laws against discrimination on campuses.
- More Countries Designate Hezbollah as Terrorist Organization
On the eve of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July, the president of Argentina designated the entirety of Hezbollah, the anti-Israel, antisemitic terror group founded by Iran, as a terrorist organization – a move long urged by AJC.
The designation came 25 years after the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and wounded 300 more. It followed 27 years after the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.
The historic move by Argentina followed a similar move by the United Kingdom to ban Hezbollah in its entirety. It preceded Paraguay’s ban of Hezbollah’s military wing, and it inspired Guatemala’s incoming president to pledge a similar prohibition.
In December, the Bundestag barred all Hezbollah activity on German soil, which more than 1,000 Hezbollah operatives call home.
- Labour Antisemitism Row Upends UK Politics
Many Jewish voters in the United Kingdom who traditionally vote Labour found themselves in a quandary during the most recent British election, after it became obvious that antisemitism within the Labour Party had turned virulent under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
A sensitive Labour Party email leaked in early March of 2019 revealed that just under a thousand reported cases of antisemitism had been filed against British Members of Parliament, yet, over half remained unresolved or unaddressed.
Labour members were documented engaging in grossly antisemitic rhetoric on social media, including “Heil Hitler,” “F*ck the Jews,” and “Jews are the problem.” But only 29 members were removed from the party.
The failure to adequately address allegations led to a mass exodus from the party. Furthermore, the Jewish Labour Movement declined to support Corbyn’s candidacy in this past election. And some high-profile figures including actor Hugh Grant, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby expressed their dismay about his prospects as the next prime minister.
- Antisemitism Surges in Germany
After unsuccessfully trying to enter a synagogue in Halle, Germany during services for Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, an attacker killed two people nearby and later injured two others. Federal investigators called the assault a far-right and antisemitic crime.
Less than a week earlier, a man wielding a knife breached the barrier outside Berlin’s Neue Synagogue, until he was stopped by armed guards; though he was later released and charged with disturbing the peace.
Meanwhile, the eastern German city of Dresden has declared a “Nazi emergency” to call attention to the rise of far-right wing extremists in local elections and virulent hatred toward Muslims and migrants amid the refugee crisis. Eight members of a neo-Nazi group dubbed Revolution Chemnitz are on trial in Dresden for allegedly planning to attack immigrants, political opponents, and journalists.
Germany’s commissioner on antisemitism, Felix Klein, alarmed Jews when he said he could not recommend that Jews wear a kippah in public, following a string of attacks on visibly Jewish victims.
- Rockets Attacks from Gaza
In the past year alone, with an interim Israeli government in place, there have been at least a dozen sustained rocket attacks against Israel by terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Most of the barrages were answered with reprisals by Israeli forces before eventually ending with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt.
But the latest round of rocket attacks came from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an older but smaller militant group embedded in the Gaza Strip that hates the Jewish state just as much as Hamas does, but doesn’t always abide by the ceasefire conditions agreed to by Hamas.
- AJC Antisemitism Survey, FBI Hate Crimes Report
Shortly after AJC released its landmark survey showing more than 88% of American Jews think antisemitism is a major problem, the FBI released a hate crimes report showing that Jews and Jewish institutions were the overwhelming target of religion-based hate crimes in the U.S. last year. Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,550 offenses, and the majority of those — 57.8% — were anti-Jewish, the FBI found.
The findings confirmed the fears of American Jews. More than 84 percent think antisemitism in the U.S. has increased in the past five years. Of those who had been the target of an antisemitic attack or remark, only 24% reported it to authorities.
Earlier this month, AJC experts on antisemitism visited FBI headquarters to brief officials in the Bureau’s Civil Rights Unit on the findings of AJC’s survey.
- New Jersey, New York Attacks Called Domestic Terrorism
In early December, two shooters burst into a kosher supermarket in Jersey City with assault weapons, killing three people inside and a police officer. Both attackers had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites who often disparage whites and believe African-Americans are the only true Jews.
Two weeks later, on the seventh night of Hanukkah, a man wielding a machete entered a rabbi’s home during a candle-lighting party, where he stabbed and wounded five people inside.
Authorities are calling both incidents “domestic terrorism.” In a column published by The New York Times, AJC CEO David Harris and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) called them signs of an “epidemic.”
Meanwhile, the New York Police Department has increased patrols in three Brooklyn neighborhoods after a surge of antisemitic incidents in the last two weeks.