The Jerusalem Press Club hosted Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center this week on the topic of increased Antisemitism worldwide. Suddenly Americans are becoming nervous about the multiple threats against Jewish Community Centers around the country. The insulting damage done to Jewish cemeteries is reminiscent of Europe throughout the pogroms and the two World Wars, and the suddenly more visual graffiti is concerning for those who have lived without serious antisemitic concerns for most of their lives. For those whose families were affected directly by the Shoah, the reaction is understandably quite visceral.
Rabbi Cooper reminded the Press that the FBI statistics show that the number one recipient of hate crimes in the United States are Jews, even though they are only 2% of the population. The Jewish community has become accustomed to providing what he terms “perimeter security” for more than twenty years. Security guards protecting Jewish schools, institutions, synagogues, Israeli consulates and JCCs are fixtures no longer considered optional. One barely notices them and yet they are critical.
Why then, is the current spate of overt anti-Semitic “scares” attracting so much attention? I have received communications from friends in the DC area, mortified that the Neo-Nazis had a filmed meeting where they raised their hands in the “Heil Hitler” salute, and from Friends in Los Angeles distraught that their local Pico-Robertson area Wells Fargo branch had been spray painted with the world “JEW” and an unpleasant adjective next to it. What is most upsetting of all, is that some 20,000 families and their young children have been affected by the bomb threats and resulting evacuations of the Jewish Community Centers . It is important to remember that terrorism is a psychological tool. In the recent US cases, none of the threats resulted in even one bomb being discovered or exploded…and yet the perpetrators have accomplished their goal – to create fear. Rabbi Cooper warned that parents who are pulling their children out of these important institutions are empowering the perpetrators of these threats, and their successes encourage even more outrageous behavior.
Rabbi Cooper explains that the Internet is a “game changer.” We now live in a world where virtual “evil-doers” have little risk of being held responsible for their actions. A small group, even one individual on his own, who is tech-savvy can create fear with little concern of having their identity discovered. Normal research procedures to find those accountable for hate crimes are no longer applicable. New methods of investigation are required. These cost money, governmental attention and legal clarity.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is asking for a National task force to be created by the government to unmask through available technology who is behind the current campaign against Jewish communities. This, Rabbi Cooper emphasizes, is not a left/right issue. It is not about blaming one political party or another. The reasons why there are numbers of people crawling out from their hiding places to insult and defame Jews are really irrelevant to resolving the current problem. Haters cannot be convinced to change their minds. But their actions can be stymied and they can be brought to justice for the harm they do.
World-wide the legalities regarding the protection of Jewish populations against prejudice and hate crimes are very different. Many countries in Europe have laws against perpetrating hate crimes and even inciting others to commit such acts. Even “hate speech” is outlawed in many nations. In the United States no such law exists. The U.S. stumbling block is the First Amendment to the Constitution insuring Freedom of Speech. Courts in Europe are inconsistent in how they apply their own laws .A recent court case in one locality validated that Germans could throw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue if they are angry with Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Not only is this a perversion of the intent of the German law to prevent a recurrence of its horrific history during the Shoah, but an appeal to a higher court confirmed this is an acceptable expression of discontent. The act was illegal in terms of destruction of property, but not deemed a hate crime.
It is interesting to note that while the United States allows Freedom of Speech in all venues, it has simultaneously empowered the Department of Education to guarantee the safety of students on University Campuses and hence they wield a lot of “clout” in order to protect this population from assault and intimidation. With these powers in place, the amount of intimidation of Jewish and Pro-Israel students on American Colleges does not seem to have abated.
Rabbi Cooper has regular, extensive meetings with Social Media giants. The new hatred is proliferating through social networking and can easily be restrained by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc…. if they so choose. Algorithms can find the haters in seconds. The proof? They are put in place by these networks when given ultimatums that countries such as China will only allow their presence under conditions where freedom of speech is curtailed. The networks sign on happily as they watch their revenues surge as a result.
For those who fear that antisemitism will result in the horrific memories we all share from Hitler’s years in power, Rabbi Cooper reminds us that today the two religions most at risk of real violence and loss of life are Christians and the Yazidis of Northern Iraq, who have suffered as much as 300,000 people killed and kidnapped during campaigns of forced conversion by ISIS. Christians in both Iraq and in Africa suffer similar fates. This puts in some perspective the difference between antisemitism at the moment and that which is suffered by others at the hands of ISIS in the Middle East and African Continent.
Many are questioning why the Christian world is not more pro-active and vocal about the suffering of their co-religionists, but that was not the subject of this particular press conference.
Rabbi Cooper travels throughout the world speaking with world leaders and communities about human rights, tolerance and Antisemitism. For a taste of what he has on offer you can watch this particular Press Conference at YOUTUBE.com by inserting the name of Rabbi Abraham Cooper in the search engine, and then entering; “A Call for Action against Rising Antisemitism”.
Given all that has been reported in this article, there remains a list of questions which each of us needs to resolve in his/her own mind. My suggested list for discussion with good friends over a cup of coffee or at your dinner table is as follows;
- Is there really a surge in Antisemitism in the West or is its visibility due to technology misleading?
- Does the current spate of Antisemitism without physical harm to individuals reduce our concern about the situation? Is it a precursor to future potential physical harm?
- What responsibility do you feel that the Social Networks hold in the proliferation of hatred?
- What restraints do you feel need to be put into place to protect all minorities against manifestations of hatred in your City or Country?
And of course my final and ultimate question for each of us: Once we have come to our own conclusions, what are we prepared to do to improve the situation?