A synopsis of a presentation about a policy paper on anti-Semitic bias crimes in the US
This past Friday, I was privileged to present a paper at a graduate student panel at the Georgia Political Science Association’s annual meeting, alongside two other grad students. My topic – on what is now being done (and not being done) and on what could be done to combat anti-Semitism in the Unites States – was (thankfully!) well-received by both the Kennesaw State University professor moderating the panel and by the others in the sparse audience. They offered suggestions on further research to improve the paper, e.g., using a map to overlay where laws exist, where reporting is happening and where crimes are taking place. Below is a synopsis of what I presented; to access the full paper (and it is very much worth doing that just to check the reference sources – all top notch and very interesting), see the file on ResearchGate.
I present the nature, causes and scope of the problem, justify why the government ought to be involved, offer three alternative approaches to reducing anti-Semitic hate crimes and then speak to the criteria for evaluating how each option would meet its goal. Lastly, I recommend an order of preference.
Problem: There are far more anti-Jewish crimes than any other religiously motivated hate crimes in the US and the numbers are rising. The patchwork of federal and state laws does not constitute a consistent way to address the issue. The approaches I lay out are tailored for anti-Semitic acts of bias, but could serve as a template for combating all hate crimes.
- Nature of problem: Crimes – which are motivated by hate. FBI specifies that the offender is biased against one’s “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation ethnicity, gender or gender identity.” There are a few federal laws against discrimination and hate and though they apply everywhere, they aren’t enough. The majority of states do have hate crime laws and these increase penalties, but many of those do not require reporting, and four states (and three territories) have nothing at all (including Georgia, though they’re working on it with HB426; it does not address reporting).
- Causes of Problem: American Psychological Association says perpetrators may feel “threatened by demographic changes and be motivated by hate, fear, ignorance or anger.” Anti-Semitism in particular is not new and in the US goes back to colonial times. It comes from all over the political spectrum. Causes aren’t always agreed upon, but it is important to recognize anti-Semitic tropes. Anti-Zionism, a form of anti-Semitism, has been used on college campuses to intimidate. Regardless of cause, it needs to be dealt with. The FBI prioritizes fighting hate crimes.
- Scope of problem: While the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 mandates the AG to collect data, participation in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program is voluntary. Data collection is important, e.g., for getting victims help, giving police info on trouble spots, increasing public awareness and allocating resources. The database splits out religion from other categories, and there are more anti-Jewish acts (53% to 79%) than all other anti-religions combined. In 2017, FBI reported 38 – almost 60%. but FBI stats are underreported. Pro Publica found that many police departments are not working hard to report data. Of 18,000 police jurisdictions in the country, about 15,000 that do report into the system, but 88% of them reported having absolutely no hate crimes at all. FBI showed 6,121 hate criems of all kinds for 2016, but the federal govt’s National Crime Victimization Survey had almost 250,000, a huge discrepancy. As for anti-Semitic crimes specifically, ADL which takes data from news and media sources, Center on Extremism investigations, victim reports, government documents, etc.. showed 1,986 for 2017 – over 100% more than the FBI’s 938. Assuming all numbers are higher than the FBI has, the scope of the problem is even worse.
Reasons for addressing: Citizens, Jewish and otherwise, have an interest. Government has a stake too. The ADL connected with the Conference of Mayors to address – though of the 325 mayors that signed on, only a few reported any initiatives they’ve taken. Law enforcement has an interest, The FBI says it works with community groups, but I couldn’t find just what they’re doing and to what extent. Many stakeholders, but no unified public policy is in place.
Justification for government intervention: Political justification, moral/ethical justification and market failure are all reasons to justify the government getting involved.
- Political reasons vary, but are often in response to public pressure – and that has been the impetus in the past for federal laws, like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act. Regarding anti-Semitic acts, a different political reason is at play – the right has both anti-Semites among its supporters and it has lobbed dual loyalty charges; on the left anti-Zionistic anti-Semitism is splitting the party. Given the political games both sides are playing in terms of weaponizing support of Israel, out ally, this is politically justified.
- Moral/ethical overlaps some with the first, but it also boils down to the right thing to do. Hate crime laws have been enacted in order to right wrongs.
- Market failure in a loose sense in that the public/collective good isn’t served when populations are targeted; entire communities suffer. Bias crimes if left unchecked have ripple effects where both fear on one side and loathing on another take root. (Since my paper was written, Hasids in Borough Park are afraid to go out at night and the AJC (American Jewish Committee) 2019 survey shows 88% think anti-Semitism is an issue today, 31% avoid wearing anything that identifies them as Jewish in public and 25% avoid certain places.)
I also wanted to show precedent for addressing laws against a specific group within a protected class; Jews (within religion) won’t be the first. Laws in the past have been geared towards ensuring voting rights of blacks and reducing violent crimes against women – these groups are within the protected classes of race and gender.
Two counterarguments: Free speech, but laws should address conduct, not speech. The other is regarding laws designed to protect one group can hurt another, e.g., church-run daycares and schools can practice corporal punishment where corporal punishment is otherwise illegal. When drafting laws regarding hate crimes, care should be taken.
Solutions alternatives: I offer three suggestions, none of which are exclusive. None are guaranteed to solve anti-Semitism; it is difficult to find research on proven ways to reduce hate crimes. But three approaches are key – and they serve these three goals: prevention, identification and intervention.
- Bipartisan taskforce for combating anti-Semitism: Equip it to educate. Launched in the House in 2015, relaunched a year or two later, and just recently launched for the first time in the Senate (after the paper was written), the House group is supposed to educate its members and inform the administration, but it is difficult to find out what it has done. The Senate version has a wider mandate, but educating members of Congress isn’t part of it. I propose they work together and take upon themselves by starting to educate fellow members of Congress about all forms of anti-Semitism in order to reduce the amount of anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic accusations that are growing in this 2020 election cycle. The goal is intervention vis-vis education. Suggestions include partnering with the ADL. Criteria for evaluating intervention is effectiveness (number of members of Congress engaged, number of events, etc.), political feasibility (how bipartisan it truly is), administrative feasibility (how well they fulfill their mission). Goal of intervention may not solve anti-Semitism, but if met, it should reduce overt expressions of anti-Semitism coming from our country’s political leadership.
- Nationwide curricula focused on Holocaust, genocide and anti-hate education, accompanied by teacher training funding: Curricula exists, a la ADL and perhaps others. They are voluntary. State social studies standards do not translate into effective lessons taught, and states which make materials available are not necessarily seeing them used. Eight states mandate education on the Holocaust and other genocides. Without such a thing as nationally mandated curricula, what can be done? Federal Never Again Education Act (in Senate now, but far from being passed) awards grant money to teachers who come up with curricula. That is not the same as encouraging or incentivizing states to teach or to devise standards and a curriculum that could be a starting point for all states – and to encourage all states to pass education laws. Goal of prevention vis-à-vis education. Cannot measure in terms of individuals, but can in terms of crime stats. Criteria for evaluating intervention. Effectiveness (how many states adopt); efficiency (uniformity of state laws); liberty/freedom (debate over local control over curricula).
- Increasing accuracy in hate crime reporting and improving police training: Goal of reporting is identification. Currently underreported. Police Chief magazine makes a strong case about how its absence actually hurts relationships between police and affected communities. Police may not report because they’re not trained to ask the right questions. Or because hate crimes are typically more violent, and reporting is more work. Those not reporting to the UCR may see no point in reporting directly to the FBI. Lack of reporting has consequences: unless authorities know the extent of the crime, how can they allocate resources and address causes? Magazine notes that reporting can lead to prevention, due to publicity, awareness-training, increasing public safety, engaging the public. Reporting goes hand in hand with training and with community policing. Working with interest groups to push for passing legislation is one way. Incentivizing reporting, e.g., withholding grant monies earmarked for prevention, is another. Goal is identification. Criteria focus on effectiveness (compare numbers of jurisdictions reporting, on crimes being reported, arrests), efficiency (how much effort needs to be put in to get federal activity to take place? What about state-by-state?), liberty/freedom (will laws remove their ability to choose if, what, how to train and report?).
Evaluation Criteria: Goals were prevention, identification and intervention. Criteria for judging the ability to implement these policy efforts were effectiveness, efficiency, political and administrative feasibility, liberty/freedom.
A Goeller scorecard was used to measure each of these criteria against doing nothing, educating the bipartisan taskforce, nationwide curricula and training, and increased police reporting and training. Increasing reporting is the most effective route to go. The other two tied. All were better than the status quo.
Recommendation: Reporting targets law enforcement directly and criminals indirectly. It is poorly done and not as difficult to implement as other solutions alternatives. And it packs a punch. For this reason, I put this as first. Next was education. Its target audience of educators and students can be greatly impacted, as could families and communities indirectly. This target audience is found everywhere. I put this as second choice. Though we want to deescalate the political anti-Semitic rhetoric, arming the bipartisan taskforce with tools for educating all of Congress is not a straight line to reducing anti-Semitism. Its direct audience is members of the taskforce, then of Congress. Both are too far removed from the citizens across the country and for this reason, this was put as third.
Pushing any one forward does not preclude pushing the others forward as well.