As a lifelong Yankee fan, and even more as a lifelong fan of the game of baseball, the shocking revelation that now-former Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka recently announced, upset me; in fact, it should concern us all deeply. Various press reports have indicated that one of the pitcher’s considerations in deciding to return to play for his original team in Japan this season was the anti-Asian bias that his family had experienced in the United States over the past few months.
In 2014, as the star of Japanese baseball, Tanaka came to these shores to prove his worth in the most challenging of sports environments. With major league baseball’s overseas reach growing annually, Tanaka’s arrival was highly celebrated throughout the sports world. We saw him capture the hearts and minds of fans across the region with his professionalism and reliability, and we all saw the photos of his famous family enjoying a new life in the Big Apple.
Two months ago, after having stated his desire to sign for what was perceived to be his market rate — $15 million per year — Tanaka did a complete reversal. He agreed to a contract with Rakuten Golden Eagles for less than half of that amount.
Just two weeks ago, during the New York Police Department’s online Jewish community security briefing, which both the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, and I attended, the statistics showing an increasing trend of anti-Asian incidents again became part of the conversation.
In New Jersey, the state with the country’s third-largest Asian population — approximately 10 percent of the Garden State’s nine million residents — bias incidents reported against the Asian community rose from 39 in 2019 to 71 in 2020. That’s an 82 percent increase, up from just 16 incidents in 2018. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who has been a true leader in combating bias crimes throughout his tenure, reported an incredible 45 percent increase in bias crimes overall from 2019 to 2020, according to his office’s preliminary data.
Much of the reporting, and much of the sentiment expressed by leadership across the Asian community in the media, consistently articulates a feeling within the Asian community of powerlessness to alter the pandemic-related xenophobic tide.
This is where the Jewish community and Jewish leaders must step in to help.
At the Simon Wiesenthal Center, calling out anti-Asian hate has been a recognized need and priority since the onset of the pandemic, when bigots began referring to covid-19 as the Chinese virus. In the Wiesenthal Center’s annual report on digital hate and terror, Anti-Asian posts, derogatory memes, and the array of hate group propaganda was specifically highlighted as one of our society’s most urgent current threats. In Wiesenthal’s Combat Digital Hate workshops for middle- and high-school students, anti-Asian material on social media platforms has been so dramatic as to force its way into the forefront of our facilitated classroom conversations.
On the ground, the Wiesenthal Center has worked throughout the pandemic with Asian community leaders such as Councilmember Sam Joshi of Edison to demonstrate our allyship during this time of crisis. We do it in part because we in the Jewish community understand better than anyone else what it is like to be on the receiving end of such hate.
We see leaders such as Congressmember Grace Meng taking a seat on the House bipartisan task force to combat anti-Semitism. A few months before the pandemic begin, my colleague and I, representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center, sat in her Queens district office with key staff to discuss ways to combat hate against both of our communities. When there are leaders such as Rep. Meng, there is always hope for a better tomorrow, but only if we actively pursue it.
Just last week, as I was taking questions after speaking before a men’s club discussion on anti-Semitism in a Connecticut synagogue, someone brought up the issue of anti-Asian hate.
We see that the Jewish community cares about the bias and the increasing number of attacks against our Asian neighbors. Because we have been the victims of such behavior since time immemorial, it is our obligation to join such a community under siege and be on the front lines combating the hate directed at them with the same vigor that we use in pushing back on anti-Semitism.
We talk all the time about building alliances to combat the hate that surrounds us. Now is the time to do it. It’s time to join with our Asian brothers and sisters and demonstrate to the world our seriousness in such sentiments.