The Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut has determined that it would be beneficial to our entire community if the Federation were to issue a response to the recent mass dissemination of hateful information targeting the Jewish community.
The recent widespread public dissemination of horrific conspiracy theories charging Jews with responsibility for a vast array of some of the worst problems affecting humanity is both unsettling and dangerous. As a Federation, we thought it would be important to share our thoughts.
The purpose of this message is as follows: 1) Recount some of the hateful conspiracy theories that have recently gained so much attention; 2) Provide some context to them; 3) Discuss ways in which your Federation helps to fight hate and protect the Jewish community; and 4) Suggest a few action steps that we can all take to respond to the recent spate of hate targeting the Jewish community.
Today, I will review the recently disseminated hate speech and provide a context in which to evaluate it. Tomorrow, we will send a separate message detailing actions of the Federation and suggestions for our community to undertake in response to the hate directed toward us.
First, however, I would like to address the attack targeting people in the Q Club in Colorado Springs, the nightclub that principally serves members of the LGBTQ+ community. Five people were brutally murdered and over 25 people were injured in this terrible attack. Although, as of this writing, the police are searching for evidence to confirm that this event was a hate crime, it certainly feels like one.
The Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut extends our deepest condolences to all those targeted in the nightclub, and to their families and friends. And we realize that hate crimes of this nature are felt by all members of the LGBTQ+ community everywhere, and not only by those personally attacked. Hate crimes targeting a minority community anywhere are often intended to send a message to everyone associated with that minority community. Evil people who commit heinous acts of this nature want ALL members of the targeted group to believe that they are isolated and alone in their grief and despair. It is the job of good people everywhere to make sure that victims of hate never feel isolated and alone.
The Jewish community understands how much it hurts when Jewish people are attacked simply for being Jews. We know how meaningful it is for us to have the support of the non-Jewish community in difficult times. As a result, we stand as allies in support of the LGBTQ+ community, and any community targeted by hate. Standing up for others, after all, is a fundamental component of Tikkun Olam, our obligation to make the world better.
In the last month, we have been bombarded with all sorts of vile and irrational hate targeting the Jewish people. The rapper “Ye”, formerly known as Kanye West, announced to his followers that he is going “death con 3 on Jewish people”. In that message and subsequent messages, he went on decry Jewish media, Jewish Zionists, and noted that Jews will “take us and milk us until we die”. Despite these very traditional European-style “Jewish control” antisemitic tropes, Ye also noted that he could not be antisemitic. The reason he gave does not derive from a traditional European manifestation of antisemitism.
A very small percentage of Black Americans, who often refer to themselves as Black Hebrew Israelites, believe that they cannot be antisemitic because Black people (and not Jewish people) are the true descendants of ancient Israelites. At some point in time, in some way, Jews took over the role as descendants of the Israelites.
Basketball star Kyrie Irving then brought his followers’ attention to an antisemitic film called “From Hebrews to Negroes”, which picked up on the theme that current day Jewish people somehow replaced the true descendants of ancient Hebrews, who were Black people, thus stealing the rightful heritage of Black people. The film also echoed antisemitic tropes that Jews ran the slave trade and worked to “effeminize” Black men. Prior to the time that Mr. Irving apologized for posting the film, he also intimated that it would be impossible for him to be antisemitic because he was Semitic, thus signaling his adoption of the perspective of Black Hebrew Israelites.
Minister Louis Farrakhan, longtime leader of the Nation of Islam and other subscribers to Black Hebrew Israelites narrative, spoke in support of the music and basketball superstars. Farrakhan has been perhaps among the most vocal antisemitic leaders in our country for many years. As is typical for Jew haters, he generally placed blame for whatever evil may have befallen the Black community squarely on the backs of Jews. However, his following has always been somewhat limited, mostly adherents of the Nation of Islam and a few other Black Christian preachers and their congregations. He could never reach nearly as many people as Ye and Irving. Ye alone has over 30,000,000 followers. That figure represents more than twice as many Jews as there are in the entire world.
This ability for truly hateful influencers to reach so many more people with their virulent messages about Jews is a relatively new and extremely scary phenomenon. The internet and social media outlets are a game changer in terms of communication generally, but especially when it comes to spreading hate. We know that words matter, and that horrible conspiracy theories targeting Jews have been the cause of hate and violence against Jewish people for millennia. Now, unfortunately, it is much easier to spread the conspiracies to millions of people who had never been exposed to it previously.
Any hate targeting any group of people is equally bad and must be confronted. However, one of the reasons that Jews have often suffered in grotesquely disproportionate manners is not too difficult to understand: If one believes in a conspiracy theory about Jews, that person believes that all Jews are part of the conspiracy, and therefore equally culpable for the sins perceived by the conspiracy believer. There is no need to pick and choose in terms of who should be targeted with hate and violence. The conspiracy believer can choose to punish anyone who is convenient and feel correct in doing so because we Jews are all equally guilty.
This concept of collective guilt goes hand in hand with traditional antisemitism. Jews collectively have been blamed for the many of the evils of the world and were often deemed to bear collective responsibility. For most of its existence, the Catholic Church and other Christian Denominations held all Jews of every generation responsible for the Deicide. Although the Catholic Church has, thankfully, finally renounced that position in the 1960s, the standard was set for collective blame. Whether in connection with the Blood Libel, the Black Death or the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, all Jews were subject of collective punishment because we were all deemed to be equally guilty of whatever manufactured problem we were deemed to have caused.
In looking back at the attacks on the Jewish community over the last few years, we see that perpetrators were almost always motivated by belief in one nonsensical conspiracy theory or another. The person who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, murdering Jews in prayer, believed in the Great Replacement, which contends that Jews are working to replace white people in America with people of color. His perspective that Jews generally support immigration was all the evidence that he needed to murder Jews wherever he could find them. The white Supremacists marching in Charlottesville shouted “Jews will not replace us”. It’s noteworthy, although unsurprising, that antisemitic white supremacists and antisemitic Black Hebrew Israelites have their own very different versions of how Jews manage to “replace” other people.
In Colleyville, the Muslim person who held people hostage in the synagogue did so to gain the release of a Muslim terrorist being held in a nearby Federal prison. This individual truly believed the often-repeated myth that Jews literally control the United States and therefore had the power to cause our government to free a convicted terrorist to save the Jewish captives.
Less than two weeks ago, synagogues in New Jersey were warned to be on alert as a result of a potential imminent threat. Thankfully, the man posing the threat was arrested before he could take action. In releasing charges against the individual, the Federal prosecutors included statements from a manifesto written by the would-be terrorist in which he noted that all Muslim men are obligated to kill all Jewish people, and there could be no exceptions. This is scary stuff.
Just last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray made it clear that he is concerned for the Jewish community because it is targeted from all sides. The bad news is that we continue to be the scapegoats for groups of people who have almost nothing in common except for their carefully ingrained hatred for Jews. The good news is that our friends in law enforcement and our elected officials understand the diversity and the magnitude of the threat we face. And they care about the Jewish community. Having law enforcement and political leaders on the side of the Jewish community facing unreasoned hate is a blessing that most of our ancestors never enjoyed.
Finally, we also need to mention the forms of antisemitism that all too often affect Israel and those who support Israel in certain settings in our country. It goes without saying that Israel, like any other country, should be subject to criticism of actions of its government or policies. However, all too often, criticism of Israel is expressed in naked and irrational hate that is designed to delegitimize the nation. Of all the countries in the world, Israel (the only Jewish state in the world) is the only one in which its right to exist is regularly called into question. That is antisemitism.
Further, Israel is regularly vilified with epithets that represent the worst the world has seen. When people label Israel with names like Nazi, Apartheid, Colonial power and call for Israel to be isolated and boycotted, they are signaling that Israel is beyond redemption, and repugnant to its core. As a result, Israel should be shunned and treated as pariah state. This tactic is not intended to improve Israel or to encourage dialog in order to achieve peace with its neighbors. It is intended to destroy Israel. When the only country facing this kind of treatment is a Jewish state, this behavior is antisemitism. It is unacceptable. And we should have no compunction in making that point.
When people who support Israel on college campuses or in other spaces are bullied, isolated and, at times, harassed for their temerity to speak their minds in support of Israel, that behavior is antisemitism as well. That too is unacceptable. And we need to help campus leaders and others understand that truth.
What is the Federation Doing to Support the Jewish Community in the fight against antisemitism?
1. Looking out for Jewish Security. Your Federation has been focusing on the increasing security threats to the Jewish community for quite some time. Accordingly, it has been sending security bulletins and notifications with respect to nonprofit grant opportunities for a number of years now.
2. Hiring a Regional Security Advisor for all or our Institutions. Nearly 18 months ago, the Federation, in conjunction with three sister Federations in Connecticut, contracted with SCN to hire a full-time professional Regional Security Advisor. Mike Shanbrom, our Regional Security Advisor, was hired approximately 15 months ago.
Mike is working diligently to provide security trainings, assessments and other security related services to synagogues, day schools, Yeshivas and other Jewish institutions throughout Western and Northwestern Connecticut. The Federation is making a big financial commitment to support our community, at no cost to our constituent organizations. Thankfully, the vast majority of these organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity the Federation is presenting. We are all thankful that we have the benefit of Mike’s experience and expertise.
3. Lobbying on Behalf of the Jewish Community. Individually and collectively through JFACT, all of our Jewish Federations work together to ensure that Jewish interests and values are represented, both in our State and Federal Governments. We helped to convince our Senators and Representatives to increase Funding for Nonprofit Security Grants and to speak out against antisemitism and support of Israel. In addition, we will continue to work with our elected officials to fight hatred of the Jewish people.
4. Hate Crimes Task Force. We helped the State form a Hate Crimes Task Force to ensure that Connecticut does a great job at identifying, investigating and prosecuting Hate Crimes targeting any community in Connecticut.
5. Work with Law Enforcement. We meet with, and schedule community-wide briefings to be presented by, personnel from the FBI, US Attorney’s Office and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. Law enforcement officials at all levels are deeply concerned with threats to our community and we are working together for the protection of our community.
6. CT Business Mission to Israel. Through JFACT, all Connecticut Federations helped to plan a highly successful business mission to Israel for the Governor, other State officials and Connecticut business people. That mission resulted in meaningful relationships that could bring high quality jobs and businesses to Connecticut. Just as importantly, we provided the group with the opportunity to go to Israel to see and learn about the Jewish State for themselves. As a consequence, our Governor understands the value of Israel and will stand up to others who wish to denigrate Israel.
7. Build Alliances. The Federation will look for opportunities to reach out to friends and allies in the Black, Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ+ and other communities so that we can stand together against hate of any kind. We are all stronger when we support one another.
8. Inform our Community. As we are doing today, we work hard to educate our community about threats and challenges to the Jewish community and to Israel. As we did on Friday when we encouraged you to sign the petition asking Amazon not to sell antisemitic material, like “From Hebrews to Negroes,” we will continue to advise you of opportunities to express our community’s concern over increasing levels of antisemitism and hate of all varieties.
9. Listen to you. Please be in touch with us if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions for the Federation. Our job is to serve the needs of the Jewish community. We always respect and appreciate your input. However, that is especially true when it comes to safeguarding the Jewish future.
What can each of us do in the fight against antisemitism and to make sure that Israel is treated fairly?
1. Become involved in your Jewish institution’s security plans. Join your security committee or find some other way to help insure that your organization is doing all it can to address the building’s security needs. Make sure that your organization is working with Mike Shanbrom on security assessments and training.
2. Become involved in your institution’s outreach and education programming. Help to insure that it is addressing antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments in educating your members/constituents and in discussions with the broader community at large.
3. Educate our youth. The best way to combat antisemitism and promote love for Israel is educate our children on the value of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood and on the historic ties and current need for the Jewish state. Our children will meet severe challenges to their identity and to their perspective on Israel when they get to a college campus. Some of our institutions have diminished their efforts to help our children to understand Israel and Zionism over time. We need to step up those efforts. If our students have a firm understanding of these issues, they will be able to handle whatever challenge they ultimately face in college and elsewhere.
4. Pay attention to what’s happening on college campuses in your area. On many college campuses, unfair depictions of Israel go virtually unrebutted and Jewish students feel compelled to stay silent in order to avoid confrontation and exclusion. This is wrong, and will become more common place over time, if we do not address the issue. It is unfair for us to leave these challenges to our students alone. The problems require support of the entire community as well.
5. Talk about your concerns with respect to antisemitism and unfair treatment of Israel. Reach out to your friends and neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, about these issues. There is no need to suffer in silence. We have a right to expect our neighbors to stand with us against hate. But we have to make sure they know that we need their support. If we don’t ask, they will not get involved.
6. Be in touch with Political Leaders. The more they hear from us, the more they will understand our concerns. Most of our political leaders want to support the Jewish community and any other that is victimized by hate. It is up to us to help them understand the urgency to make sure that they are taking leadership roles in addressing those concerns.
7. Always report antisemitism. Not every antisemitic statement or action is necessarily illegal. However, the police, ADL and the Federation want to know about every instance so that we can work to ensure that the community is safe and that incidents of hate do not go unchallenged. The FBI has also confirmed that knowing as much as possible about all antisemitic incidents will help them to protect our community better. Please do not remain silent. If you need help in reporting hateful incidents, please call the Federation. We will help.
8. Watch out for unfair treatment of Israel. Let the Federation or another organization know when an offensive article appears in a newspaper or online, or if a public statement is made that needs correcting. We can help you address it.
9. Be proud and strong and stand united as Jewish community. We don’t have to be perfect to deserve to be respected and protected. After all, no one else is perfect either. And we Jews, overall, do a pretty good job of standing up for others who are not respected and protected.
10. Remember Hillel’s Marching Orders. Hillel teaches “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then what am I? If not now, when? This is a time when we have to be for ourselves in order for others to give us the help we need and deserve. We can and should, of course, continue to support others while working to protect ourselves.
If you have any questions or suggestions for the Federation on combatting antisemitism or anything else, please contact me by email or phone at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-267-3177 Ext. #304