Opinion: we must continue to combat anti-semitism

Anti-Semitism grew more in 2019 than it has in nearly 30 years.

In the New York City area alone this past December, law enforcement recorded at least 23 anti-Semitic hate crimes, including the killing of three Jewish people in a Jersey City kosher market and a machete-wielding man attacking a Jewish community. 

Both New York and California – the two states with the highest Jewish population – have seen the largest spike in anti-Semitic crime over the past year.

The rise baffles experts, as all acts appear as isolated incidents. Both East and West Coasts have experienced a rise in this simultaneously.

One expert, Brian Levin, director of California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, suggests anti-Semitism may correlate with ideological and political conflict.

“When societies become socio-politically fragmented, there is less of a communal firewall to repel the harmful stereotypes that fuel hate crime,” Levin told City and State New York.

Anti-Semitism is racism. It instigates prejudices toward a particular people group. 

Since “Jewish” is both an ethnicity and a religion, anti-Semitism can work like double racism. Ethnic hate and religious hate have different causes, but they both work the same way.

Anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes reflect an identical rhetoric. Somehow a group is dehumanized and physical, behavioral or cultural differences get interpreted as devaluing characteristics.

The Anti-Defamation League conducted a Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews in which they identified 11 stereotypical beliefs or perceptions about Jewish people.

“Jews stick together more than other Americans” is the most common Jewish stereotype, according to the survey. Others touted more direct negativity, such as “Jews want to weaken our national culture by supporting more immigrants coming to our country,” to which 10% of respondents agreed.

The negativity presents itself subtly, but it does not differ from the “It’s the Jews’ fault” mentality that Adolf Hitler espoused.

Levin propounded that today’s anti-Semitic views still simulate 1930s Germany’s Jewish scapegoating.

“When nationalism, conspiracy theories and anti-elitism grow, Jews represent a convenient scapegoat,” Levin told City and State. “These derisive perspectives toward Jews, aided by social media, spread like a virus across the ideological spectrum.”

If anti-Semitic hate is to drop, efforts need to be made to humanize Jews in the eyes of others. They need to be seen as having equal value, and, historically, educating people about Jews has helped prevent the repeat of dangerous Hitlerian rhetoric.

BJ Kerstetter of Chosen People Ministries highlighted education as a key to preventing hate in a phone interview. Kerstetter graduated from the Moody Bible Institute with a B.A. in Jewish Studies.

“Education is great, but if they get to know Jewish people, they can see for themselves that they are normal human beings,” Kerstetter said.

We need to have conversations about anti-Semitism. This will expose the non-logic of hating or devaluing a specific people group.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also believes snuffing out anti-Semitism is most effectively done through education.

“Since most hate crimes are born of ignorance for the ‘other,’ we believe that education, especially in the early years, can go a long way to building a foundation for understanding and a respect for diversity,” Greenblatt said, according to ADL.

This is why the ADL recently announced it was doubling its funding for the Brooklyn school program “No Place for Hate.” ADL claims this “climate improvement program” combats bias, bullying and hatred.

Showing people that deep rooted cultural influences create anti-Semitic perceptions paves the path toward cultural reconciliation. 

Kerstetter asserts that smaller acts in opposition to anti-Semitism also prove effective.

Shortly after the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, Kerstetter and members of Heritage Baptist Church in Lynchburg made a poster for Agudath Sholom Synagogue, a local Jewish congregation. The poster stated that they stood against anti-Semitism and included nearly 100 signatures.

A congregation member later emailed Kerstetter telling him that the poster meant more to them than the church could have known.

“They felt so much love from just a poster,” Kerstetter said.

Everyone possesses the capability of fighting anti-Semitism, and it can be done with a simple conversation or a small act of support to local Jewish communities.

Dykstra is an opinion writer. Keep up with his work on WordPress.

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