Ari Mittleman | Special to the JT
This week three years ago, a Chanukah party in Monsey, N.Y., ended in horrific carnage. Fueled by a conspiratorial hatred of Jews, an attacker burst into the 100-person house party wielding a machete. In less than two minutes, he injured four victims. A fifth victim, a 72-year-old rabbi, died after three months in a coma. An entire community in suburban New York and Jews across the country were emotionally shaken and scarred.
Fortunately, law enforcement quickly apprehended the attacker. They discovered diaries containing extensive antisemitic views, numerous references to Adolf Hitler and Nazi culture, and abundant drawings of swastikas.
Antisemitic rhetoric too often leads to antisemitic violence.
Several weeks ago, the same perverse ideology visited the streets of suburban Maryland. In Bethesda, the prominent driveway sign of Walt Whitman High School was desecrated with graffiti of “Jews Not Welcome.” This was the second deliberate hateful example of antisemitism in Montgomery County in the month.
Manifestations of antisemitism are often the first indicators of a societal sickness. The recent global rise in hatred against Jews is a fundamental challenge to human rights and the principles of democracy envisioned by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
As our nation approaches its 250th birthday, what happened on a street just a few miles from our nation’s capital serves as a reminder that it is critical we talk about antisemitism, the rise in hate and a whole of society approach to combat it.
The FBI maintains annual hate-crime statistics. In 2020, more than 7,700 criminal hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI. This was an increase of about 450 incidents over 2019.
Attacks targeting Blacks rose to 2,871 from 1,972. Anti-Asian hate crimes grew exponentially. In New York, there was a 223% spike. In San Francisco, a 140% increase.
The FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report found that nearly 60% of such crimes target Jews, even though Jews represent just 2% of the American population.
Behind each of these statistics are two faces: a victim and an assailant.
As disturbing as these statistics are, it is clear that these are underreported largely because of bureaucratic inefficiencies. Maryland law-enforcement agencies were not perfect in reporting data. The police departments in New York City and Los Angeles did not send crime information to the FBI in 2021. Of nearly 19,000 police forces, only 11,834 participated in 2021. Put differently, only around 65% of police agencies across our nation reported data.
Addressing hate in society begins with youth. In the final days of the 117th Congress, the bipartisan Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act was introduced. Maryland lawmakers should swiftly co-sponsor the reintroduction. It will require the U.S. Department of Education to conduct a study on Holocaust-education efforts in public elementary and secondary schools.
With the meteoric rise in hate, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will have additional resources. The Maryland delegation (with the unfortunate exception of Congressman Andy Harris) deserves credit for championing the new federal omnibus bill and working hard to include the provision, which will include $305 million for the Non-Profit Security Grant Program. These funds will help allow houses of worship and other nonprofits to use grants for fences, cameras and other much-needed security enhancements.
Last week, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to remind his colleagues where hate can lead. As the chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism and Intolerance for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, he proffered powerful remarks that spoke to the need of learning from and engaging with allies across European democracies.
This year marked the 235th birthday of the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers were deeply familiar with the Bible and chose the opening words wisely. As our nation heads into a new year, we should all have as a resolution a year more perfect, just and tranquil, with fewer violent incidents of hate.
Ari Mittleman lives in Pikesville. He is the author of “Paths of the Righteous” by Gefen Publishing House.