As hate crimes in New York City doubled in 2021, including a 50% spike in antisemitic incidents, Bronx elected officials and members of Jewish organizations gathered in a virtual roundtable last week to discuss the animosity toward Jewish people.
According to a recent study, more than 90% of American Jews are concerned about the state of antisemitism in the country and more than 40% say they’ve experienced it in the past five years. Additionally, in 2020, anti-Jewish hate crimes were No. 1 with 179 incidents.
On Jan. 26, City Councilman Eric Dinowitz, a Riverdale Democrat, who is the chair of the NYC Council Jewish Caucus, held an antisemitism roundtable with Progressive U.S Rep. Ritchie Torres, Avi Posnick from StandWithUs (SWU), an international Israeli education organization that fights antisemitism and misinformation, and Josh Kramer from American Jewish Committee (AJC) New York, a nonprofit that advocate for Jewish people and Israel. Dinowitz moderated the event and the panelists discussed hate crimes against the Jewish people, Israel and the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“Antisemitism harms all of us,” Dinowitz said. “These types of crimes affect our entire community.”
“As a Jewish man, that was one of the most frightening times,” he said referring to the Tree of Life shooting. “One of the most uplifting times was going to Shabbat services that weekend and receiving support from my non-Jewish friends.”
However, after seeing the recent hostage situation at a temple in Texas a few weeks ago, Dinowitz knows antisemitism is far from over.
Torres, who has long been a known supporter of Israel, was surprised to learn that even though Jews only make 2.5% of the world’s population, the FBI reported that American Jews are the top target for hate crimes.
“Antisemitism is a conspiracy notion that Jews control all and are powerful,” Torres said. “I’ve heard people say Jews run Hollywood or Jews run Wall Street. I think that kind of commentary feeds into antisemitism.”
Having been inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the congressman said many of the protestors and those subsequently arrested had Nazi symbols on their clothes or flags. Seeing this type of hate and the recent attack on the synagogue in Texas disgusted him, Torres said.
Posnick said going back about six or seven years ago, AJC and SWU began to see the rise of antisemitism. Recently, it has begun to spread to college campuses with some incidents of public property being vandalized with swastikas. According to the Anti-Defamation League, one-third of Jewish students experienced antisemitism on college campuses in 2020. But many victims are often afraid to report the crime to the police
“People need to feel comfortable coming forward,” Posnick said.
According to Kramer, the country supported the Jewish community after the Tree of Life shooting, but since then, antisemitism and hatred have resurfaced. He said a lot of it is linked to people’s disdain for Israel and the BDS movement.
All four participants of the roundtable echoed the same point that BDS is a form of antisemitism.
“BDS is an extremist movement,” Torres said. “The purpose is to end Israel. I want to live in a world where they can be a two-state solution. BDS rejects that.”
The congressman said people often question how he can be a progressive and support Israel, since many progressive politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been linked to negative views of the Jewish state.
“I often tell people I’m a person with intersecting identities, Black, Latino, gay, millennial, pro-Israel and progressive,” he said. “If people can’t distinguish between anti-Zionism and antisemitism that’s as disingenuous as racism and segregation. The antisemitism arises when you question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Going forward, Kramer hopes the politicians on the left and right come together to discuss Israel. He said while Israel is not a perfect place, people should visit and learn about it. According to Posnick, teaching the Holocaust in all public schools could make a difference in how people feel about Jews.
“Fighting antisemitism can’t be solved just by the Jewish community,” he said. “It’s all of us coming together. I think education is definitely a key thing.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.