Originally published in the Washington Post.
Several of the most prominent U.S. Jewish organizations appealed Friday to the Biden White House to take measures to combat antisemitism after a string of attacks on Jews across the country related to the Mideast conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Jews in New York City, Los Angeles and south Florida were physically or verbally assaulted by individuals claiming the cause of the Palestinians, among other incidents, in the 11 days since fighting erupted in Israel and Gaza.
A yarmulke-wearing man was hospitalized after being attacked by a group of people making antisemitic statements near an anti-Israel protest, according to New York City police. A car of people yelling “Free Palestine!” and obscenities threw trash at a family walking in Bal Harbour, Fla. A Hasidic man was chased in Los Angeles by a carload of people waving Palestinian flags.
“We fear that the way the conflict has been used to amplify antisemitic rhetoric, embolden dangerous actors and attack Jews and Jewish communities will have ramifications far beyond these past two weeks,” said the Friday letter to Biden. We “urge you to speak out forcefully against this dangerous trend and stand alongside the Jewish community in the face of this wave of hate before it gets any worse.”
The letter was signed by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and Hadassah, a pro-Israel Jewish womens’ group.
The letter noted that antisemitic incidents have also increased fivefold in London since May 8 and that the ADL this week reported finding 17,000 tweets between May 7 and May 14 with variations of the words: “Hitler was right.”
The incidents come as the far right has grown increasingly emboldened. Pew Research reported earlier this month that in a survey done before the recent round of Israel-Hamas fighting, 45 percent of U.S. Jews said there is “a lot” of antisemitism, and that 75 percent said there is more than there was five years ago. Most said Americans now feel more free to express anti-Jewish hate and that the number of antisemites has grown.
Some Jewish leaders said a painful issue is that Jewish groups and Jews in general feel they have been consistent allies working for justice for other marginalized groups, but now don’t see others standing for them.
“Some pro-Palestinian people in the United States have decided that an appropriate channel for their frustrations and anger about the conflict between Hamas and Israel is to assault American Jews and somehow hold them responsible for what’s going on in Israel. … It is offensive behavior and frankly no different than Asian Americans being assaulted because of misconceptions about the coronavirus or Muslim Americans being assaulted because of Sept. 11,” said Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, a group representing Orthodox Jews. “It’s frankly hurtful that so far elected leaders seem to be slow to recognize and denounce anti-Jewish violence as quickly as they properly denounced violence against other minorities.”
Joel Rubin, who handled Jewish outreach for Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, said the current level of vitriol in the United States against Jews is higher than he’s ever seen it. He pointed to an increased use of the term “apartheid” by progressive politicians and the appearance of White nationalists in the Palestinian cause.
Far-right agitator Nick Fuentes was retweeted 7,000 times May 17 for saying “Palestine isn’t the only country under Israeli occupation.”
“There is language being used to describe Israel that is heading us on a path to arguments about delegitimization, that Israel should not exist, that the issue is that it exists,” said Rubin, executive director of the American Jewish Congress. “Words are being used about Israel that are incredibly unsettling to the Jewish community that go further, and in a direction that makes the community feel very vulnerable. And that vulnerability is not a good place to be.”
A spokesman for the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told CNN Friday evening that the group condemns anyone who engages in hate speech, intimidation and violence.
“We encourage people to express their views to participate in rallies for whatever cause they believe in but no one has the right to engage in violence, hate speech or intimidation,” spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said. “We understand that passions are high but that’s not an excuse for inappropriate behavior.”
Some prominent Muslim Americans have also spoken out against the attacks in recent days, including author and advocate Rabia Chaudry. On May 16, she tweeted a holiday greeting for Shavuot, a Jewish holiday: “I know Jewish friends are feeling unsafe as Israel is being condemned and anger against it is sometimes horrifyingly taken out on Jews across the world. I’m sorry.”
Los Angeles police are investigating two recentincidents as potential hate crimes. On Monday a man in Orthodox garb was chased by people in cars waving Palestinian flags and yelling antisemitic things, according to KABC-TV. On Tuesday, KABC reported, a group yelling anti-Jewish comments attacked people eating a meal outside at a restaurant.
Near Miami, a family was assaulted as they walked in Bal Harbour on Tuesday. The Orgen family was visiting from New Jersey when a car of people yelling “Free Palestine” and, “We’re going to rape your wife,” threw trash at them. Another car pulled over and someone in it showed a gun to get the offending motorist to go away, said Eric Orgen, the father.
In New York, 26 people were arrested Thursday in and near Times Square after a group of pro- and anti-Israel protesters faced off. On nearby streets, someone in a car with people waving Palestinian flags threw a firecracker at a bystander who suffered burns on her back, police said. Also nearby, a 29-year-old man wearing a yarmulke was taken to the hospital after being punched and pepper-sprayed by a group making antisemitic comments, police said.
Four officers were also injured in the incidents at and near Times Square.