Opinion: Turn up the heat on hate

Dallas Morning News file photo via AP / Authorities escort a hostage out of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2022.

Since the hostage-taking incident at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue, my inbox has been full of articles, videos and conferences on antisemitism. The outrage and worry aren't surprising given that about 60% of fath-based crimes are against Jews.

Hints of the future increase in those numbers are easily seen in the antisemitic fliers left on doorsteps in Florida, Texas and Iowa. And don't discount individuals such as the young woman who accosted a couple of Jewish kids outside a synagogue in New York. The children's father reported that she said "something along the lines of 'Hitler should have killed you all'." When his 8-year-old son responded that he'd save his little sister, the woman spit on him and said, "we will kill you all. I know where you live, and we'll make sure to get you all next time."

It's no surprise that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued this warning two days after the Texas synagogue incident: "Faith-based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists."

We need to be more aware and proactive against the online forums that fuel this hate. They've weaponized the usual claims about Jews running the country, the banks and the Federal Reserve. But these online forums now blame Jews for COVID-19, the outcome of the 2020 election, the 9/11 bombing, and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan along with resettlement of Afghans in the United States.

My first encounter with the impact of such conspiracy theories was in Chicago with the American Jewish Committee back in the 1980s. I was in charge of security, along with coordinating interfaith programming. I was unaware how the two assignments intertwined as I led the office evacuation during a bomb threat. But I saw it more forcefully when I led the Oklahoma Say No to Hate Coalition after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Our coalition of ethnic and religious leaders collaborated with the FBI to provide security training. Extremists were leaving threatening racist and antisemitic flyers on doorsteps and recruiting new members intensely. International Holocaust denier David Irving came to Tulsa, taking advantage of the tense environment to claim that the Holocaust never happened and Hitler actually liked the Jews. Counteracting this propaganda was as essential as security training.

Chattanooga's own Council Against Hate demonstrated the power of collaboration as religious leaders joined cohorts in businesses, education and law enforcement. Whether by fate or coincidence, my committee's assignment was to address the language and conspiracy theories spread online. I guess I'm meant to confront this cesspool of hate-filled lies.

While lives were saved at the Texas synagogue as a result of training by the nonprofit Secure Community Network, some federal and state officials downplayed the antisemitism involved. They never mentioned the synagogue when referring to the hostage crisis, praying for "all involved." Muting the reality like this just encourages conspiracy theorists and copycats.

If we're to counteract hate, we must educate about antisemitism and the real history behind it. That's why the United Nations recently adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial and asking social media to fight antisemitism.

Where are we Americans on this issue? Recognizing the threat, President Biden nominated Holocaust educator Deborah Lipstadt to a newly created antisemitism position. Yet, Lipstadt's confirmation in Congress is stalled by Republicans.

This is unacceptable. It's time for religious leaders to rally the faithful to lobby for confirmation. Otherwise, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at [email protected]