The most recent annual AJC survey of American Jews found that they are almost as
worried about anti-Semitism in the United States as they are about anti-Semitism
in Europe. Eighty-one percent consider anti-Semitism a problem in the US,
compared with 90% who think it is a problem in Europe.
The high number
for the US appears surprising.
After all, we live in the largest Diaspora
community, free to express our Jewish identity, to practice our faith, and
participate fully in the preeminent democratic, pluralistic society on
Yet, as one Holocaust survivor pointed out at the joint AJC-German
Consulate commemoration in New York of Kristallnacht last Friday, one can never
be vigilant enough.
Recalling her childhood in Germany, Reni Hanau
related the events preceding and during that fateful night with clarity and
emotion, and warned that even in a country where Jews are successful in a
variety of professions, welcomed as full participants in schools, businesses and
society at large, “you never know what might happen.”
reflections on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht were all the more poignant
given the stunning frontpage New York Times story that same morning detailing a
pattern of anti-Semitism that has targeted Jewish public school students in a
community only 90 minutes north of New York City.
One student was so
traumatized by the innumerable incidents of swastikas scrawled on lockers,
desks, walls, computers and student binders that he stopped reporting them
because “nobody was doing anything.”
Yet, some parents were so appalled
by the aggressive and unchallenged bullying of their children – including
personal taunts and physical attacks, and joking about the Holocaust – that they
filed a lawsuit against the school district.
“Your expectations for
changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic,” Philip C. Steinberg,
superintendent of the Pine Bush Central School District, wrote to a parent of
one Jewish student who had complained about the continuing
Steinberg, by the way, is Jewish.
The Times article
drew the attention of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ordered the
appropriate state agencies not only to investigate Pine Bush, but also to ensure
that such unvarnished hate is not being spewed elsewhere in the
THE REVELATION of what Jews face today in Pine Bush comes just as
the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released, on the eve of the
Kristallnacht anniversary, a survey of Jews in eight European
The data show that they feel so threatened as Jews that,
collectively, 34% percent have considered emigrating.
In France, which
has the largest European Jewish community, the number is 50%, and in Hungary 47%
One-third of the 5,847 FRA respondents reported that they have experienced
anti-Semitic harassment at least once in the five years before the survey was
When asked to identify the incident that has had the biggest
personal impact, 39% cited receiving offensive or threatening comments in
person, and 21% mentioned offensive comments about them posted on the
Of those who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment, 17% said
the most serious incident involved someone waiting for them or deliberately
following them in a threatening manner, and 15% said offensive or threatening
emails, text messages or letters.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation
of the survey was that European Jews are reluctant to report manifestations of
anti-Semitism to the authorities.
“Many incidents of hate crime never
come to the attention of law enforcement agencies or of the criminal justice
system,” states the FRA report. “64 percent of victims of anti-Semitic physical
attack or threats of violence did not report the most serious incident in the
past five years, and 76 percent of victims of anti-Semitic harassment never
reported the most serious incident to the police or any other
Why not? According to the FRA findings, Jews harbor a
deep-seated distrust of law enforcement in their own countries. 60 percent did
not report the most serious incident of physical violence or threats of violence
to the police because they did not believe that anything would have changed
after reporting the incident.
And, most damning of all, “20 percent also
mentioned that they do not trust the police.”
Europeans apparently have a
way to go to train law enforcement in methods of combating hatred, bigotry and
anti-Semitism, and thereby instill confidence in Jewish communities to speak up
and report when they are victimized. In New York City, the police department’s
hate crimes unit is well-trained and experienced to respond in a timely
They did come quickly when a swastika was found in the elevator
of my apartment building in Forest Hills, and that was about 15 years
But even as we encourage the EU to do more, Pine Bush is a sorrowful
reminder that in the US, too, there is a need to educate and advocate against
bigotry and racism, and, most importantly, anti-Semitism.
is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.