US mayors team up with AJC to combat antisemitism

110 US mayors from more than 30 states signed on to a new program to combat antisemitism in the US.

HOBOKEN MAYOR Ravinder Bhalla: I see it as an obligation for public officials to raise our voices against antisemitism. (photo credit: Courtesy)
HOBOKEN MAYOR Ravinder Bhalla: I see it as an obligation for public officials to raise our voices against antisemitism.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NEW YORK – “When we see antisemitism anywhere in the country, it impacts that community in really deep ways,” Kathy Sheehan, the mayor of Albany, New York’s capital, told The Jerusalem Post this week.
Sheehan is one of the 110 US mayors from more than 30 states signed on to a new program announced last week to combat antisemitism in the US. The joint initiative of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and US Conference of Mayors (USCM) calls on mayors across the country to sign a statement declaring that antisemitism is incompatible with American democratic values.
“The city of Albany has always had a large and active Jewish population. We must take the time to recommit and ensure we are standing with members of our Jewish community and Jewish communities across the country to voice our support and commitment to keeping our communities free from hate,” Sheehan continued, estimating that Albany’s population is close to 15% Jewish.
Sheehan said as she signed the statement that she had in mind the rise of antisemitic rhetoric from the disgruntled far right.
“Most of us watched in horror as our Capitol was attacked on January 6. As the shock of it started to sink in, we learned who was there and what their ideologies were. It’s very clear that there were people there who are incredibly antisemitic, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-women. We all have to stand together. There is no place for hate-driven speech in this country,” she said.
“Now more than ever, I want members of our Jewish community to know I’m open. Don’t hesitate to contact me if there’s a concern,” she continued. “Our Jewish community has always been very active in civic engagement. They’re a really important part of the fabric of Albany.”
Sheehan noted that it’s important for mayors to get involved in the fight against antisemitism because they are visible members of their communities.
“We are that person who everyone sees and interacts with on a daily basis. We’re not off in Washington. We live in our communities that we represent. We see people in the grocery store. Even on hikes, I interact with people who recognize me and engage in conversation,” she said.
“Mayors are also very non-partisan. Antisemitism isn’t a partisan issue. With mayors, it’s not a Republican pothole versus a Democratic pothole. We just have to fill all the potholes,” she continued.
IN HOBOKEN, New Jersey, Mayor Ravinder Bhalla told the Post his personal connection to Israel made it imperative that he take part in the initiative.
“I feel it’s a special connection. I had the opportunity to study at Hebrew University as a law student and I now have a deep appreciation for both Jewish history and for the Jewish community in Israel and the US,” he said.
“It’s more important than ever for public officials to speak up and take a strong stand that any engagement in antisemitism is not acceptable in America. I see it as an obligation for public officials to raise our voices against antisemitism,” said Bhalla, New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor.
Bhalla added that he is “cautiously optimistic” the new Biden administration will take proactive measures to address and prevent a rise in antisemitism.
“Monitoring incidents is a critical form of prevention. In Hoboken, we stepped up security protocols after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. When Jewish residents have concerns, we’re proactive with our police chief and monitor everything,” he said.
The AJC-USCM initiative comes as incidents of antisemitism, some of them violent, continue to rise across the United States, as confirmed in FBI reports and AJC public opinion surveys. American Jews, who make up less than 2% of the American population, were the victims of 60.2% of anti-religious hate crimes, according to the FBI 2019 Hate Crimes Statistics report.
“In the last few years we have seen a significant increase in hate crimes directed at individuals and institutions based on faith, with the biggest increase among these incidents having been those directed at Jews,” said Conference of Mayors CEO and executive director Tom Cochran. “We have always called on mayors to speak out against hate crimes when they occur, and the statement we are inviting mayors to sign today provides a way for them to register their opposition to the dramatic increase in antisemitism we have experienced in our country and work together to reverse it.”
In 2015, US mayors from all 50 states issued a call to action to combat antisemitism in Europe. That AJC initiative also included mayors from across Europe. A two-page AJC ad in The Wall Street Journal in June 2016 listed the 508 US and European mayors and municipal leaders who pledged to combat the rise of antisemitism by signing the Mayors United Against Antisemitism initiative.
MELANIE MARON PELL, AJC Chief Field Operations Officer, told the Post that 2021 is an important year to revive the undertaking, this time shifting the focus to domestic antisemitism.
“In the last number of years, we’ve had Pittsburgh, Poway and Monsey. We see this rise of antisemitism continuing on the streets of Brooklyn. It feels like it’s emerged in full force in the US and we ask mayors to commit themselves to combating it, not just calling it out in other parts of the world, but actually combating it in the states,” Pell said.
“Communities look to their mayors for moral guidance. A lot of people have no idea who their state representative is, but most people know who their mayor is,” she continued. “So far, no one has said ‘no’ to participating.”
Pell noted that she hopes to work with mayors on policy change in their respective cities, but the first step is just being a part of the public statement.
“Right now, mayors are on the frontlines of the pandemic,” Pell said. “They’re trying to figure out how to get their communities vaccinated while also dealing with the economic shortfalls the pandemic brought, as well as a volatile summer of racial injustice. Mayors currently have massive things on their plates. Yet, they’re agreeing with us that we can’t put antisemitism aside because we have other things happening. At this time especially, it’s really powerful that we had an instantaneous response from so many mayors.” ★