How Washington DC can fight antisemitism in 2020

With antisemitic attacks becoming a staple feature, what can be done about it?

A crowd attends a vigil outside the Tree of Life synagogue Tree of Life synagogue, marking one week since a deadly shooting there, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018 (photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)
A crowd attends a vigil outside the Tree of Life synagogue Tree of Life synagogue, marking one week since a deadly shooting there, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018
(photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)

Unfortunately, the new year began much like it ended. After a machete attack in Monsey wounded five people seriously on Hanukkah, a woman in Brooklyn was punched in the throat on New Year’s Day.

What can be done about it, especially from Washington?

Here are some of the emerging ideas from experts and lay leaders:

Beef up security

Congress increased funding for nonprofit security grants by 50 percent last year, to $90 million from $60 million. The lion’s share of the grants have gone to Jewish institutions since the program’s inception in 2005.

Now Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s minority leader, is proposing quadrupling that amount to $360 million.

At his Monday news conference, Schumer was surrounded by representatives from a phalanx of Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, UJA-Federation of New York and Agudath Israel of America. (A flock of New York pols on Thursday celebrated the increase to $90 million, similarly surrounded by professional and lay Jewish leaders — expect more of these photo ops in weeks to come.)

Notably, the more liberal streams were absent: The Reform movement has been ambivalent in the past about accepting the funding because of the dangers that some in the movement believe the funding poses to church-state separations.

Among the Orthodox, the money has been especially welcome from smaller shuls that are not as flush with funds for security as their big city cousins.

Eric Fingerhut, the Jewish Federations of North America CEO, said in a release Thursday that his organization — which, along with the O.U. and Agudah, has led lobbying for the funding — will press for more government funding and also “enhance the capacity” of its security arm, Secure Community Network. Translation: JFNA will intensify dedicated fundraising for SCN.

More money sounds good, but it also raises sensitive questions:

* A perennial question for the Jewish fundraising community has been whether to emphasize defense or education. Jewish funds are limited, and money to “enhance” SCN inevitably comes at a cost to, say, Jewish day schools. Expect that debate to play out in coming months.

* The guiding principle for the Secure Community Network until now has been (relative) invisibility — making synagogues and Jewish institutions welcoming places and avoiding the European model, where one often has to make an appointment to even drop by a synagogue. Is that model sustainable?

* How does one secure every aspect of Jewish life? How does one secure Jews visibly walking to synagogue on Shabbat or a High Holiday?

Increase oversight

We covered the Trump administration’s equivocations over the last year on whether or not white supremacists are a threat. Where does that stand now? Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., the chairman of the subcommittee on terrorism and intelligence of the House’s Homeland Security Committee, is convening a hearing on Jan. 15 on what the government is doing to track and combat violent anti-Semitism.

Get the bigger picture, and don’t politicize

Bari Weiss, The New York Times opinion editor, and Jane Coaston, who covers the far right for Vox, appeared together Monday on Jake Tapper’s “The Lead” on CNN to note how it is counterproductive to slot anti-Semitism as a right-wing or left-wing phenomenon.

“I think one of the challenges we have is that we keep wanting to use anti-Semitism or racism as a cudgel against our political opposites, forgetting that anti-Semitism exists across the political spectrum,” Coaston said. “You know, there were famous instances of the far right and far left coming together on the subject of hating Jewish people. You see Nation of Islam making cause with George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party back in early in the 1960s. And a lot of the most virulent anti-Semitism comes from the Nation of Islam and some of its acolytes.”

Don’t insinuate that one class of people is smarter than others

This didn’t help, Bret Stephens.

Show solidarity

#MeJew is trending on social media. The American Jewish Committee is encouraging Jews who are not normatively visible as Jews to make Jan. 6 the day that they “come out” (the hashtag is #JewishandProud) by wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew, a kippah, a necklace with a Jewish symbol. And there are plenty of rallies, including a New York City solidarity march that an alphabet soup of Jewish groups are sponsoring on Sunday starting in Manhattan and crossing into Brooklyn. The New York Times Editorial Board, in a rare move, encouraged readers to show up.