Beware: post-Covid antisemitism

One year after the Jersey City attack, Jewish communities should be vigilant about dangers in the post-Covid era.

THE ANTISEMITIC corona conspiracy theories posted on social media wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Der Sturmer.’ (photo credit: CST)
THE ANTISEMITIC corona conspiracy theories posted on social media wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Der Sturmer.’
(photo credit: CST)
Global society has rarely been united as in its collective yearning for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic. For most of us, the vaccine deliveries and reopening of economies cannot come soon enough.
Some things may not return to business-as-usual: the pandemic has changed entrenched behaviors, instilled resilient fears and accelerated digital transitions in ways that will probably last. Some changes will be for the better. Some may be for the worse.
We are quite concerned that in the US, and perhaps other countries, the end of the virus will see a gradual return to a dangerous form of antisemitism that has been somewhat suppressed by the pandemic – as much of life has been suppressed.
And we fear that it may prove to be a phenomenon for which we will now be less, not better, prepared than before.
This is because American police departments face a major cash crunch due to the wider economic crisis, combined with a societal and political context that may weaken the police in maintaining security and peace.
Let’s remember where we were before the pandemic struck.
The American Jewish community had just experienced three horrific acts of violence.
First, a shooting on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 left 11 dead and six wounded in the deadliest-ever attack on the Jewish community in the US.
The shooting suspect, who was known for posting antisemitic comments online and whose trial is ongoing, had arrived during Shabbat morning services to carry out the massacre.
Then came an attack on a Chabad synagogue in Poway, CA, in which a woman was killed and two were injured on April 27, 2019, during Passover. After that was the December 10, 2019 shooting at a kosher grocery in the Greenville section of Jersey City, which took three innocent lives (as well as leaving the assailants dead and wounding several people including two police officers). New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said the attacks were fueled by antisemitism (as well as anti-law enforcement beliefs).
Then came Covid-19, and attention shifted to the pandemic.
During the corona era, the focus of antisemitic attacks turned to the online arena, where some conspiracy theorists have blamed Jews for creating and spreading the virus (perhaps especially, by the way, in the UK).
A recent study on antisemitism by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that 88% of American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in the country today and 82% believe it has increased over the past five years (43% said it was by a lot). Furthermore, 37% said they were victimized by antisemitism over the past five years; 22% said it was online or through social media; and 3% said they were physically assaulted for being Jewish.
With vaccinations and a return to normal life on the horizon in 2021, we anticipate that this deep-rooted antisemitism will continue its ascent from before Covid, and once again pose a physical peril to the safety and security of the Jewish population.
Crime will in general probably rise as a result of the worsened economic conditions: the US GDP is projected to decline over 3% in 2020 (meaning over 4% per capita) and unemployment will average almost 8% this year. Classic antisemitism always thrives when “the Jews” are being blamed for societal problems.
And would-be assailants may be emboldened by a decline in police resources.
Already last summer, cities across America were slashing their police-department spending. A report by the Police Executive Research Forum in July found most police chiefs and sheriffs expecting considerable budget cuts. In part, this may be a reaction to the “Defund the Police” movement that emerged in the wake of the exposure of the police killing of George Floyd. But it also reflects the economics.
Reductions in the number of officers and recruits, slashed budgets and other cuts are ravaging and demoralizing the organizations that are our first line of defense against hate crime. Political wrangling in Washington over how much stimulus to provide and which states will – and will not – receive federal dollars isn’t helping.
Meanwhile, a recent Pew Research Center poll found a strong disconnect between police officers and the public, with two-thirds saying the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police are isolated incidents, and another two-thirds asserting that the protests against police are a result of bias against them. The survey of nearly 8,000 officers found more than eight in 10 officers say the public does not understand their jobs, and a similar number say their departments are understaffed. Half reported concerns about their safety.
A police force in this state of mind seems likely to enter a period of some timidity and lesser engagement, at least initially.
Add to that the complicating fact that for a while, at least, attendance at Jewish institutions will not return to the levels of before. Paradoxically, this creates a new challenge in defending against an antisemitic attack: it may need to be more man-to-man, less playing the zone.
This new challenge is already being reflected in the inquiries we’re receiving from Jewish organizations whose members are not currently congregating in buildings, but rather dispersed geographically and riding out Covid at home.
Jewish communities must be on a heightened state of awareness both individually and collectively. There is also an ongoing need to strengthen relationships with local police agencies. And finally they should embrace the expertise and technical knowledge emerging in the private sector security field to significantly reduce the possibility of another Tree of Life, Poway or Jersey City horror.
Raymond W. Kelly was the police commissioner of the City of New York for fourteen years. He is one of the world’s most highly esteemed leaders in law enforcement.
Doron Kempel is the founder and CEO of Bond, a personal security platform where former Commissioner Kelly is an adviser.