On My Mind: Undying anti-Semitism

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.

Kristallnacht stickers in Germany 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kristallnacht stickers in Germany 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 earth.
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.”
Hanau’s powerful 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 harassment.
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 state.
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 countries.
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 conducted.
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 Internet.
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 organization.”
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 fashion.
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 ago.
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.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.