Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathon Greenblatt joined Queens College President Frank Wu to discuss the growing number of physical and verbal antisemitic attacks throughout the United States Wednesday night at the school’s Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library.
The discussion came on the day Israel recognizes as Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Much of the conversation focused on antisemitism towards the Jewish people as well as hate crimes against Asian Americans, particularly in New York state.
According to Greenblatt, the ADL has been conducting audits for over 40 years of antisemitic incidents across the U.S. Greenblatt said 2021 contained the highest total they’ve ever had, including a 167% leap in assaults. New York had the highest number of reported antisemitic incidents out of all 50 states.
Greenblatt believes there are three things that have played a big role in causing the rise in antisemitic incidents across the country: the extreme right, extreme left and the rise of extremism and antisemitism toward Jewish people from certain Islamic states like Iran’s leadership.
In discussing how the extreme right has fueled antisemitism in recent years and Greenblatt pointed to 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as an example, where several members of far-right groups organized and verbally attacked the Jewish community. He also said that 75% to 80% of hate crime murders across the country over the last decade have come from people who identify as being at the far right of the political spectrum. He also cited far-right political leaders like North Carolina Representative Madison Cawthorn and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for continuing to fuel antisemitism with their harmful rhetoric.
Similarly, Greenblatt views the harmful rhetoric used by many extreme-right figures against the Asian community as being a huge factor in the rise of attacks on the Asian American community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, some people referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus,” creating a negative sentiment toward the Asian American community.
Greenblatt said the extreme left is also responsible for slander against the Jewish people. He criticized Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for their offensive rhetoric regarding Jewish people and Israel.
Of particular concern to Greenblatt is the rise of Islamic extremism across the world. He discussed Iran’s increasingly hostile rhetoric regarding Israel, talking about exterminating the country. With reports that Iran is now close to completing the development of nuclear weapons, there is certainly cause for concern around those statements.
Greenblatt warned against the use of philosemitism, which involves stereotyping a group of people in a positive way. He exemplified this point by discussing the stereotypes of Asian American people being very intelligent and Jewish people being good with money.
“I think all such generalizations are dangerous because they keep lumping people together,” Greenblatt said. “Judge people by the content of their character instead.”
He also emphasized the diversity in political and religious beliefs that can be found within each group of people. There are several types of practicing Jewish people, such as Reformist, Conservative and Orthodox. While much of the Jewish population around the U.S. has often been associated politically with the Democratic party, Greenblatt notes that the Orthodox community share more in common politically with Evangelicals. Most Orthodox Jews are against abortion and gay marriage, thus putting them more in line with the Republican party than the Democratic.
While Greenblatt doesn’t yet believe the amount of hatred around the country toward certain groups of people has reached the same level as Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust and World War II, he emphasizes that the groups of people who feel unsafe in the country need to make their voices heard, regardless of their political or ideological beliefs. He said these people need to speak out swiftly and strongly when hate happens, ensure programs offered are truly encompassing and come together to achieve their goals.
“There is no next season in the game of life,” Greenblatt said. “People should get involved by volunteering, registering to vote and serving their community. You have to grab a ball and get out to the field.”