by Haya Luftig
The “Unite the Right” violent rallies in Charlottesville were a jarring wake-up call to many Americans and certainly the Jewish community. For many years, such hate rallies were rare and poorly attended. White nationalism seemed to be a small, mostly hidden force operating on the societal margins and under the anonymity of social media. Given the large number of participants in the Charlottesville rally and their penchant for violence, it is clear that these hateful fringe groups no longer feel confined to the shadows.
Last weekend painfully demonstrated the consequences of emboldened hatred: injuries, loss of life, attacks against the people of Charlottesville, and trauma that is still reverberating through targeted communities. The marchers directed much of their bigotry and hateful rhetoric toward the Jewish community—a reminder that anti-Semitism is intertwined with racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.
In Charlottesville, these concerns were very real as the local synagogue members prepared for the worst-case scenario, fearing for the safety of their building and Torah. (For a firsthand account of their experience, read this article from Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville.) Jewish leaders joined with clergy from different faiths on the front lines of the counter protests.
For the security of the Jewish community and in solidarity with other targeted communities, we must take a leading role in combating anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and intolerance in all its forms. The Jewish community relations network is a crucial component of these nationwide efforts. We should:
- Ensure that public officials, ethnic and religious leaders, and business leaders stand up against hate. The more that mainstream voices on both sides of the aisle express their opposition, the more likely that such hate will remain in the shadows.
- Ask public officials to go beyond mere condemnation. We should, for example, support ADL’s call for the President to develop a plan of action to combat white supremacy and all forms of hate, including investing funds in countering violent extremism.
- Remain active leaders in our interfaith and intergroup coalitions. We can partake in collective campaigns to hold individuals, companies, and media outlets accountable when they express intolerance or give license to hatred. Now more than ever, we must be fully engaged in our relationships with diverse partners, putting our principles of acceptance into action and showing that our vision for America can prevail.
- Participate in local coordinating responses by the Jewish community. As of the writing of this blog, I’m in Allentown, Pennsylvania where the Jewish Federation and JCRC have organized a security briefing for the entire religious community, bringing officials from various federal and local agencies to prepare them against violence and extremism.
- Push for policies that promote inclusivity and justice, drowning out hatred in the process. By reforming our criminal justice system, mobilizing for racial equality, and continuing to combat anti-Semitism, our positive aspirations for America can supplant the type of society that hate groups seek to bring about.
- Monitor extremist groups and speak out against their rallies when they are planned. ACT for America, the nation’s largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization, is planning a nationwide series of at least 50 rallies on September 9th. If a rally is planned for your community (see a list of scheduled rallies here), share your concerns with your local officials and urge them to speak out against Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry.
In the fight against white nationalism and neo-Nazism, we must follow the courageous lead of the Charlottesville rabbis, who marched at the front lines of the counter-protests despite the immediate threats they faced.
Widespread condemnation of the protests is a powerful reminder that the vast majority of Americans remain deeply committed to the diverse, pluralistic democracy that we cherish. While we hope that the nation’s response will serve as a deterrent for future marches, we must actively address the persistence of hatred and prepare to counter extremism wherever it rears its ugly head.