Rise in antisemitism and antiZionism calls for increased advocacy and education

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Featured

More than 400 Jewish leaders and professionals from 65 communities (including 10 from Tidewater) traveled to Washington, DC in January to meet with more than 190 members of Congress (or their legislative aides) to advocate for legislation that supports Israel, combats antisemitism, and helps secure Jewish communities.

“We stand here in the Capitol of the freest, safest, most powerful open, inclusive democracy in the history of the world,” said Eric Fingerhut, Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO. When historians write of today, he said, they will write that “the Jewish people came to the Capitol of the greatest democracy in the history of the world and stood up for the renewed Jewish sovereign state.”

Fly In group in front of Capitol: Robin Mancoll, Jay Klebanoff, Kirk and Amy Levy, Naomi Sedek, Barbara Dudley, Laura Gross, Spasenija Radenovic, Betty Ann Levin, Art Sandler, and Jason Hoffman.

The activists urged their Congressional Representatives and Senators to advance the Antisemitism Awareness Act, pass military support for Israel, and increase funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).

The Antisemitism Awareness Act would require the Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, the gold standard that has already been adopted by 1,200 entities including 45 countries and hundreds of municipal governments and universities.

Shortly after the October 7th attacks against Israel, the White House proposed a $14.3 billion emergency assistance package to Israel as part of a supplemental package. Israel, facing security challenges from an array of Iran-backed actors including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Houthis, needs support for missile defense, including the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, as well as other advanced weapons systems that will help Israel defend her people and prevent the war from escalating more broadly. The legislation has strong bipartisan support.

Finally, the lifesaving NSGP has been a critical instrument in helping synagogues, Jewish communal institutions, other nonprofits, and houses of worship secure themselves in the face of rising domestic extremism and hatred. Federations strongly support a $500 million funding level for the program, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) proposal for a $1 billion NSGP supplemental that would be available immediately and support the program’s strength in the long run.

“To advocate with leaders and colleagues from around the country on Capitol Hill was energizing,” says Betty Ann Levin, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s executive vice president/CEO. “Our Representatives and Senators are resolute in support for emergency aid for Israel, the urgency of securing the release of all hostages, and helping us ensure the safety and security of our Jewish communities, standing shoulder to shoulder with us to speak out against and counter antisemitism. We are fortunate to have the strong relationships that we do with our legislators.”

Amy Levy, Jason Hoffman, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (VA-02), Betty Ann Levin, Laura Gross, Barbara Dudley, Art Sandler, Robin Mancoll, and Jay Klebanoff.

Activists heard from Gili and Maya Roman, whose family member Yarden Roman was released from Hamas captivity, even as her sister-in-law Carmel Gat remains a hostage in Gaza. According to Gili Roman, the Jewish community’s support has been critical in the fight, saying “It’s the deepest possible support that one can imagine.”

Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog spoke of the ongoing trauma being experienced by Israeli society and laid out the four goals of the war: to dismantle Hamas’s war machine and remove its leadership to ensure they cannot rebuild it; release all the remaining hostages; restore Israel’s shattered sense of security and rebuild the communities that have been destroyed; and avoid a regional war. Israel was thinking about a future non-Hamas force that would rule Gaza, that would include Palestinian forces, he said, and was working to face off humanitarian problems.

“It is not in our interest that there will be a humanitarian disaster or catastrophe in Gaza,” he said. “We don’t desire these people to come in harm’s way or be subject to humanitarian catastrophe.”

He also spoke of the critical importance of North American Jewish backing for Israel.

“You have no idea how important your support is. The people of Israel know it, they appreciate it. And I’m here on their behalf to say thank you.”

Adm. John Kirby, a spokesman for President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, assured the activists that releasing the hostages has been and remains a top priority, and that he was hopeful about ongoing negotiations.

Kirby also encouraged Jewish Federations to be steadfast in their activism.

“Every single person in this room has a story, every single one, and I guarantee you that some of the stories, if not most, are pretty compelling. So I would encourage you to also make sure you’re finding a way to tell your story out there, certainly to people well beyond the Jewish community, so that people understand these are real lives that we’re talking about,” said Kirby.

Fingerhut moderated a panel on the IHRA definition on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the Gemunder Family Foundation, with speakers including Elan Carr, Combat Antisemitism Movement Advisory board member and former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and Alyza Lewin, Brandeis Center president.

To learn more or to get involved with the Jewish Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and its advocacy efforts, contact RMancoll@ujft.org.