Editorial: Don’t overlook the obvious in fighting anti-Semitism

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Editorial: Don’t overlook the obvious in fighting anti-Semitism

We welcome the strong denunciation by Long Island’s congressional delegation and state and county leaders of a recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents across the region, including an attack by a machete-wielding man at a rabbi’s home in Rockland County during a Hanukkah celebration.

As we do Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s plans for a Long Island March Against Anti-Semitism on Sunday.

As we do the outpouring of support from religious leaders of all faiths and civic leaders.

But words of support are not enough. Not in the face of this growing threat.

In the 14 months since the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, places where Jews gather have endured several deadly attacks and Jews have been the subject of hate speech in schools, colleges and elsewhere.

Twice in two weeks, anti-Semitic graffiti was found around the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove. The second incident involved swastikas spray-painted on trees in the nearby Welwyn Preserve.

The incidents over the past year do not fit a single narrative. The perpetrators have been of different backgrounds and adhered to different ideologies. So there is blame to go around.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who organized a news conference on Friday with the elected officials, pledged to fight to increase funding for a federal security grant program that helps religious organizations secure their facilities against potential terror attacks and to help pass a bill to expand Holocaust education training across the country.

The call for federal security grants is a sad but not unfounded admission that the threat against religious organizations is so great that they need this kind of protection – just like Congress’ failure to enact sensible gun laws requires similar protect for schools.

We just wonder why Rice would need to fight for the funding. But we hope she obtains it as well as money she has requested to expand Holocaust education training across the country.

Rice and the other four Long Island congress members who attended the news conference also sent a letter to national security officials at the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense seeking a probe into whether foreign adversaries are behind social media campaigns potentially fueling the recent rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes across the region.

But we actually know the answer to that one thanks to the Mueller report, which found that Russia’s Internet Research Agency reached millions of U.S. users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram leading up to the 2016 presidential election to sow division among Americans and support Donald Trump’s election.

And, the report said, Russia’s efforts to sow division are ongoing – a point recently confirmed by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“There is proven evidence that our foreign adversaries have tried to use social media and disinformation to try to and stir up civil unrest in the United States of American,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “They’ve done it before. And we need these agencies to investigate as to whether or not that is going on right now as we speak.”

Trump has repeatedly labeled the entire report a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” – despite the indictment of 13 members of the Internet Research Agency, to go with 21 other individuals and three companies who were indicted by Mueller’s investigators.

But the evidence continues to grow of a global infrastructure to manipulate voters on an industrial scale. And we know there is no shortage of countries seeking to exploit divisions in this country for their advantage. Congress must take action even if Trump won’t.

But the threat is not only foreign. People and groups in this country, including candidates for president, have now learned or have access to those who have learned many of the same techniques as the Internet Research Agency.

Congress must take care not to trample on our liberties, but it must act to police the flow of disinformation aimed at sowing discord.

One encouraging aspect of the letter sent by Long Island’s Congress members to the intelligence chiefs was the inclusion of two Republicans – Peter King of Seaford and Lee Zeldin of Shirley.

We just wish that the two would show a similar concern for Trump – the man with the biggest megaphone in the world.

Racism and anti-Semitism in this country go back as far as the founding of our republic. And politicians have also often used racial, national and religious differences for political benefit.

But no president in recent memory has fanned the flames of division as much and as effectively as Trump, beginning with the start of his campaign for president when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and called for a ban on Muslims entering this country.

And make no mistake: attacks against one group inevitably lead to attacks on another.

Don’t think so? Just ask the white supremacists, Klan members and neo-Nazis who have been emboldened these past three years.

Recall that members of these groups marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” This was based on a false claim that Jews were trying to bring in Mexicans to take the jobs of white Christians.

The suspect in the attack on the Hanukkah celebration in Rockland County is said to have hated Jews and suffered from mental illness. Nothing new there. We also know the dark history of prejudice both here and around the world.

What are new for our country are social media and the extent to which the person in the White House is willing to fan the flames of hatred. Many on the North Shore know all too well where that can lead.

There are many practical steps all of us can take to oppose this intolerance. But first, we must have an honest discussion about the problem.

 

 

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