It’s the oldest hatred in the world, the chairman of Virginia’s state commission on combating antisemitism says, and the frightening news is that anti-Jewish incidents are on the rise in the state.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin established the commission on Jan. 15, the day he took office, in response to a disturbing rise in such incidents, nationally and within the state. That same day a man took four worshipers hostage at a Texas synagogue.
In Virginia, the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, during which a white supremacist killed a counter-demonstrator, dramatized how antisemitism and racial hatred had reached dangerous heights.
To fight back, the state Commission to Combat Antisemitism is recommending 21 initiatives, such as refining state hate crime definitions, calling for new curriculums in schools and recognition of Jewish religious holidays, barring state schools from joining campaigns boycotting nations like those barring financial connections with Israel, and calling for training on hate crimes.
“Hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism have no place in Virginia,” Youngkin said.
“We have challenges in Virginia and we must work together to address them,” he said. “For Virginia to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family, the Commonwealth must welcome people of all faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds with open arms.”
While Virginia has not seen antisemitic assaults since 2018, the same year as the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which 11 people died, incidents of antisemitic harassment and antisemitic vandalism here are on the rise, from 292 in 2020 to 411 in 2021.
The report comes as former President Donald Trump drew fire for recently appearing at a dinner with a Holocaust denier and with the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who was suspended by social media platforms for making antisemitic comments.
“Most worrisome, antisemitism is not just present among the societal fringes and faceless, nameless corners of the internet; antisemitism is increasingly present among visible, elite sectors of American society, and in America’s colleges and universities,” said commission chairman Jeffrey A. Rosen, former Acting Attorney General of the United States.
Many of Virginia’s antisemitic incidents involve white supremacist propaganda, such as flyers and graffiti, mostly in the state’s biggest metro areas, including Richmond, Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads, the commission said.
The Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley also has a concerning concentration of antisemitic incidents.
The commission said more than 100 separate towns and cities in Virginia have seen antisemitic flyers since January, alleging Jewish allegiances to communist governments, Jews as racially inferior and that Jews exert control over government.
The commission’s recommendations include:
* Adopting a law affirming support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as a “perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
* Requiring police officers to collect data on hate crimes, including papering neighborhoods, parking lots, and businesses, stickering, and vandalism, among others.
* Tracking and reporting acts of antisemitism in K-12 schools and higher education.
* Ensuring through the 2022 Standards of Learning that students understand the history of antisemitism; including the place of antisemitism in the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust under an individual sub-standard, and that history classes study the establishment of Israel as a homeland for Jewish people after the Holocaust, while curriculums for world history include the development of ancient Israel as a civilization and the spread of Judaism.
* Requiring the Virginia Department of Education to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) and Jewish American Heritage Month (May).
* Asking the governor to issue an executive order prohibiting public higher education institutions from implementing academic boycotts of foreign countries, except for those subject to national security prohibitions.
* Enacting legislation prohibiting partisan political or ideological indoctrination in classrooms and curricula at state-supported K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
* Requiring that public schools recognize Jewish religious holidays.
* Amending hate crime language in the Code of Virginia to include “ethnic identity” and “whether actual or perceived by the offender” to account for the fact that Judaism is a religion, Jews are an ethnicity, and the Jewish people have a nationality identity.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney returned over the weekend after attending a forum in Greece about antisemitism.
The “2022 Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism” was hosted by Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis and featured Stoney as a speaker.
The event was in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America, the Combat Antisemitism Movement and the Center for Jewish Impact and focused on sharing the “challenges and opportunities faced in the collective effort against religious hatred,” organizers said. Eight U.S. mayors took part, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
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