At anti-Semitism town hall, trends cited and a call for vigilance

Wisconsin saw a 166 percent increase in anti-Semitic vandalism in 2018, according to a recent audit by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

That’s one of the findings in a report that raises the alarm regarding rising anti-Semitism. Incidents overall are up by 20.5 percent from the prior year.

Milwaukee Jewish Community Relations Council chair Ann Jacobs spoke at a town hall meeting on March 26, 2019.

On an annual basis, the JCRC audits anti-Semitic incidents reported throughout the state. Last year’s audit showed trends that mirror the rise of white supremacy, racism and anti-Semitism nationally and globally, according to the JCRC.

For the first time since the council began tracking these statistics, JCRC held a town hall meeting Tuesday evening, March 26, 2019, to review its findings. The council hosted the event at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. Speakers included JCRC director Elana Kahn, JCRC chair Ann Jacobs and Milwaukee Jewish Federation director of security and community properties Ari Friedman.

Kahn said the audit fits into JCRC’s mission to defend and protect Jews individually and collectively. The council decided to host an event on its audit results because “we’re alarmed,” she said.

“We know that people are also alarmed and uncomfortable,” Kahn said.

Jacobs said the JCRC felt the need to share the audit’s contents “intentionally.”

“What we have seen has been a change in tone, a change in anger,” Jacobs said. “We are seeing a resurgence of classical anti-Semitism and new and rebranded anti-Semitism. And we are, as a result, concerned.”

She reviewed some of the findings from the process throughout the presentation, adding context about how the result fits into trends nationally and around the world. Jacobs noted, for example, the similarities between theories espoused in connection with the deadly shooting last year at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and those tied to the fatal March 15 shooting at a New Zealand mosque.

According to the JCRC, the 2018 audit revealed a 26 percent increase in incidents involving youth or that take place on school campuses. The results further showed a 45 percent increase in incidents that took place online.

In addition, the audit revealed an increase in vitriol and violent language in all incidents, and an increase in the use of classic conspiracy theories about Jewish power, Jewish control and Jews as “puppet masters,” JCRC reported.

The audit describes samples of incidents it reviewed, such as:

*  A harassing prank caller to a Jewish facility who mocked Holocaust books and said his grandfather was a watchtower guard.

*  The widely publicized prom photo from Baraboo depicting students posing in the Nazi salute, and the fallout after it surfaced online.

*  Self described “pro-White” Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s run for former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat. Nehlen won 6,638 votes – or 11 percent – in the Republican primary last year.

In addition to reviewing the audit, Friedman also provided an overview of his department’s efforts to provide security for the Jewish community. He identified examples of incidents people have reported and described how he interacts with partner agencies to offer protection.

Friedman encouraged people in attendance to report observations that could be a cause for concern.

“If you see something that seems a little off, by all means, report it,” he said.

Before taking comments and questions from the audience, Jacobs called the crowd to action.

Like Friedman, she encouraged people to report the incidents they see and to call out anti-Semitism when they see it.

She also said the Jewish community should work in alliance with others and discouraged participation in competitions over “victimhood.”

“Nobody gets to decide who’s the worst oppressed this week,” Jacobs said. “There are so many of us that have horrors in our ancestral background and carry those wounds. We’re not going to win on that, and we shouldn’t try. We need to recognize that bad things have happened to so many of us, and to always be in a place of love, warmth, ‘allyship’ for others.”