PHOTO: Tree of Life memorial

Makeshift memorial for the 11 people killed in an October 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

ON May 2, which is designated as Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, a resolution condemning anti-Semitism was introduced by two senators who don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but did come together to show bipartisan unity on this important issue.

According to the FBI, 938 anti-Semitic incidents occurred nationwide in 2017, a significant 37 percent increase over the year before.

Amid efforts across the country to bolster hate crime laws, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, introduced the straightforwardly titled “Resolution Condemning all forms of antisemitism” in light of recent events, including the deadly shootings at U.S. synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif.



The resolution points out that “Jews are the targets of the majority of hate crimes committed in the United States against any religious group ... ,” and refers to the “systematic discrimination” and “long perpetuated myths” Jews have faced from the purveyors of anti-Semitism.

In addition to Kaine and Cruz, 42 senators—38 Republicans and four Democrats—have so far signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution, though there is time for more senators to add their names.

To avoid the politically contentious pitfalls that have divided the two parties, the resolution does not mention issues such as an anti-Israel bias that Democrats have been accused of by Republicans, or the rise of the white nationalist movement that Democrats have linked to Republican President Donald Trump.

But in their respective remarks introducing the resolution, current events were nevertheless the go-to topics. Cruz noted “hateful cartoons in major news publications, [and] anti-Semitic smears in the halls of Congress,” while Kaine alluded to “white supremacists terrorizing—and even murdering—people in Charlottesville while chanting anti-Semitic slogans lifted from Nazi rallies.”

We would like to think that a bipartisan resolution denouncing anti-Semitism would boost the wattage of the spotlight that’s already on it. Maybe, maybe not. The problem with decrying such unacceptable human behavior is that it falls on the deaf ears of those who most need to hear and understand it.

Lawmakers have also taken aim at anti-Semitism in bipartisan legislative fashion. Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, and Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, have resurrected the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act for 2019.

The legislation targets anti-Semitic behavior on college campuses, where the Anti-Defamation League says 204 incidents were reported in 2017—nearly twice the 108 reported the year before. A possibly fatal flaw cited in the bill is its definition of what constitutes an anti-Semitic deed:

“Antisemitism,” the bill says, “is a certain 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.”

Critics say the definition is vague and overly broad, and could, as discussed in an essay on the website thefire.org, be used against statements made in a scholarly debate over Israeli government policies. And that, they say, could violate a student’s freedom of speech.

Anti-Semitism, like any sort of ethnic or racial bigotry, is often systemic, baked into certain segments of society slow to recognize the importance of equality and the ignorance of hate.

In addition to tougher federal and state hate crime laws, the most effective weapon against hate is to take a unified stand against it. The bipartisan resolution and legislative efforts are a good start. Unequivocal leadership by the White House would be a big help.

opinion@freelancestar.com

Twitter: @FLS_Opinion

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