Speaking out: Understanding antisemitism and pushing back against hate

As antisemitism rears its ugly head in our communities - most recently in Glenview - we must all stand up to this despicable form of hate.

In recent weeks hateful flyers and letters have been distributed on driveways targeting Jewish elected officials from our area and disparaging Jewish members of the Biden Administration, blaming the Russian-Ukraine war on the "Jewish Agenda" and mentioning responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have similarly seen antisemitic hate symbols defacing Chicago area synagogues or Jewish institutions in recent weeks. Per the Anti - Defamation League antisemitic incidents have increased by 84 percent between 2016 and 2020 and we saw a 21% increase in anti-Semitic propaganda incidents in 2021 alone. Members of the General Assembly stood together recently to condemn these recent antisemitic distributions in our communities. To most effectively combat this hate, I think it is important for all to have a better understanding of antisemitism. We cannot stand silent when we see this hate and we must be vigilant to provide needed security for Institutions that are subjected to hateful prejudicial conduct.

In a recent presentation noted scholar Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, who has been nominated to be Ambassador and Special Envoy on antisemitism in the State Department explained that Anti Semitism is an age old prejudice where by Jews are targeted and Prejudged in a negative context just as prejudice is directed at many minorities or ethnic groups but that Antisemitism is distinctive in that in many prejudices those promoting prejudice are punching down suggesting those who are being attacked are of a lower class of people who should be shunned or not associated with but in the case of Antisemitism those promoting the prejudice are often punching up suggesting that Jews should be feared or condemned because they have too much power or control or that that they are scheming and manipulative in ways that could somehow have an adverse affect on others. Dr. Lipstadt's characterization seems to explain many of the prejudicial tropes that get spread around like Jews controlling the media or Hollywood or the financial industry. These manifestations are all unacceptable and should be condemned as outright prejudice. Dr. Lipstadt went on to point out that to point out that antisemitism can be reflected in many ways and like the famous characterization of obscenity that you know it when you see it. That may be the case, but it is helpful to have a working definition so we all can know when it is time to speak out to condemn the hate of antisemitism when it is being spread around our communities or on college campuses or on line.

In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an organization of 31 nations including most of Europe as well as the United States working against Holocaust denial and antisemitism adopted a working definition of Antisemitism: " Antisemitism 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" To guide in use of the definition IHRA as examples referenced manifestations such as targeting Israel as a Jewish collectivity (except for criticisms similar to those directed against any other country), justifying the killing or harming of Jews or denying, the historical facts of the genocide during the Holocaust and charging Jews as conspiring to harm humanity or blaming Jews for why things go wrong, expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action and employing sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Where do we see this outrageous behavior and conduct. We see it all too often. We saw it in the chants of White Supremacists in Charlottesville that Jews shall not replace us. We saw it on anti-Semite and Holocaust praise or denial on T-shirts worn during the Jan. 6 insurrection. We saw it at the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings of Jews in prayer. We see it on the rants of anti-vaxers on line connecting Nazi like symbols directed at those promoting vaccinations during COVID. We saw it in the graffiti on the walls of local synagogues in recent weeks or on Jewish residences at fraternities or sororities or institutions like Hillel at the Univ. of Illinois in recent years. We see it on college campuses when Jewish students or others are ostracized for their support of Israel as a Jewish homeland. We see it in BDS demonstrations under the guise of free speech and support for Palestinians while the underlying call for destruction of Israel is ignored with Demonization, Delegitimization and Double Standards. Of course it is not antisemitic just to question policies and practices as we might with any nation, but to deny Israel's right to exist is beyond the pale. And sadly we saw blatant antisemitism in hate literature on the driveways of our own local neighborhoods.

What can we do? What should we do? First and foremost we cannot remain silent. We cannot allow these antisemitic acts to become the norm so that that our neighbors become desensitized to blatant prejudice. We must call it out when we see it. We should not cower or be reluctant to openly and proudly practice Judaism if it is our faith or to support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland. We need to report incidents of hate to local authorities and organizations like the ADL and urge prosecution of hate crimes. We need to support security grants to protect institutions who might be threatened. We need to educate our friends and neighbors about what antisemitism is. We need to insist and speak out against lax approaches to prejudice on social media platforms We need to support organizations that fight against this antisemitic prejudice and other prejudices whether anti- immigrants, anti-Asian, anti Muslim or anti- LGBTQ or anti - minority group or anti -Black or any other manifestations of prejudice or hate. Together we can and must fight back against any and all forms of prejudice. This is not a right or left issue and we must push back if we see it rearing its head from either ends of the political spectrum. This is a matter of values and decency and respect that we all should care about. We cannot allow hate to have a normative home in our communities, in our nation or anywhere in our midst. Let's join together to beat back hate wherever and whenever it appears.

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. If you are interested in possibly discussing this topic further over Zoom with Elliott and others, you can email him at

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