The announcement that the Biden administration is establishing an inter-agency group to coordinate U.S. government efforts “to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias and discrimination,” shows that the White House is interested in more than a ceremonial approach to address antisemitism. That’s a good thing. But the combination of so many different forms of bias — antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black hatred, anti-Asian hatred, homophobia, transphobia and more — into a homogenized melting pot of a response risks not adequately dealing with the complexities of bias against any minority. The announced approach smacks of trying to please everyone. We are concerned that it will result in a response that will please no one.
Each minority community that is a proven target of the angry, resentful and mentally unbalanced hate-mongers who are pumped up by the steady drip of social media content and loose gun laws is different. Each is deserving of individualized attention and the development of a carefully tailored approach and response. Jews are no exception.
The attacks on Jews continue, with no end in sight. From spray-painted swastikas and antisemitic slogans to taunts, heckling and assaults of Jewish children and adults on the streets of our neighborhoods, each disturbing event triggers the Jewish trauma that our community is not safe. While we are pleased by the rise in government dollars earmarked for communal security and the increasing coordination between law enforcement and the security monitoring arms of Jewish communities, we worry that much more is needed.
Any plan of action must be based on accurate information. But it now appears that those responsible for keeping track of hate activity haven’t been able to gather reliable numbers. The FBI, for example, has been criticized for publishing incomplete data on hate crimes. Thus, the FBI reported a drop in antisemitic acts in 2021, while the ADL reported an alarming rise in such activities during the same time.
It turns out that the reason for the disconnect is simple. The FBI relies on voluntary reports from law-enforcement agencies. But several major law-enforcement regions, including Los Angeles County, New York, Miami and Chicago, did not submit data for 2021. It is therefore no surprise that without reports from the very areas where most American Jews live, the FBI compilations cannot be accurate. Government officials have explained that many states and law enforcement agencies failed to report on bias and hate activity properly or at all after a shift to a new reporting system. That means that the problem of antisemitism is worse than officials thought and probably closer to what we feel in our bones. And the same is almost certainly true for other minorities who are suffering from rising bias and attacks.
The bureaucratic blunder is disturbing.
Even with the best of intentions, government cannot solve a problem that it doesn’t fully understand. And with the White House now proposing to deal with all forms of bias generically — rather than with deliberate focus on each minority community that is being targeted — we worry that the individualized and singular needs of each minority community, including the Jewish one, will not be addressed sufficiently. That would not be good for anyone. PJC