By: Nicole Knauer
The COVID-19 crisis has triggered many racist responses, with many targeting Asian communities. Asian-Americans have been assaulted, blamed for spreading the virus, discriminated against, and isolated within their communities. Now, a more recent outburst of racism has been redirected. This time it has affected the Jewish community. Anti-Semitic flyers were distributed among different neighborhoods all over the United States, ranging from from California to North Carolina. Residents of the affected communities woke up to find flyers left outside their doors, with the message “every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish” and information within the flyers listing conspiracy theories as to how the Jewish community is responsible.
In the San Francisco Pacific Heights area, dozens of these flyers were scattered throughout the neighborhood, left in small plastic sandwich bags weighed down with rice. The flyers included names of health officials working with the Center for Disease Control who are Jewish and accused of overseeing the “agenda,” as well as conspiracy theories falsely stating that Jewish people are manipulating major institutions.
The San Francisco Police Department responded to this hate crime by removing the flyers from affected homes, canvassing the scene for possible additional evidence, and authoring an incident report.
District Two Supervisor of San Francisco Catherine Stefani tweeted in support of the local Jewish community that “I’ve been in touch with SFPD and intend to see these individuals held accountable. Our community has been terrified by the rise in hate crimes, and we must do everything we can to stand against it wherever it occurs.”
Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Seth Brysk, is concerned with the recent rise in antisemitism, stating that “there is that link to spreading the lies, trying to intimidate and it can inspire violence and terroristic activity.”
The flyers have only exacerbated the surge in anti-Semitism, which is at a four-decade high since 2019. In that time period, over 2,000 acts of assault, vandalism, and harassment against Jewish people have taken place in the US, according to the information published in ADL’s annual audit.
The community is especially disturbed by the flyers since it was only recently that four members at a Jewish synagogue in Texas were taken hostage as a display of anti-Semitism.
On the weekend of Jan. 17, 2022, four Jewish-Americans were detained at gunpoint by Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year old British citizen. After enduring over 11 hours held at gunpoint, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, in an interview with CBS Mornings described his experience, “It was terrifying. It was overwhelming.”
On Saturday morning, Akram entered Congregation Beth Israel in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, interrupting a live-streamed sabbath service, and took the rabbi and three elderly congregants hostage. After the involvement of hostage negotiators and over 200 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, the hostages escaped unharmed. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, utilizing previously learned training tactics of the CIA, threw a chair at the gunman and managed to free himself and the other hostages. All made it out unharmed.
With this outbreak of anti-Semitic hate, an ADL survey tracking Jewish-Americans’ feelings about their safety is very relevant today. More than half of the 538 people surveyed felt worried that a person wearing a yarmulke, a religious skullcap, or other public displays of Judaism would be physically assaulted or verbally harassed on the street or in a public place. One in four American Jews surveyed have avoided displaying markers of Jewish identification, including not using their last names, not wearing a Jewish star, or not stating that they are Jewish on social media.
To prevent future hate crimes and strengthen community alliances and involvement, the United States Department of Justice recommends applying a community policing model, understanding and addressing the problem, inviting community groups to local schools, and creating public awareness of the existing harassment and hate crimes occurring in peoples’ communities. The ADL works to educate local law enforcement on hate crimes and appropriate responses, as well as avoiding discrimination in their fields, and is hopeful that they will find an alliance with the police force which will serve to benefit all people and all communities.