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Thousands to take part in US virtual rally against antisemitism

Major Jewish organizations call online protest to demand meaningful policy changes, action against anti-Jewish hate

Organizers of a mass virtual rally against antisemitism on May 27, 2021 are urging participants to post images, such as this one, on social media and include #ActAgainstAntisemitism. (Actagainstantisemitism.org)
Organizers of a mass virtual rally against antisemitism on May 27, 2021 are urging participants to post images, such as this one, on social media and include #ActAgainstAntisemitism. (Actagainstantisemitism.org)

Thousands of Americans are set to take part in a mass virtual rally on Thursday to protest an alarming surge in antisemitic attacks that came amid renewed violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

The rally, called Day of Action Against Antisemitism, was organized by a number of major Jewish organizations in the US and will include policymakers, congressional leaders from both parties, celebrities, community leaders, and guest speakers.

The organizations are calling on Jews and all Americans to “break the silence, demand action for meaningful policy changes and to stand up against antisemitism in the US in a nonpartisan manner,” according to an announcement sent out Wednesday.

Participants in the rally are encouraged to post on social media and/or to demand action from Congress to address the threat of antisemitism and other forms of hate.

Speakers at the event, set to begin at 4 p.m. EST, will include ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, chair of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America Mark Wilf, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, among others.

Organizers of a mass virtual rally against antisemitism on May 27, 2021 have made available graphics such as this one for participants to use across social media. (Actagainstantisemitism.org)

Earlier this week, representatives from five organizations met with White House officials to discuss actions the Biden administration could take including appointing a monitor at the Department of Homeland Security and naming a liaison with the Jewish community.

Among the names that have been suggested as a monitor of antisemitism are former Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman; Nancy Kaufman, former chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 13, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The meeting was quickly organized by the White House after the organizations sent a letter on Friday urging US President Joe Biden to speak out against the wave of antisemitism and to appoint special officials to deal with the matter. The groups that sent the letter and were represented at the meeting, in addition to the Jewish Federations of North America, were the Orthodox Union, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hadassah.

The letter calling for action went out at midday last Friday, asking Biden to “use your bully pulpit to call out antisemitism” in the wake of the spike in attacks against Jews since the launch of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict.

By 8 a.m. Monday, Biden tweeted that “the recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop.”

The swift response from the White House drew praise from Jewish groups.

In recent weeks, Jewish communities across the United States experienced antisemitism during and after the conflict in Gaza and Israel. In New York City, amid dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies last Thursday, multiple Jews were assaulted in the street.

Pro-Palestinian protesters face off with a group of Israel supporters and police in a violent clash in Times Square on May 20, 2021 in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images via AFP)

In the days following, Jews across New York posted on social media about being threatened, harassed or otherwise attacked for being Jewish. The reports were reminiscent of a string of antisemitic incidents in New York in the months before the pandemic shut down street life globally. Nationwide, the Anti-Defamation League recorded an increase in antisemitic incidents in the first week of the Israel-Hamas fighting.

There were attacks on synagogues and individual Jews in other cities as well. Synagogues in Florida, Illinois and Arizona were targeted. Earlier in the week, two antisemitic incidents were caught on video in Los Angeles.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators assault Jews at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles on May 19, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The antisemitic incidents have led some to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols publicly out of fear of being attacked.

This week, the organization that advises US Jewish communities on security matters said it recorded an 80% spike in antisemitic acts in the last month amid Israel’s 11-day war with Hamas.

One of the causes, according to the Secure Community Network, was disinformation spread on social media during and since the exchange of rocket fire.

“There may be foreign actors spreading information and disinformation, often tied to antisemitic tropes,” Michael Masters, its CEO, said Tuesday in an interview. “We’re seeing a clear rise in the calls for violence against the Jewish community and an uptick of attacks of violence.”

Masters ticked off some of the antisemitic incidents: “Acts of vandalism from Oregon to Virginia, synagogue desecrations from Illinois to Arizona, reports of people having bottles thrown at them, children’s playgrounds being daubed with swastikas in New York and Tennessee.”

He said there has been a commensurate intensification of antisemitism on social media during the hostilities between Israel and Hamas that ended with a ceasefire early Friday. A feature of the attacks was to link Jews and Israel to the coronavirus pandemic, in some cases by blaming Jews for the virus, in others by likening Israel to the virus.

A hashtag, #COVID1948, using Israel’s founding to identify Israel as a deadly virus, seems to have had its origins in Iran, Masters said. Many of its initial uses were in Farsi, he said.

The Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks disinformation on social media, traced a sudden massive spike in #COVID1948 usage on May 12, the third day of the war. It also tracked spikes in uses of phrases like “Hitler was right,” “Zionazi” and “Kill all Jews.”

Masters said other foreign actors, including states, also may have spurred incitement.

Other than Iran, Masters did not want to name any specific country, but US intelligence agencies have said that the Russian government and non-government actors in Russia have peddled conspiracy theories in recent years as a means of destabilizing the United States.

JTA contributed to this report.

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