A “virtual rally” to combat antisemitism exhibited rare agreement between the leading Republicans and Democrats in Congress on the need to fight hatred of Jews on Thursday.
The Zoom event, which approximately 23,000 people attended, was held in the wake of an increase in antisemitism nationwide surrounding the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza. Jews have been assaulted and synagogues and other Jewish establishments vandalized in cities across the country.
The event, which was organized by the Anti-Defamation League as well as all four major Jewish religious movements and other leading Jewish groups, was devoid of the partisan battles that have often accompanied accusations of antisemitism in recent years. A representative for US President Joe Biden touted his administration’s actions to fight hate, and Republicans mentioned a bill they’ve proposed to combat antisemitism, but neither side called out the other by name.
Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (who is Jewish) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all denounced antisemitism using largely similar messaging.
“In the last few weeks we have seen a disturbing spike in bigotry and violence against Jewish communities across the country and around the world,” Pelosi said. “This hatred is horrific and heartbreaking. We must not hesitate to call it for what it is: antisemitism.”
McCarthy vowed that “the monsters who are attacking Jewish Americans [will] face swift, durable justice.” Schumer said “antisemitism is vile, reprehensible and countering everything that America stands for.” McConnell said “the modern world knows too well what happens when this evil is met with silence.”
Preliminary data compiled by the Anti-Defamation League shows an increase in antisemitic attacks, vandalism and harassment around the world and online, sparked by the 11-day war that ended with a ceasefire last week.
“We are living through some treacherous times as we’ve seen this rise of antisemitic acts in the past weeks,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. “They have been brazen and brutal, affecting our family members and friends, our colleagues and neighbors and all of us in the Jewish community.
“We know it’s scary,” Greenblatt said, “but also know this: We are steadfast in our commitment to fight anti-Jewish hate, whenever and wherever it happens.”
The event featured a roster of politicians, celebrities and religious leaders, from NBA Hall-of-Famer Ray Allen to Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, who spoke while standing next to a menorah. There were representatives of organizations representing Black, Latino, Chinese, Muslim and Indian Americans, among others. Several of the speakers emphasized the need to root out all forms of hate, an approach that some have criticized for diminishing the unique problem of antisemitism.
“Indifference is our enemy, and we Catholics cannot be indifferent to the suffering of our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Dolan, who plans to attend a special Shabbat service Friday at New York’s Temple Emanu-El. “And we’re honored and enthusiastic in standing in solidarity with you and acting against antisemitism.”
The event recalled last year’s march against antisemitism in New York City, which drew 25,000 people to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge protesting a spate of attacks in late 2019 against Jews in the New York area. That rally, despite its impetus, had an uplifting air, with loud music, people chatting with their friends and a rally following the march.
There have been smaller in-person rallies in support of Israel and against antisemitism in recent weeks as well. The energy at Thursday’s event, held remotely, was calmer and more formal. Some speakers lamented that, after years of rising antisemitism, these gatherings were still necessary.
“I wish we didn’t have to be here, rallying in defense of Jewish communities around the world and right here in our own country,” said Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, who is Jewish. “But we do. We always do, because none of us will remain silent as Jews are intimidated, threatened, attacked and even killed because of who we are.”
TV host and producer Nick Cannon, who last year apologized for making what he called “hurtful and divisive” antisemitic comments, also spoke against hatred and discrimination.
“As someone who has dealt with my own outspokenness, over the last year,” Cannon said, “I’ve learned a lot about how hurting other people is never going to help the overall idea of bringing us all together on this planet that we have.”
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.
The meeting was quickly organized by the White House after the organizations sent a letter on Friday urging 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.
By 8 a.m. Monday, Biden tweeted that “the recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop.”
The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop. I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 24, 2021
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.
In the days following, Jews across New York posted on social media about being threatened, harassed or otherwise attacked for being Jewish. 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.
The antisemitic incidents have led some to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols publicly out of fear of being attacked.