Read the opinion piece at New York Daily News

By Audrey Sasson

A few weeks ago, President Biden’s administration articulated a compelling vision for combating antisemitism alongside other bigotries.

The vision echoes the message Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), the organization I lead, brought to the White House when we were invited to submit our ideas to the task force on antisemitism, Islamophobia and bigotry.

Addressing antisemitism is urgent and necessary. Here in New York, home to the largest Jewish population in the U.S., we have seen increased hate violence against Jews and many of our neighbors in recent years. But policy approaches that isolate antisemitism from other oppressions continuously leave Jews vulnerable. Oft-cited policies, like increased policing and equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism, fuel division between Jews and our allies, and cause harm instead of healing.

Conversation about the White House plan focused mostly on whether it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, a hotly criticized censorship tool that falsely equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, to the exclusion of all other definitions of antisemitism. Pro-IHRA groups in New York have used bad-faith accusations of antisemitism to justify cutting funding to the city’s public university. Republican members of Congress have introduced similar federal legislation — also under the guise of combating antisemitism. It’s part of a broader national effort to ban books and deny history.

Despite aggressive pressure from conservative Jewish groups, the Biden administration heeded our warnings about the dangerous free speech implications of adopting the IHRA definition. The plan’s announcement was a powerful rebuke to forces within and outside the Jewish community that seek to keep Jews isolated, divided and afraid. Rather than advocate censorship and punishment, the administration emphasized solidarity and education.

This is a good start, but we must go further in rejecting failed approaches to antisemitism. New York’s past two mayoral administrations have proclaimed “zero tolerance” against hate. The city has poured tens of millions of dollars into operating and expanding the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force. And yet, according to the task force itself, our city’s hate violence crisis has only gotten worse.

A majority of hate violence incidents go unreported, in large part because many vulnerable and targeted communities do not trust the police. Increased policing will never solve this problem. In New York, only half of reported hate crimes result in arrest, and a very small number of those result in convictions. Enhanced sentences for hate crimes charges have not been shown to deter hate violence.

Federal agencies looking to address hate violence should learn from NYC’s failures. We cannot police or arrest our way out of antisemitism. The most effective solution to hate is not more policing and prosecution; it is investing in community-based prevention efforts and real, pluralistic democracy.

In New York, we’ve been piloting this strategy. In 2019, JFREJ convened the NYC Against Hate Coalition, made up of diverse communities targeted by identity-based attacks, which developed a policy framework for addressing all forms of hate violence. This includes support for coordinated rapid responses, upstander trainings, enhanced data reporting, intercommunity education, and restorative justice programs. Many of these policy proposals served as a model for New York City’s promising PATH Forward initiative.

Some say that our vision of Jewish safety is unrealistic, and that Jews should only look out for ourselves. They are wrong. Every day I see caring neighbors forming multiracial coalitions in defiance of Christian nationalists who are targeting our synagogues and community centers. We show up to defend Drag Story Hour from harassment; we organize to identify and remove Nazi graffiti; we mobilize as “Jews for Asians” when Asian-Americans — including Asian Jews — also face a terrifying uptick in hate violence; we run mutual aid networks that sustained us throughout the pandemic and ongoing economic crisis; and we elect representatives who share our pluralistic vision and are working to enact it.

I am certain that many political leaders will try to use this moment to double down on an approach that singles out Jews for protection to the exclusion of others. It’s already happening regarding a student speaker at the CUNY Law School graduation — a situation that incited threats of violence, and positioned the fight against antisemitism as at odds with free speech and funding public education.

But the message from the White House should be clear: Jews are safest in democratic societies that extend equal rights and protections to everyone. When everyone has what they need to thrive — when our governments prioritize prevention and pluralism over separation and criminalization — Jews and all our neighbors are safer.

Sasson is executive director of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice.

Read the opinion piece at New York Daily News