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De Blasio Is Sending Cops To Curb Anti-Semitism. Will It Work?

As Jews across the world celebrate Hanukkah, an apex of anti-Semitic attacks were perpetrated against Jews in New York City. Today, the Anti-Defamation League reported the seventh anti-Semitic incident since December 23. These attacks join a growing list of hate crimes targeting Orthodox Jews across the city, mostly in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Borough Park, though there have been attacks in New Jersey, too, like the tragic shooting at a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City which left four people dead.

The attacks serve as a reminder that anti-Semitism continues to drive hate crimes and even acts of terrorism across the world. But unlike the anti-Semitic attacks that took place in Poway, San Diego and Pittsburgh in 2018 and 2019, the frequent hate crimes taking place in Brooklyn and Jersey City are not motivated by white supremacism; the attacks, many of which have been caught on film, have been by and large been perpetrated not by whites but by people from ethnic minority groups. Many of the Brooklyn attackers are young black men, and one of the two perpetrators of the Jersey City massacre, David Anderson, was connected to the Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe group of black nationalists known for harassing Jews.

On Friday morning, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that the New York Police Department would increase its presence in the neighborhoods where anti-Semitic attacks are happening.

This is probably a wise step in the short term, as the increased police presence may serve as a deterrent for would-be attackers. But it wont get at the root of the problem which is driving the hate and the attacks. Consider video footage at site of the Jersey City shooting, which showed pedestrians outside the targeted kosher market who were attempting to justify the attack.

They would not be the only ones. A Jersey City school board member used her Facebook page to disparage the “brutes of the Jewish community” following the attack, using the murders as an opportunity to inveigh against local Jews. “Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message?” She wrote of the murderers.

This is not white supremacist anti-Semitism. The resentment expressed in the video and in the school board member’s post has a unique lineage, which dates back to decades of tensions between African Americans and Jews. It’s not just anecdotal, either; a recent multi-nation study found that ecological factors like resource scarcity tend to tighten cultures and create greater prejudice.

It’s something that civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well. Just ten days before he was assassinated, Dr. King offered some wise words on this very front at a meeting in March 1968 with the Rabbinic Assembly.

“Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice,” King told the Rabbinic Assembly. King was grateful to the support of Jews around America who risked and even gave their lives to stand with him in the struggle for civil rights.

But he also noted that many African Americans had less positive interactions with individuals who happened to be Jewish. “On the other hand, the Negro confronts the Jew in the ghetto as his landlord in many instances,” Dr. King said. “He confronts the Jew as the owner of the store around the corner where he pays more for what he gets.”

Many African Americans interacted with Jews in economic circumstances which led them to wrongly believe that Jews as a class were guilty of exploitation, Dr. King explained. But he went on to debunk the myth. “The fact is that the Jewish storekeeper or landlord is not operating on the basis of Jewish ethics; he is operating simply as a marginal businessman,” he explained. “Consequently, the conflicts come into being.”

King argued that the only way out of this cycle of resentment and hatred was for “all people to condemn injustice wherever it exists,” no matter who it comes from. More importantly, he argued against conflating individual bad actors with the behavior of a group, the erroneous mental shortcut we make when we engage in stereotyping.

“I think our responsibility in the black community is to make it very clear that we must never confuse some with all,” he said of the tendency of some African-Americans to engage in anti-Semitic stereotyping. “We cannot substitute one tyranny for another, and for the black man to be struggling for justice and then turn around and be anti-Semitic is not only a very irrational course but it is a very immoral course.”

King’s lesson has never been more relevant — or more urgent. Like King, we should remember that when we have a negative interaction with an individual, that this person is not necessarily representative of a group.

Of course, no one else is responsible for a person’s bigotry, or a hate crime that results from bigotry or anti-Semitism. It is important to tackle the issues of poverty and housing affordability in Jersey City and everywhere else; tackling the root causes of resentment will help deprive extremists like black nationalist and rabid anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan of the oxygen they need to recruit people into their ideology.

So would positive contact and dialogue between African-Americans and Jews, which would help members of the two communities humanize each other. After all, there are also those in the Jewish community as well who allow a deranged few to stand in for the whole. “ZOA and Mort Klein urge all Rabbis and Pastors to use their podiums this weekend to preach against the vile frightening attacks/murders of African Americans against innocent Jewish women, children and men,” tweeted head of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein on Friday.

Ultimately, an increased police presence is a stop-gap to what is truly needed: a more just society in which communities take on the responsibility of educating their members not to allow bigotry to fester.

Zaid Jilani is a journalist who hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He has previously worked as a reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress, United Republic, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Alternet. He is the cohost of the podcast “Extremely Offline.”

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