Antisemitism and antisemitic incidents are on the rise, but as Jewish people face hate at a higher rate than any other religious group in the U.S., there are organizations working to ensure that Jews can protect themselves and their communities – and in the process, perhaps dispel the idea that they are easy targets.
Bias against Jewish people has made recent headlines due to remarks and social media posts from celebrities. In reality, however, such sentiment is nothing new, as those who face it are well aware. While incidents involving Ye (formerly Kanye West), Kyrie Irving, and Dave Chappelle have led to warnings that antisemitism is becoming normalized in the U.S., others believe the country is well past that point.
‘I think we’re already there. The normalization of antisemitism is in the United States,’ Evan Bernstein, CEO of Community Security Services, told Fox News Digital. CSS is an organization that recruits and trains volunteers to provide security to synagogues and Jewish events.
Bernstein backed this up with a number of high-profile incidents that have occurred in recent years. These included synagogue attacks in Poway, Calif.; Colleyville, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pa.; recent threats against synagogues in New York City, and antisemitic chants at the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, Va.
‘It’s here,’ he declared.
So how are communities and organizations looking to combat what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called ‘the oldest hatred?’
When it comes to legitimate threats and not just social media rhetoric, CSS’s role, according to Bernstein, is not just to protect Jewish communities from the threats but to push back against them.
‘It’s actually fighting antisemitism,’ he said, adding that members ‘actually feel like [they are] doing something.’
In addition to providing its own security, CSS works hand in hand with law enforcement agencies. They helped the FBI handle the aforementioned threat against New York synagogues.
The organization started in 2007, but Bernstein said it saw a ‘rebirth’ in 2020 when he took over as CEO. While its biggest presence is in New York, it has expanded across 15 states, including recent plans for South Florida. He said CSS is focusing on particular regions of need but said they would not turn down a synagogue that asked them for assistance.
Bernstein said he saw a significant rise in volunteer numbers after Colleyville, and again this year ahead of the Jewish high holidays. He himself worked five shifts during the holiday season.
Volunteers undergo rigorous training, Bernstein said, which serves as a weed-out process to make sure only those who are truly committed are involved.
‘It’s a serious commitment,’ Bernstein said. ‘We want people who are serious, who are going to show up.’
An added perk to the demanding training, he said, is that even those who do not make it all the way through at least come away with something. The entry point training teaches situational awareness, so those who may not ultimately become security volunteers will still be community members with an added education in detecting something that may be out of place.
Bernstein said that community members are also better equipped than private security to recognize what is out of place.
‘We know what belongs and what doesn’t belong,’ he said.
While Bernstein is focused on keeping Jews safe on the community level, others are looking to empower individuals to be able to take care of themselves if need be.
Jon Loew, a media professional and volunteer firefighter, started Legion in 2014. The non-profit organization trains Jews (and others) in self-defense and began as a response to what was already a concerning rise in antisemitic attacks in New York. Since its inception, Legion has grown significantly, and its website lists participating gyms in states across the country, with additional expansion planned.
‘We don’t believe that Jews will ever be safe if their instinct is to call someone else to protect them,’ Loew told Fox News.
While Loew stresses the need for Jews to be able to defend themselves, he is not scared by the recent rise in antisemitism, including remarks from influential figures like West and others.
‘I don’t think we’re all gonna die,’ Loew made clear, pointing out that there is a difference between people being antisemitic and actively seeking to hurt Jews.
‘I don’t advocate violence in response to words,’ Loew said. He is not concerned about people’s personal antisemitic beliefs, noting that Americans are free to believe and say what they want.
‘We just have to make sure they don’t feel it’s easy to attack us,’ he said.
Loew did note that a difference between celebrities making antisemitic comments today compared to in the past, is that now they no longer feel the need – or pressure – to apologize.
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He likened his approach to self-defense to how people have smoke detectors in their homes to prepare for an unlikely event.
‘The more prepared you are for war, the less likely it is to happen,’ he said.
While people like Bernstein and Loew are focusing on Jews protecting themselves physically on the individual and community levels, others are trying to effect change at the institutional level.
Former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told Fox News that a big problem is that there is no such major institutional direction and that when it comes to those with the resources to address antisemitism, ‘there’s no plan’ regarding how to actually do this.
‘We don’t have the leadership,’ he said.
Hikind specifically mentioned the Anti-Defamation League, which has historically had the mission of combating antisemitism. The ADL’s website currently features fighting antisemitism as one of six goals listed under the heading ‘What We Do.’ Others include ‘Combat Extremism’ and Secure Democracy,’ which both have descriptions that reference the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
‘They have gone so far off it’s unbelievable,’ Hikind told Fox News Digital, saying they need to focus more on what to do about antisemitism.
Similarly, the Jewish Leadership Project – founded by activists Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser – views a number of major Jewish organizations as being asleep at the wheel, focusing more on left-wing ideologies than keeping their own communities safe.
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‘They should be declaring a state of emergency,’ JLP fellow Karys Rhea told Fox News Digital.
Rhea said organizations like the ADL have lost that focus.
Rhea said JLP has been trying to work with these large organizations to get them to focus more on protecting Jewish communities instead of devoting resources to other causes.
Both Rhea and Hikind observed that a commonly held viewpoint is that right-wing extremism is the biggest problem when it comes to antisemitism. Hikind pointed out that in New York City from 2018-2022, 97% of assaults against Jews were committed by other minorities, according to statistics compiled by Americans Against Antisemitism.
‘It’s not about blaming a community, it’s about facing where a problem is from,’ Hikind said. At the same time, he made it clear that the far-right is also a concern.
‘Nobody’s saying there’s no white supremacy in this country,’ he said.
Rhea observed that while right-wing antisemitism is a problem – particularly when it comes to violent threats – it remains on the ‘fringe’ of the right. On the left, however, she claimed it is becoming more ‘mainstreamed,’ which in turn emboldens the far-right to come forward more.
An ADL spokesperson, in a lengthy statement to Fox News Digital, rejected the criticism and accusation that they are not focused enough on antisemitism.
‘Antisemitism is always 100 percent at heart of our work, full stop,’ the spokesperson said. ‘ADL was founded with the clear understanding that the fight against one form of prejudice cannot succeed without battling prejudice in all forms. Everything that we do, whether it’s through our education programs, or exposing extremism, or responding to hate crimes, or advocating for stronger cyberhate protections, or working to counteract antisemitic attacks, is directly and intrinsically informed by our 110-year mission to fight antisemitism and hatred of all forms in society.’
The spokesperson dismissed the claim that the ADL is too focused on left-wing causes, arguing that they are ‘a nonpartisan American Jewish organization’ that also faces accusations from the left who claim they are too right-wing.
The ADL statement went on to illustrate efforts that the organization has made, including drafting model hate crime legislation and working with law enforcement agencies so they can better understand and handle hate crime cases.
Even Hikind recognized that one thing the ADL does a good job of is compiling and releasing yearly statistics on reported antisemitic assaults. He did suggest that it would be even more effective to follow up on these cases and present findings regarding what ultimately happens with these cases. The ADL pointed out that many of the perpetrators of these assaults are never found.
‘I criticize the ADL, but I want them to be successful,’ Hikind said.
The ADL spokesperson also addressed the complexity of the problem, noting that ‘[t]here is no singular way or silver bullet to fighting antisemitism but rather it requires a multi-faceted, whole-of-society approach to tackle a complex and ancient hatred.’
The complexities of antisemitism have been demonstrated throughout the ages, Netanyahu told Fox News Digital in November.
‘It sort of rises and falls, rises and falls, it changes its form, but it’s usually the same. It’s been around for about 2,500 years,’ he said. ‘What you see is this: people look for a scapegoat. They have problems. You’re a capitalist, you blame the Jews who are the communists. You’re a communist, the Jews are the capitalists. You have a problem, blame the Jews.’
Writer and speaker Chloe Valdary, who runs an antiracism start-up that focuses on promoting love and inner peace instead of divisiveness, says this comes from people having psychological insecurity ‘and projecting their issues onto another group of people.’
In a conversation with Fox News Digital, Valdary pointed to West, saying that interviews he has given show that his self-worth depends on his wealth and access to women and that low self-worth has resulted in him and others looking for a scapegoat and being prone to conspiracies.
One thing Valdary advised Jewish people not to do in response to antisemitism is engage with bigots on social media – even prominent ones.
‘I think it’s a terrible idea,’ she said.
As for what can be done, Rhea gave several suggestions for how large organizations can focus their efforts. These included working with Congress, as well as state and local officials. Another is devoting more resources to security.
According to Loew, Jewish leaders have to do more than just provide security – they need to push community members to be able to protect themselves.
‘We gotta get our heads straight,’ he said. ‘It’s up to us. No one’s coming.’