By Shiryn Ghermezian
Standing alongside Brooklyn Borough president Eric L. Adams, local faith leaders, elected officials and community partners, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt announced last week that the New York-based group will be doubling the number of Brooklyn schools involved in its “No Place for Hate Peer to Peer Program” for the 2019-20 school year. The ADL committed $250,000 to expanding the initiative, which has helped promote tolerance in more than 1,700 public and private schools nationwide since 1999.
The program has already been rolled out in 22 schools in Brooklyn, N.Y., and reached more than 8,200 students, according to ABC7. The number of schools administering the program will expand to up to 40 this academic year, with a focus on the neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Borough Park, where most of the recent anti-Semitic incidents against Orthodox Jews have taken place.
“We track acts of harassment and vandalism and violence, and what’s so alarming is that the situation has not improved this year,” said Greenblatt. “The severity of the incidents seems to be increasing in terms of their frequency, their aggressiveness and their physicality.”
The 2018 Hate Crime Statistics, released on Nov. 12 by the FBI, revealed that of the 1,617 victims of anti-religious hate crimes reported in the United States, “56.9% were victims of crimes motivated by offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.” Brooklyn alone experienced at least 93 incidents of anti-Semitic violence, harassment and vandalism in 2018. The most recent acts of anti-Semitic vandalism involved a series of egg-throwing incidents targeting Jews in Borough Park and a Jewish man smacked in an unprovoked attack in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Despite the expansion of its education program, the ADL has been criticized for its approach to fighting anti-Semitism, especially in New York. Former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, also the founder of Americans Against AntiSemitism, told JNS “I just don’t have much faith in the ADL and what they represent these days. I think they need to be educated to recognize what’s going on in our communities, to be honest about what’s going on and to address what’s going on. They’re talking about education? I want to educate them.”
Citing some examples, Hikind expressed frustration at the ADL for never publicly criticizing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate—for appointing outspoken anti-Semite Linda Sarsour and anti-Semitic comedian Amer Zahr as official campaign surrogates. Hikind also said the ADL never publicly addressed a recent report that documents the “systemic anti-Semitism and an ingrained delegitimization of Israel” at New York’s Columbia University and its sister school, Barnard College.
“ADL is [supposed to be] there for the Jewish people to fight against anti-Semitism. How is it possible that this is going on in New York, the home of the ADL, and where is the ADL with regard to [anti-Semitism] at Columbia University, NYU and Kingsborough Community College? What are they doing in all these places? The answer is nothing,” said Hikind. “I know the ADL criticized [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu when he made certain remarks. That’s what we need the ADL for? They do wonderful reports, but beyond that, it’s a joke.”
He added that “they need to be educated into dealing with reality and to stop being so freaking politically correct. That’s sort of the moto of the ADL. Not to rock the boat.”
‘It won’t likely make a dent’
Bryan Leib, board member of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, also told JNS that he has little hope in the ADL and its newly announced initiative.
“While no effort to combat anti-Semitism should be overlooked or downplayed, the ADL has shown that it’s unwilling to address the problem head on by getting to the crux of the matter, so I’m not expecting this program to have much of an immediate effect,” he said. “The ADL has failed to call out any form of anti-Semitism that isn’t borne of white supremacy, and their curriculum is more about tolerance and racism in general than it is about the unique history of anti-Semitism.
“We cannot expect to fight anti-Semitism if we don’t recognize its coming from the left and the right. So while teaching tolerance is always good, it won’t likely make a dent against the irrational hatred that is anti-Semitism,” he continued. “If city officials are actually interested in making a dent in the rise of violence, they should publicly announce that they are placing undercover police on the streets dressed as Orthodox Jews in the three main areas the attacks are taking place. At the very least, that would help deter future attacks.”
Nissan Jacobs, founder and CEO of WoMen Fight AntiSemitism, told JNS that while her organization is “overjoyed” to see the “No Place for Hate Peer to Peer Program” in New York, “the violence and hate towards the Jewish community has been largely led by African-Americans and Muslims, which does not fit the Trump right-wing paradigm, and indeed, ADL has lacked the courage to call this out.”
She said “the ADL is largely held to its donor base, and they have been absent in key areas of speaking out, which is why we and Hikind stepped forward. Obviously, had ADL been doing their job, we would not have had to hold a rally against such crimes in front of the New York City Mayor’s office. But the fact they are partnering with Brooklyn Borough president Adams clarifies that they may not have the guts to speak out and be honest to Jews who see through their silence on this essential part of the problem, but they are aware that throwing money, time and energy to the wind in any other direction is a futile waste.”
“The attacks in the key areas this initiative is focused on, Crown Heights, Borough Park and Williamsburg, are 99.99 percent perpetrated by anti-Semites from the African-American, Muslim and Latino communities. Again, we have to take credit for making this possible because up to now, the ADL has ignored this basic fact.”
Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, a leader in Crown Heights and founder of the New York-based volunteer group Jewish Future Alliance, found fault with the ADL’s national leadership. While commending the local leadership in New York for not politicizing the issue of anti-Semitism and being “honest, direct and responsive” about its source, he said about ADL’s national leaders: “I think they’re blaming everything on the alt-right, when in truth in Brooklyn the anti-Semitism is coming from the left.”
It’s agreed that more than education is needed to stop the wave of attacks, taking place across Brooklyn. Behrman said the ADL’s education program is not “the solution to the problem” in the borough “because it’s not catered to the issues we’re facing now.”
He explained, “I think if you want to solve the problems in Brooklyn, you have to address the issues head on. Any curriculum has to cater to local problems; a lot of it is gentrification and the Jewish community being falsely blamed for the displacement of the African-American community. If you teach against hate, and someone can’t make their rent and the Jew is seen as the person to blame, I don’t think a curriculum about hate is necessarily going to make a real difference here.”
Though the issue does not have one simple solution, Behrman suggested doing a study in local schools to understand what factors are influencing people’s behaviors and leading to an increase in violent anti-Semitic attacks. “Once we have the results, we can create a curriculum to cater to those needs,” he said.
He also pointed out what he believes is a “general feeling of lawlessness” in New York, which he blamed on city and state officials instituting laws that are “effectively tying the hands of the police department and making it harder for them to arrest and do their job. And as a result, people are more likely to commit violent crimes.”
“New York is turning into Gotham in terms of lawlessness,” he asserted, “and we need a Batman to save the day.”