By Rich Tenorio
As both the White House and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) have unveiled separate initiatives to combat antisemitism in 2023, local community leaders see common ground between the plans.
“I do think there’s a great deal of intersection,” said Jeremy Burton, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.
The White House released the first-of-its-kind National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism on May 25, 2023. Ten days earlier, CJP launched the “Face Jewish Hate” campaign in the Greater Boston area, which is part of the federation’s “5-Point Plan for Fighting Antisemitism.”
Both plans were unveiled in an atmosphere of rising hate nationwide and in Massachusetts. The White House plan referenced data from the FBI: While Jews number less than 3% of the national population, they were targeted in over 60% of documented hate crimes with a religious motivation. Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracked nearly 3,700 antisemitic incidents across the U.S. last year, an all-time high in the organization’s 43 years of collecting such data. Within Massachusetts, there were 152 such incidents in 2022, the sixth-highest total among the 50 states. The ADL also reported in January 2023 that almost 30% of Americans espoused six or more long-time antisemitic tropes.
“As we see, antisemitism and hate in general are surging in the country and region,” said Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, the ADL’s New England region director. “It’s really a threat to democracy itself. While expressing gratitude toward the Biden-Harris administration and while we’re really glad about the White House strategy, it’s not about politics, but principle. The strategy is welcome—speaking up and calling out antisemitism now, and doing it under the highest leadership of the land.”
Steinberg added: “Now, [the national strategy] calls for implementation. The work has only just begun. The work of CJP and the ADL has been going on for a long time.”
Within the White House and CJP plans, two areas of convergence mentioned by multiple leaders in separate conversations were the issues of allyship and security.
Cindy Rowe, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), said, “The call for allyship in both of the documents speaks very strongly to JALSA’s work, JALSA’s focus, as we move forward.”
“I think the Biden administration, like many of us around the country, is really seeing a very threatening rise in white supremacy, people trying to divide our country, trying to manufacture an atmosphere of division and hatred,” Rowe said. “We who are impacted by antisemitism have to realize how connected it is to other hatreds being manufactured and create a coalition [and] make connections between what is going on so we can fight back together.”
Other Boston-area leaders agreed.
“CJP’s 5-Point Plan has an explicit section on community relations with allies,” Burton said. “An entire pillar is focused on the word ‘allyship’ in combating hate. That’s exactly right, as it should be.”
Another such pillar of the CJP plan, he noted, is safety and security, which also dovetails with the national strategy.
“In the security space, we continue to see the [Biden] administration has been committed to funding nonprofits at the federal level,” Burton said, adding that the national strategy urges state and local governments to tackle hate crimes through multiple means, including restorative justice, mental health services and victim support.
“The need for security, so important in the CJP plan, is affirmed here by the [federal] government plan on pouring more money into efforts that complement CJP efforts,” said Robert Leikind, director of AJC New England. Leikind also saw convergence in “the idea that we need to educate about antisemitism—more specifically, concerns Jews have, including about anti-Zionism.”
In discussing both plans, Jewish community leaders identified a further commonality—the need for continued work to combat antisemitism.
“I think these plans are not ends of themselves, but the beginnings of a long journey,” Leikind said. “I think the timing of the CJP plan and the timing of the White House plan is incredibly fortunate. We have to sit down and do the hard work.”
“I think it’s an important moment in the history of the Jewish community of the country,” Burton said. “We need to use it.”
Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.