I want to share a short story about a recent experience at a dinner party with some Jewish friends. During the discussion, I mentioned my concern that 25% of Jewish voters surveyed by the Jewish Electoral Institute believe Israel is an apartheid state. One of the other guests responded by asking me if I disagreed with the claim that Arabs are discriminated against. I replied, I agree there is discrimination against some Israeli Arabs, but that just as in the United States, it is against the law in Israel to discriminate, and Israeli courts enforce those laws. After acknowledging Israel did not engage in apartheid in the traditional meaning of the word, she asked, “Don’t you think the people answered the poll about apartheid simply as a means of expressing their concern about Israeli discrimination against its Arab population?”
I responded that words matter:
- “Apartheid” has a far different meaning than “discrimination.”
- The apartheid label has been used to delegitimize and demonize Israel.
- The use of the apartheid label has led to antisemitic acts.
- According to the FBI, in 2019 and 2020, hate crimes against Jews constituted almost 60% of religion-based hate crimes. Considering all types of hate crimes, Jews were subjected to more than any other group except African Americans. We know all too well what recently occurred in Colleyville, Texas.
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that in 2019 and 2020, the number of reported antisemitic incidents in the United States is the highest it has been since the ADL began tracking them in 1979. In Sarasota, we experienced two incidents of antisemitic vandalism with graffiti at Temple Emanu-El in April and July 2019, and at Temple Sinai in July 2019.
- A joint study by Hillel and the ADL found that one-third of Jewish college students experienced antisemitism on campus last year and 15% feel they need to hide their Jewish identity. Some examples include a Jewish sexual assault survivor at the University of Vermont being told that she was not welcome to participate in its sexual harassment club because she supported Israel. There was a call to defund Hillel at Rutgers University because of its support of Israel. A student government organization at a Canadian university rejected a request for a kosher food service from Hillel because Hillel supports Israel.
These are all consequences from choosing to describe Israel as an apartheid state when it clearly is not.
The Heller Community Relations Council (CRC) is a standing committee of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, established for the purpose of confronting antisemitism, supporting Israel, working to promote a more just society, and establishing and strengthening positive relationships between the Jewish community and the greater Sarasota-Manatee community. I believe my dinner conversation reflects why the CRC is so important to Federation’s role to help combat antisemitism.
The best way to combat antisemitism is to develop relationships and build allies. To do so, we need to listen to their concerns and understand their needs to create mutual respect and trust. That is what the CRC is charged with and does.
Some of the recent actions of the CRC include:
- Creating relationships with the Sarasota Police Department and the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office and jointly speaking with them to the Sarasota and Manatee ministerial associations about hate groups operating in our local area. Because of our close relationship, we have been able to work closely with them in both responding to and preventing threatened incidents.
- Speaking to various groups, including individual churches and synagogues about antisemitism and steps that can be taken to counter it.
- Building relationships with Sarasota and Manatee schools has led to several accomplishments. We have provided the schools with a calendar of Jewish holidays and the schools are aware of significant holidays that may cause students to miss school or have important celebrations on the night before a school day. They have encouraged teachers not to hold tests or penalize students for missing school because of the High Holidays and to limit homework and tests when celebrations like Passover Seders occur. We have also worked with the schools on their Holocaust education curriculum. We are providing local teachers with Holocaust education training through the Classroom Without Borders program.
- Conducting missions to Israel with local clergy, educators, representatives of New College, the Sarasota Police Department, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, local businesspeople and others.
- Meeting with local politicians to advocate for or against legislation.
The list above represents just some of the CRC activities. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in getting involved or if you have any comments or questions.