Officials call for a special legislative task force to combat antisemitism

Originally published in Long Island Business News

On Thursday,  the same day that a rabbi was stabbed outside a Boston Jewish day school, Nassau County Legis. Arnold Drucker, D-Plainview, called for a new, bipartisan special legislative task force to combat antisemitism.

Drucker’s urging coincides with what officials are calling a “shocking increase of antisemitic violence, hatred and harassment” happening also in New York, across the United States and around the world.

“We have learned through the millennia that when we overlook the existence of antisemitism or are indifferent to its presence, we enable it to spread – and history has shown time and again the gruesome, catastrophic outcomes of inaction,” Drucker said at a press conference on Thursday.

“I am tired of wringing my hands. It is time to act here in Nassau County and across the nation. This committee will help us identify root causes of hatred so that we can confront antisemitism and eradicate it wherever it lurks,” he added.

The call for a special task force comes at a time when one in four American Jews say they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying or displaying things that might help others identify them as Jews over the past two years, according to recent findings from the American Jewish Committee.

Working under the guidance of the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the task force would be directed to host one or more public hearings to engage governmental and community leaders, law enforcement personnel, clergy, academics, members of the public and key stakeholders to gather facts about the origins and extent of antisemitism in Nassau County.

The task force would comprise six legislature,  three appointed by the Nassau County Legislature’s presiding officer and three chosen by the minority leader. They would then select five additional community leaders based upon their expertise and background in opposing antisemitism and intolerance. The county executive or a designee will also serve an ex officio advisory member of the task force.

“When paired with County Executive Curran’s commendable executive action to adopt the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism and ongoing law enforcement efforts to crack down on antisemitic violence, discrimination and harassment, I am confident that this task force will position Nassau County to confront bigotry and hatred more strongly than ever before,” Legis. Ellen Birnbaum said.

“As we know all too well, anti-Semitism is not new, but what is new is the brazen nature of these acts of violence, harassment, menacing, and intimidation directed towards Jewish citizens,”  Legis. Joshua Lafazan said.

With the task force, he said, “Nassau County will equip policy makers and community leaders with the necessary tools and insights to destroy this pernicious wave of hatred.”

The task force would be tasked with educating youth by hosting a Virtual Youth Roundtable Against Anti-Semitism. Focused upon how the law and public policy can help to diminish bias and insensitivity, the event will be known as “Cardozo Day” in honor of esteemed New York jurist and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo.

“Recently, we’ve seen an alarming rise in anti-Semitism right here in Nassau County, and it’s going to take all of us working together to beat back this hate and forcefully reject it from our community,” New York State Senator Anna  Kaplan.

Stakeholders gave the call for the task force high marks.

“The Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island is deeply concerned and horrified with the statistics that state American Jews do not feel as safe in this country as they did just a few years ago. No one should fear living in their community because they are Jewish,” Mindy Perlmutter, executive director of JCRC-LI, said. “Residents of Nassau County must stand up to hate in all its forms.”

In a joint statement, Arnie Herz, president, and Eric Post, director for the American Jewish Committee Long Island Region, said “We believe the task force will go a long way in raising awareness of what anti-Semitism is, how to combat it, and offer prevention strategies to mitigate the problem moving forward. The emphasis on youth education is also extremely important. We are grateful that this Task Force will be guided by the International Holocaust Remembrance IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been recently adopted by Nassau County.”

“Jews represent less than two percent of the population,”Avi Posnick, regional director of StandWithUs Northeast and New England, said. “Yet, over 50 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in this country are against Jews. However, we also know that when it comes to hate crimes, some of the incidents are not reported.”

“We welcome the hearings this resolution calls for, which will give us a better picture of what has been happening, where the issues are and how we can prevent antisemitism from spreading here in Nassau County,” he added. “We are also seeing anti-Semitism on the rise in our schools. Because today’s students are the leaders of tomorrow, we must educate them today before their hearts and minds are poisoned tomorrow.”

Posnick said StandWithUs welcomes ” the youth task force that is being created by this legislation and at StandWithUs, we will continue to work with the elected officials and leaders who are here to educate and empower more students on college campuses and in high schools to fight antisemitism and hate. We thank Legislators Drucker, Birnbaum and Lafazan for sponsoring this important resolution. We are all concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism here in New York and around the world.”