Jewish Federation CEO Steve Ingber reported that Federation staff members are working with Hillel campus organizations and have met with the Michigan Board of Rabbis.
The recent violent conflict in Israel and Gaza has resulted in a dramatic increase in antisemitic acts in the United States. In some cities, Jewish individuals have been assaulted and seriously injured; others have been subjected to insults in person or on social media.
In a communication to the Detroit area Jewish community last week, Federation’s leadership stated, “An alarming statistic was shared recently by the Secure Community Network, the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America: Over the past month, in the wake of Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas, antisemitic acts in the U.S. soared by 80%.”
Carolyn Normandin, regional director of Michigan ADL (Anti-Defamation League) reported that that within days of the start of armed hostilities between Israel and Hamas, 17,000 tweets were posted saying that “Hitler was right.”
While there have been no major incidents or assaults in Michigan, insults have been yelled from cars at Jewish people and there has been online targeting, minor vandalism and passage of anti-Israel resolutions by three local student government bodies, according to Federation. Normandin said that about 30 antisemitic local incidents have been reported to her office during the past three weeks, including two threats of violence.
“We are always concerned, always watching. We are continuing to monitor and have made some security changes,” said Steven Ingber, CEO of Jewish Federation. In addition, he reported that Federation staff members are working with Hillel campus organizations and have met with the Michigan Board of Rabbis.
He cited strong relationships between the Jewish and other communities in this area, including the interfaith community, and local and federal law enforcement. “We are trying to create spaces for open dialogues. We can’t outshout them,” Ingber said.
Ted Cohen, Federation’s chief of marketing, added that “We are promoting more accurate and positive narratives about Israel and working with the JCRC/AJC.”
Gary Sikorski, director of community-wide security for Jewish Federation, said “We maintain a high level of vigilance and try to be proactive, not reactive.”
Federation has expanded its Community Security program in recent years with trained, experienced officers stationed at Jewish day schools, agencies, camps and campuses throughout the community. Support is also provided to Jewish congregations and other institutions across the community to instill a culture of vigilance and safety, according to Federation’s statement.
Ingber pointed out that student governments at Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University have passed anti-Israel resolutions with inflammatory rhetoric. “Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish language can overlap. We want to keep campuses safe for Jewish students,” he stated.
Normandin said that some Jewish college students now find the campus atmosphere uncomfortable; one faculty member no longer wants to wear a Star of David. She is concerned about two Jewish business owners whose businesses have been attacked online for pro-Israel statements. “How does attacking them help promote peace in Israel?” she asked.
Free speech regulations protect comments that may be derogatory but are not illegal because they do not incite violence. There are a lot of watchdogs reporting on antisemitic posts on Facebook and other social media, Sikorski said.
Despite the current negative climate, Ingber stressed the importance of continuing to “live Jewishly, not to refrain from Jewish celebrations.” The recent Federation leadership message concludes with comments from Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, the site of the killing of 11 worshippers in 2018. “The answer is not to do less, and to hide. It’s to be proud of who you are, and to do more of what you are that makes you Jewish … So, when they do more evil, I do more Jewish.”
How to Handle Suspicious Behavior, Threats and Antisemitic Acts
In Federation’s recent communication, community members were urged to Immediately report suspicious behavior to local law enforcement, including posts on social media and concerns about guns, threats or other alarming activities.
For immediate security concerns related to Jewish schools, congregations and agencies, contact the Jewish Federation Community-Wide Security Team at (248) 833-2521 or email [email protected]. Anyone in immediate danger should contact 911 or their local law enforcement entity.
To report incidents of antisemitism, bias and discrimination through the Anti-Defamation League, (ADL), visit www.adl.org/reportincident or call (248) 353-7553.