Monday, February 26th | 18 Adar I 5784

April 15, 2021 11:56 am

Asians and Jews — Standing United

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avatar by Grace Meng and David Harris


New York City’s Times Square. Photo: Terabass/Wikimedia.

Within a matter of days, two violent hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Jews occurred in broad daylight on the streets of New York. In the first case, a Filipino-American woman on her way to church was attacked, knocked to the ground, and stomped on. The attacker made anti-Asian remarks while pummeling her. Meanwhile, a Hasidic Jewish couple — pushing a 1-year-old baby in a stroller — was assaulted by a man with a sharp object.

If these were stand-alone incidents, they would be worrisome enough. But they are not. They are indicative of larger trends in America today, and their sources are multiple. Hate and division are on the rise, and two of the principal targets are Asian-Americans and Jewish Americans.

According to a monitoring group, Stop AAPI Hate, there were approximately 3,800 reported hate incidents against Asian Americans during the first year of the pandemic, a significant uptick from the previous year.

Often, these incidents are violent, as evidenced, among others, by the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, an immigrant from Thailand living in San Francisco and out for his daily walk; the slashing of a Filipino-American rider on a New York subway; and the shoving to the ground of a 91-year-old Asian American in Oakland.

In many instances, the attacks, which appear to be random and without any economic motive, are accompanied by blame for the coronavirus and calls to get out of the United States. Regarding Jews, the FBI’s most recent hate crimes statistics reveal that, of all religious-based attacks, those targeting Jews comprise about 60%, even as Jews constitute 2% of the US population.

These anti-Jewish attacks in recent years have included deadly assaults in Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, and Rockland County, and numerous street assaults in New York, particularly in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods.

Moreover, Jews have also been the focus of conspiracy theories surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, evoking loathsome, age-old antisemitic tropes of Jews “deliberately” spreading disease and “malevolently” benefiting from the suffering of others.

The Asian and Jewish communities have a long history in this country of standing up for one another and for the tenets of American pluralism — fighting against defamation, ending discrimination in immigration policy, advancing civil rights protections, and overcoming a range of barriers to full participation in our country’s life.

As recent events highlight, there is more work to be done. Specifically, we must:

  • Enact the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would create a position at the Department of Justice to facilitate expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes reported to Federal, state, and/or local law enforcement.
  • Encourage more reporting of incidents in multiple languages, and help make different communities feel more empowered to come forward and report these incidents. Data suggests that many are reluctant to come forward because they are unfamiliar with the procedures, fearful of repercussions, or experience language barriers or lack trust in the governmental response. (In the 2020 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews, 76% of respondents who said they experienced an antisemitic incident did not report it.)
  • Call on Federal, state, and local officials to devote adequate and sustained resources to the rise in hate crimes.
  • Enact the No HATE Act in Congress, a bipartisan measure to improve the collection of Federal hate crimes statistics, given that, currently, many cities do not even gather such information, much less share it with the FBI.
  • More effectively counter populist, nativist, and xenophobic sentiments that assert that Asians and Jews are somehow not “real” Americans, as if there were some racial-ethnic hierarchy in our country today.
  • Stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, and with other like-minded Americans, to affirm that we are all part of the fabric and fiber of this nation, that we have a shared destiny, and that together we strengthen our society in every way imaginable.

The great majority of our fellow Americans are caring, compassionate people who reject the purveyors of hate, the conspiracy-mongers, and those who would physically attack individuals based on their ethnicity or faith.

Those voices of decency and solidarity — and of outrage at what has taken place — need to be heard in large numbers and loud voices. As we see increased instances of hate in each other’s communities, we must remember that our own experiences with discrimination can’t keep us from standing up for each other. In the timeless — and, yes, timely — words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

Grace Meng represents New York’s sixth Congressional district in the US House of Representatives, and is co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism.

David Harris is the chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, a nonpartisan advocacy organization. Please join 87,000 others and follow him on Twitter @DavidHarrisAJC.

A version of this article was originally published by the New York Daily News.

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