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Latest Israel-Gaza conflict sent waves of antisemitism across the U.S.

Last month as the latest war between Israel and Hamas escalated, a wave of anger directed at Jews swept across the U.S., with watchdog groups reporting a sharp increase in antisemitic attacks. Special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky speaks with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the human rights organization T’ruah, as part of our ongoing series: “Exploring Hate, antisemitism, racism and extremism.”

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Last month, as the latest war between Israel and Hamas escalated, a wave of anger directed at Jews swept across the United States, with watchdog groups reporting a sharp increase in antisemitic attacks. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky sits down with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the human rights organization T'ruah, as part of our ongoing series: "Exploring Hate, Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism."

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Over the course of the last outbreak of violence that we saw in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, we also saw an outbreak of antisemitic attacks here in the United States and actually across the world. What do you think caused that?

  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs:

    Well, the outbreak of antisemitism was really, really troubling. We saw, for example, Jews who were just eating sushi in L.A. who are attacked on the street or attacks in the Diamond District in New York and lots of vandalism on synagogues across the United States.

    For some people, Israel represents the Jewish people. And it's important to say, first of all, about antisemitism, that antisemitism is a 2,000-plus-year-old hatred of Jews. It's a hatred that says that it's basically a giant conspiracy theory that suggests the Jews are some kind of nefarious force within society that are trying to undermine society from the inside.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    According to the Anti-Defamation League, they tallied a 75 percent increase in antisemitic attacks in the United States during the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. Do you think that those attacks against Jews in the United States and other parts of the world are similar to the sort of Islamophobic attacks that we've seen against innocent Muslims in the aftermath of September 11th or the San Bernardino shooting or other events that people associate with Muslims and Islam?

  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs:

    People definitely have all sorts of stereotypes that grow out of world events, so absolutely after September 11th, as you mentioned, and after other events involving Muslims, we saw, unfortunately, Islamophobic attacks against Muslims.

    And we've also seen it in the United States over COVID. We've seen attacks on Asian Americans in the street because of people's anger about the Chinese government. And so that is very common that unfortunately, some people see a news event happening in some country and decide to attack people who either rightly or wrongly, they associate with that country.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    And, you know, given that this is a pattern that we've seen develop over time and of course, we can't blame the attacks on Jews in the United States and elsewhere on anybody but the attackers. But at the same time, Israel is a country that puts itself out there in order to protect Jews. Should they be taking into consideration the diaspora and what the effects of their government's actions are on Jews living outside of Israel?

  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs:

    So Israel is supposed to be a refuge for Jews. It's supposed to be a place that keeps Jews safe. It is a place where almost half of the world's Jewish population lives. And in that regard, Israel does have a responsibility both to Jews and others who live either who are either citizens of Israel, who are or who are under its jurisdiction, as well as to Jews around the world.

    So before we even talk about how Israel's image affects Jews around the world, the most important thing is the human rights of those 14 million or so people who are living there. And Israel is every day violating its human rights obligations toward the people who are citizens and who are living under occupation. First and foremost, the people living under occupation who don't have basic human rights, like the right to citizenship in a state, the right to freedom of movement, self-determination. Those are rights that Jews want for ourselves. And so we have to want them for other people.

    And beyond that, there is a lot of anxiety from the Israeli government about the relationship with Jews living outside of Israel. There is an anxiety that Jews living outside of Israel are going to abandon Israel, and there's lots of attempts to try to push back on that.

    The Netanyahu government didn't understand its impact on Jews living outside of Israel. The American Jewish community, we know, largely feels connected to the state of Israel, considers itself generally supportive of the long-term security and the longevity of the state of Israel and by and large, is against the occupation, against settlements and for a two-state solution. So a secure state of Israel living side by side with a secure state of Palestine. So that's where the American Jewish community is. And some of the Israeli government's attempts to change Israel's public perception, missed the mark because they don't understand that actually what's damaging Israel's public perception is the occupation that has gone on for more than five decades. And if we could come to an end of the occupation with a negotiated solution that guaranteed the safety of Jews and Palestinians, then for the most part, a lot of the anger at Israel would go away.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Do you think that this government, potentially this new Naftali Bennett government, might do things differently than the previous Netanyahu administration?

  •  Rabbi Jill Jacobs:

    Well, this new government is very new, so we don't know what it's going to do. We don't have any illusions that this is a government that's going to end the occupation or this is a government that is going to transform Israel into the beacon of human rights that we'd all like to see. But it is a necessary step to move away from the Netanyahu government into the next era of Israeli politics.

    So even if you're not ending the occupation, you can stop the expansion of settlements, you can stop the evictions of families from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, also in East Jerusalem. So there are steps you can take to at least make things not get worse. So I would hope that this government would do that. And hopefully that it would show that it's actually committed to ultimately a negotiated solution that will protect everybody's human rights.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Rabbi Jill Jacobs, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs:

    Thank you so much.

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