Opinion: Antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate crimes affect us all

Utah religious and community leaders sign a letter calling for an end to threats, intimidation, or assault because of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual preference or disability.

(Ariel Schalit | AP) Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.

It’s predictable, wrong and ironic. Our country, the longest living democracy, founded on the principles of freedom of religion and justice for all, was built by people of many colors, religions and national origins. Yet, when war, terrorism or even epidemics occur, some of us quickly target individuals who share a color, religion or national origin with those we presume responsible.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, we uprooted and confined Japanese Americans. Following the 9/11 attacks by radical Islamists, Muslim Americans and people of Arab descent were targeted by government profiling, Islamophobia and violence. When the coronavirus pandemic began in China and spread globally, Asian Americans from many countries were attacked as if they were responsible.

Following a sudden, horrific attack and abductions by Hamas, Israel started a predictable war to defeat Hamas in Gaza and secure the return of hostages. Wars always bring death, destruction and controversy. But, tragically, we’re making the same mistake again, conflating individuals with their countries of origin and attacking them personally. We make unfounded assumptions and direct anger at neighbors, friends, fellow students and strangers.

In disturbing times like these, we see people rush to sweeping judgments and direct violent anger toward groups and individuals they don’t even know and who pose no threat to them. It’s time for all of us to correct false assumptions and allegations, denounce expressions of hate, and report and prosecute offenders who threaten or assault people or vandalize their property because of categorical hatred.

Since this war began, the Anti Defamation League reports that incidents of antisemitism in America have increased by 388%. This wave of harassment, vandalism and assault is characterized by Nazi symbols and threats of annihilation that cause Jews to fear what they thought would never happen again.

Many of the 832 incidents denounced Jews generically or targeted Jews who wore religious garb, expressed concern for hostages or supported Israel. Jewish college students have been frequent targets.

In Utah, we’ve had bomb threats to synagogues. Even before the war, Jewish students in our high schools and the universities have encountered swastikas, vandalism, threatening signs and posts, verbal abuse and threats. Some choose to conceal their identity and stay away from Jewish religious or social events. Their parents say they are fearful for their emotional and physical safety.

Islamophobia and hate against Arabs is also rising. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports a 216% spike in the past year. Nationally, a Palestinian-American child was killed and three Palestinian students were shot. In South Salt Lake, a man shouted racial slurs and spat upon a Muslim woman and her child because of what they were wearing. He shouted, “Go back to your country!” This is her country. Muslim and Arab-American students and their parents here are fearful of being targeted.

Crimes driven by hate and false assumptions are not new to us.

Community Partners Against Hate originated when faith leaders, minority community leaders and government officials came together in October 2018 to support our Jewish community and mourn the violent deaths of 11 elderly Jews at a Sabbath service in Pittsburgh. When we learned of a near fatal beating of a Hispanic youth in Salt Lake City because his attacker “wanted to kill a Mexican” and of assaults on two men because they were gay, we worked together to finally pass an effective, but long delayed, hate crime law in Utah.

We work now with our city leaders and law enforcement partners to urge everyone to speak up and stand up against hate and report hate crimes and incidents. We are confident that law enforcement responds to crimes when they are reported.

Though not all hate incidents are crimes, they all have disturbing and disruptive effects on targeted individuals and their communities. They signal an unhealthy society, one in which difference and debate escalates to threats and violence.

We must do more to curtail and reverse this current targeted rise in hatred. We ask the clergy to share and discuss resource booklets we provide. We call on educators to insist on civil discourse in the classroom and on the campus. The emotional and physical safety of students at greatest risk must be a priority.

There should be no tolerance for threats, intimidation or assault because of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual preference or disability. This is America. This is Utah. That is our law.

(Photo courtesy of Jay Jacobson) Members of the Community Partners Against Hate, a group created in 2019 and sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Utah.

Community Partners Against Hate was created in 2019 and is sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Utah. We bring together leaders and representatives of diverse communities as well as Salt Lake City, County and state officials to advocate collectively to increase the reporting of hate crimes and respond to and prevent hate. This opinion piece is signed by many of our partners:

  • Eduardo Baca Cuenca, Mexico’s Consul General to Utah

  • Luna Banuri, Utah Muslim Civic League

  • Utah Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost

  • Rev. France Davis

  • Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill

  • Elizabeth Grant, Superintendent, Salt Lake City School District

  • Tracy Gruber

  • Utah Rep. Sandra Hollins

  • Asher Ireland, Hillel for Utah, United Jewish Federation of Utah

  • Former Utah Sen. Jani Iwamoto

  • Jay Jacobson, Chair, United Jewish Federation of Utah’s Community Partners Against Hate

  • Shawn Newell

  • Utah Rep. Doug Owens

  • Liz Paige, United Jewish Federation of Utah

  • Pastor Curtis Price, Co-chair, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

  • Alex Shapiro, United Jewish Federation of Utah

  • Rabbi Sam Spector, Congregation Kol Ami

  • Josie Stone, Co-chair, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

  • Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson

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