Over the weekend, a man held four people, including a rabbi, hostage for over ten hours at a synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Fortunately, the four hostages escaped — they were not released. Their captor died following a standoff with local and federal law enforcement officials.
You can read more about the story here. But, take a few extra minutes and listen to Wolf Blitzer’s interview with one of the hostages. Mr. Blitzer’s guest describes how their captor “terrorized” the four hostages “because he believed these tropes, these antisemitic tropes that the Jews control everything, and that if I go to the Jews, they can pull the strings.”
Antisemitism is nothing new. And, unfortunately, it remains a serious problem. Although, many don’t perceive it that way. According to a recent study by the American Jewish Committee, 90% of American Jews think that antisemitism remains a problem, while just 60% of the general public agree. 82% of American Jews perceive an increase in antisemitism compared to just 44% of the general public.
I read an article in The New York Times quoting one rabbi who described going into a synagogue for daily prayer as “an act of courage, defiance, and faith.” Another friend of the author told her that “whenever she walks into a synagogue, she makes a mental check of the nearest exit and figures out where the safest place to hide is.”
Fortunately, incidents like at the Texas synagogue do not occur regularly. Unfortunately, antisemitic tropes are far more commonplace. And the EEOC, which has previously condemned antisemitism unanimously, is still paying close attention.
Last week, I attended “Combatting Antisemitism in the Workplace,” which EEOC Commissioners Keith Sonderling and Andrea Lucas presented for The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Commissioners Sonderling and Lucas reviewed Title VII, the anti-discrimination law that the EEOC enforces. They also covered real-world and hypothetical examples of both familiar and novel ways antisemitism may arise in the workplace, and best practices for employers and employees to address this serious problem.
I have a few takeaways that focus on hidden pitfalls:
- Antisemitism isn’t just about religion. It can involve harassment based on national origin, race, color, or genetic information. A Jew who does not go to synagogue can still challenge antisemitism at work.
- A lot of people have strong feelings about COVID-19 and vaccinations. Ok, but keep the word “Holocaust” out of your mouth — unless you want to contribute to a hostile work environment. There is no comparison.
- Plan your diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts carefully. These efforts should not contribute to antisemitism, including assumptions/stereotypes/tropes of power, privilege, racial identity, or conclusions based on racial/ethnic disparities.