The head of a bipartisan U.S. panel on religious liberty on Wednesday called for concrete action — not just rhetoric — to address the rise of anti-Semitism across the nation.
“Our purpose here is not just to talk about the problem,” said Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, hosting a hearing on Capitol Hill. “We want to talk about the action steps.”
The commission veered Wednesday from its usual focus on international issues to address anti-Jewish sentiment and violence in the U.S. in its gathering religious leaders and members of Congress.
“We only have to look at the news to see depraved individuals right here in the United States who once hid their dangerous and hateful views,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, Nevada Democrat and chair of a task force that aims to counter anti-Semitism. “We have seen all of this, and unfortunately, some of us have even experienced it.”
Authorities have reported an increase of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents across the country. Just last month, a man and woman gunned down three people in a kosher deli in Jersey City, New Jersey, and a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York.
Ms. Rosen, who is the third Jewish woman to serve in the Senate, stopped short of offering specific steps to thwart the spread of anti-Semitism. She noted that Democrats and Republicans have seen the extreme edges of their parties be infiltrated by rhetoric and views opposed to Israel and Jewish identity.
“We cannot allow partisan thinking to blur our perspective of what is right and wrong because combatting hate must always stay a nonpartisan issue,” Ms. Rosen said.
Responding to Mr. Perkins’ call for tangible action, each witness spoke to potential policy changes to fight anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the commission he wants to see the removal of the live-streaming function from Facebook and other social media, given the perpetuation of acts of violence via internet channels.
“We’ve been too kind to the social media giants,” said Rabbi Cooper. “They’ve done some great things, but this is not really a time for more conversation.”
Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs of the Anti-Defamation League, encouraged the tightening of reporting mechanisms for victims of anti-Semitism.
“All law enforcement should be expected to offer hate crime training,” Ms. Nazarian said.
Former Pakistani Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, currently chairman of Islamic Studies at American University, drew upon his interactions with a strain of Islamic culture with anti-Semitic views, saying security measures such as weaponry and guards may forestall attacks but not end them.
“You need to challenge the hearts of the people,” said Mr. Ahmed.
Already this year, members of Congress have drawn attention to allegations of anti-Semitism.
On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Max Rose of New York and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey called on the Ethical Culture Fieldston School to conduct a discussion about anti-Semitism. Recently at private New York City high school, a visiting adjunct law professor singled out Israel, its founding after the Holocaust and its relationship with Palestinians while speaking about the tendency of victims of genocide to repeat violence against other communities.
“By drawing comparisons between the Holocaust and the State of Israel, these statements misrepresent current events while devaluing the horrors of the attempt to eliminate European Jewry,” Mr. Rose and Mr. Gottheimer said in a letter to the Fieldston School.