A leader from one of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish organizations told members of Congress in a Wednesday hearing on growing anti-Semitic incidents that Jews in America “are afraid in a way we have never been before.”
“We are under threat of violence as we walk down a city street or enter our synagogues to pray or shop in a supermarket for kosher groceries,” Nathan Diament, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America executive director for public policy, testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence & Counterterrorism. “In the United States, even though there has been discrimination against Jews for many years, as there has been in other places around the world, in the United States it was not predominantly of a violent kind — but now it is.”
Diament, a member of DHS’ Homeland Security Advisory Council Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Organizations, noted that it’s the “most visible Jews, those of us who wear a hat or a shtreimel or a kippah or who may have payots at the sides of our heads or a long beard who have been subject most to these verbal and physical assaults.”
“Anxiety about this new reality is present in orthodox Jewish communities in all your districts and across the entire country,” he added, noting a belief in the community that increased attacks “are an outgrowth of many years of expressions of not only anti-Semitic bias in general but anti-orthodox Jewish bias in particular that have long gone unreported and unrepudiated… in multiple towns in New Jersey, Ocean Township, Jackson and Mahwah, local leaders sought to use zoning and land-use regulations to try to prevent orthodox Jews from moving into their towns.”
Diament said “the worry is not about over-policing, it’s about under-policing” as “incidents are happening, there is violence on the streets, and we need the police to be in the community protecting people from these assaults.”
New York City Police Department Intelligence and Counterterrorism Deputy Commissioner John Miller told lawmakers that last year the city saw 428 reported hate crimes — 234 of those anti-Semitic — with a 20 percent increase in overall hate crimes since 2018 and a 26 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes.
“We see the lion’s share of that number are things like graffiti, a broken window, a property crime as a hate crime. These are very challenging to solve because, often times, nobody knows when it occurred or who did it or how long it’s been there. It is a challenge when these things are in bathrooms or in the school classroom or on a wall to find video evidence or witnesses,” Miller said. “However, I would underline in the much smaller percentage that involved an assault, a physical attack on another person, our clearance rate, our solve rate, if you will, is over 80 percent, so that’s significant. We put a lot of work into those. We pull out all the stops.”
Miller said the NYPD’s new Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism unit — a 25-strong group of officers and analysts — is “specifically dedicated to investigating not just hate crimes, but more specifically the actions in the growth among violent hate groups as they spun across the country and across the Internet.”
“The idea is to identify groups with a propensity to violence and those individuals who may carry it out and to stop those incidents before they happen,” he said. “To do this, we go by the same rulebook and the same tactics and the same techniques we used to thwart attacks by ISIS and al-Qaeda and the lone wolves they inspire. We’ve already opened dozens of investigations within REME in the short time since it was formed.”
When there is a high-profile attack anywhere in the world, he noted, “the NYPD goes on high alert and further increases our visibility around houses of worship and customizes a deployment plan to discourage any potential copycat attacks that may be inspired.”
“Most of the Proud Boys are not from New York City, but it presented too attractive a target for them when they decided to engage in violence,” Miller continued. “The white supremacist neo-Nazi group Patriot Front have taken their recruiting efforts to New York City. Just last week, they brazenly hung a banner with anti-immigrant language over an overpass in Brooklyn. The same freedom and diversity that are New York’s strength are the same reason that it’s the No. 1 target for violent foreign and domestic extremists all at the same time.”
The REME unit cases have been “by and large involving white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups to date,” he told lawmakers.
“What we see is a trend that that activity is rising. What we also see, it’s dynamic in that you have organized groups,” some with overseas connections while “others are purely domestic. And then beyond that, you have people who are not part of the groups per se, but follow them online and then act out violently as lone actors.”
“We encompass all of that. But it is disturbing when you see people who are part of supposedly domestic groups who are training overseas and domestic groups that are planning actions that if they were doing the same action on behalf of ISIS or al-Qaeda would be squarely within the terrorism statutes, even though those actions are politically driven and using violence or the fear of violence are not considered terrorism under the statutes as they stand,” Miller added. “I don’t understand why we are torturing the subject. A terrorist should be regarded as a terrorist as a terrorist. I don’t understand why we have to decide well, it’s terrorism, but it’s domestic. But it’s terrorism, but it’s foreign. Terrorism is terrorism.”
Retired Gen. John Allen, co-chairman of DHS’ Homeland Security Advisory Council Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Organizations, told the committee that “no other body today in the United States can maintain focus on this threat and protection of our faith communities as can the U.S. Congress,” including through increased funding to security grants and law enforcement as well as legislating.
“There needs to be a formal discussion, a full discussion on the nature of a domestic terror law,” Allen said. “I believe we reached that point in this emergency where we not only talk about a domestic terror law, but we also talk about designating domestic terror organizations and domestic terrorists themselves. It’s an unsettled conversation and there are complexities about this associated with the First Amendment and constitutional rights and civil rights, which are fraught.”
“But we have to have this conversation now, given the uptick in the violence against the Jewish community, but the other communities, communities of color, the Muslim communities, the Sikh and the Hindu communities, our black communities in the context of the Christian church. We have to have these conversations.”