Friday, November 18, 2011

Local Hate Crimes Underscore Recent Surge in Anti-Semitism (November 18, 2011)

   When anti-Semitism resurfaces, it strikes a chord that reminds Jews of the ongoing bigotry that has existed for centuries; since Pharaoh drove the Jews from Egypt, as described in the Old Testament; from attacks in the Dark Ages when Christians believed Jews were responsible for killing Jesus Christ; from the pogroms across Eastern Europe in the 19th century to the horrors of the 20th century Holocaust to violent and non-violent attacks that crop up every now and then.
Sadly, in Brooklyn, the “now” has taken place with a slew of episodes in recent weeks.
After earlier incidents in the Midwood community, the NYPD began an investigation yet a third alleged hate crime on Tuesday in Williamsburg after swastikas were found scratched into an elevator.
Before that, an anti-Semitic incident took place on the platform at the Avenue J station of the Q train where a bigot defaced the Avenue J sign with spray paint by adding an “E” and a “W” to read “Avenue Jew.”
After the Avenue J incident, Brooklyn City Councilman Lew Fidler issued the following statement: “Coming as quickly as it does on the heels of last week’s horrible acts, it is particularly chilling. We cannot and will not stand by and watch haters and hooligans demonize the entire Jewish community with impunity… and must be met with an immediate outcry.”
On November 11, in the most serious of the episodes, three cars were set ablaze and more than a dozen swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti were spray-painted on a van and scrawled across four park benches and on a sidewalk in a heavily-populated Jewish neighborhood.
In addition to the NYPD announcing it would increase its presence in Midwood, the Hate Crimes Unit was putting all of its resources into finding the vandals. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said more than two dozen beer bottles found near the scene would be examined for fingerprints and DNA.
Meanwhile, residents from the Jewish enclave marched alongside elected officials and religious and community leaders past the vandalized area, where the graffiti had already been eradicated, to send the message: Don’t repeat the kind of attacks that once led to the Holocaust.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind pointed out that Midwood and the nearby Borough Park neighborhood have the largest concentrations of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel.
Following the November 11 event, Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought up what some believe may have been the underlying motive: “The fact that (this) attack came on the heels of the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht may or may not be a coincidence.”
Kristallnacht took place in Germany as Nazi-supported mobs attacked Jewish people and destroyed their property on November 9 and 10, 1938.
Last winter, the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood experienced a hate crime when bigoted vandals not only desecrated religious artifacts at the Avenue Z Jewish Center but also stole two hundred dollars after breaking into to the synagogue.
Hate crimes are defined as criminal acts committed against those who belong to certain social, religious, ethnic or other group.
That secular discrimination seems to be on the rise once more. When I wrote about the subject in 2002, prompted by no less than a half dozen acts of anti-Semitic vandalism at synagogues and parks in Canarsie, the Anti-Defamation League reported that after a 10-year decline, anti-Semitism was on the rise.
The ADL reported an increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. last year. New York City had more than 150, with about one-third occurring in Brooklyn.
Catching and convicting hate crime suspects may not be a sufficient deterrent. Perhaps, as a part of the punishment for such crimes, some sort of extracurricular education should be mandated. In the case of anti-Semitism, those found guilty should – at their own expense – be forced to visit and tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, to get a glimpse of what resulted from widespread prejudice against Jews in Europe 75 years ago.  Actually, a journey to the memorial sites across Poland and Germany, where millions of Jews were exterminated, might also carry great weight in judgments for those convicted of anti-Semitic hate crimes. It’s hard to imagine that even the most insensitive individuals would not be moved by such outings.
The recent surge of anti-Semitism is a clear indication that bigotry and intolerance have neither boundaries nor time limits.
Above all, we must remember that throughout history it has been demonstrated time and again that the outcome of ignoring evil commonly results in terrible consequences.