The Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel has changed life for Jews worldwide, including locally, adding elements of fear and tension.
And aside from the mental aspects, outbreaks of war and conflict involving Israel can lead to a rise in antisemitic incidents, according to Andrew Goretsky, the regional director of ADL Philadelphia.
In recent weeks, the Philly Palestine Coalition called for a boycott of “Zionist” businesses. A group of masked vandals pulled down an Israeli flag at a Bucks County coffee shop. A swastika was drawn on a building next to the University of Pennsylvania’s AEPi house.
These should not necessarily be conflated with protests about Israel’s actions. But those have also been common. Cease-fire actions have hit Center City, 30th Street Station and the office of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman. Pro-Palestine protests have broken out at Penn, Temple University and Drexel University.
Jewish organizations and those that support Israel’s war effort are figuring out how to combat these actions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has an idea of where to start: By making swift and forceful public statements.
Michael Balaban, the Jewish Federation’s president and CEO, and Jason Holtzman, the director of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, said the following in response to the Philly Palestine Coalition:
“The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia condemns the Philly Palestine Coalition’s antisemitic campaign encouraging the boycott of ‘Zionist’ owned businesses in the Philadelphia area. This tactic does not in any way support Palestinians — it only serves to intimidate, isolate, and scapegoat Israeli and Jewish businesses,” they said. “Targeting businesses solely because of their Israeli and Jewish ownership is blatant antisemitism and only further contributes to the alarming levels of hate against Jews nationwide. No business should be villainized for rightfully condemning Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, whose purpose is to kill Israelis and Jews with no regard for Palestinian life.”
The Jewish Federation distributed that statement on its website and social media channels. It has made others, too, like calling for Penn to respond to incidents on campus and expressing disappointment in state Sen. Nikil Saval for attending the 30th Street Station rally.
“We really need to start raising more awareness to local policymakers and elected officials about the fact that some of these local organizations, like Philly Palestine Coalition, are endorsing terrorism and Hamas,” Holtzman said.
Holtzman wants to send this message to university presidents, city council members, General Assembly representatives and Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. He also wants to get it across to business leaders and residents who are not radicals but are just trying to understand what’s going on.
“We need to help people understand that Hamas in its charter calls for the genocide of the Jewish people,” he said.
Beyond statements, the Jewish Federation has convened six working groups to combat anti-Israel activity. There are groups for government affairs, legal affairs, interfaith affairs, K-12 schools, college campuses and public relations. Jewish professionals, educators and organizational leaders are involved.
All are focusing on their areas of expertise. The government affairs group wants to get lawmakers to vote in support of Israel and to help it get more military aid. The legal affairs team is looking into antisemitic incidents and “what can be done against these anti-Israel groups.” The K-12 group is going to make sure that schools have quality educational resources.
“We’re trying to make sure everyone’s coordinated and working together,” Holtzman said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We would rather just lift the resources of other groups that are doing it proactively.”
The national ADL “released a new resource” on Nov. 6 providing pro bono legal services to “Jewish college students facing antisemitism,” Goretsky said. Goretsky recommends reporting incidents to law enforcement and then to the ADL at www.adl.org/reportincident.
He does not recommend confronting protesters. Instead, he suggests just reporting propaganda, banner drops and graffiti.
“There are a number of things that individuals can do to respond to the rise in antisemitic activity,” he said.
To individuals, Holtzman recommends doing more than just reporting incidents. They should help spread the truth about Hamas on social media and in “conversations with colleagues.”
“It’s important to educate yourself. It’s important to advocate whenever you get a chance,” he said.
The Jewish Federation’s working groups are meeting weekly to “set goals and assign action steps,” Holtzman added.
“We know that this is probably going to go on for several months if not up to an entire year,” he concluded.