The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
It should be no surprise that Jews around Seattle and the rest of the nation are watching the rise in antisemitic rhetoric with consternation.
Societies under stress find scapegoats. Pandemic isolation, economic turbulence and escalating political violence have pushed dark theories and ancient prejudices out in the open. Misunderstandings about Judaism fuel outrageous fears and repugnant attacks.
Every Saturday, Jews gather at synagogues to sing and chant God’s praises. Congregants also check the exits and ask ushers about hired security that may be watching the doors. Many have taken first aid classes that teach people how to stanch gunshot wounds.
This is not paranoia or insecurity, but a natural reaction to threats. The aggressively anti-Jewish diatribe of musician and fashion creator Kanye West, now known as Ye, was more than a dog whistle. It was a bullhorn of hate blasted by someone with millions of social-media followers.
Basketball star Kyrie Irving was suspended for posting a “documentary” that the Anti-Defamation League says includes “claims of a global Jewish conspiracy to oppress and defraud Black people.”
Elected officials, community leaders and corporate executives must step up and condemn words and actions, said Regina Sassoon Friedland, regional director in Seattle of the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization. Silence is complicity. But to address anti-Jewish hate, an even more fundamental question should be answered, she said.
“The first place to start, there needs to be an understanding of who Jews are — are you a religion or a people? What is antisemitism? All too often, it loses its meaning.”
In October, Bellevue became the first city in the Northwest to adopt a recognized definition of antisemitism to fight anti-Jewish hatred.
The proclamation says: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Bellevue will use these words to respond and provide training and education. Other cities should follow its example.
There is no accurate number of hate crimes against Jews locally. In 2006, a Washington extremist harboring antisemitic views forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, killed one staff person and injured five more.
For many Jews, the consequence of all this has been to try and blend into the background, to follow that age-old directive in times of trouble — don’t attract attention. That means not wearing the kippah skull cap or certain jewelry.
In a well-functioning society, such demonstrations of faith and culture would seem safe. That is the place we should collectively aspire to create.