RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new state report reveals the scope of antisemitism in Virginia and outlines steps to address the problem.
In one of his first executive orders, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced plans to create the Commission to Combat Antisemitism. The panel’s report says there is an alarming national trend of increasing hate toward the Jewish community, and Virginia has not been spared.
“Hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism have no place in Virginia and I appreciate the committee’s hard work to highlight and grapple with these matters,” Gov. Youngkin said in a statement. “We have challenges in Virginia and we must work together to address them. For Virginia to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family, the Commonwealth must welcome people of all faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds with open arms.”
While the state has not generally seen antisemitic assaults since 2018, there has been an increased frequency of harassment and vandalism, according to the report. It said, in 2021, Virginians were impacted by 411 reported antisemitic incidents, a 71% increase compared to 292 reported incidents in 2020.
The report said many cases involve white supremacist propaganda, such as flyers and graffiti. It said those cases tend to occur around large population centers like Richmond, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. However, more than 100 localities across the state have seen the distribution of antisemitic flyers since January 2022.
Keneseth Beth Israel Rabbi Dovid Asher said these incidents have become an increasingly common fact of life for the Jewish community, which has forced them to increase security. He said, around his synagogue in Richmond, people have been heckled and verbally abused. He said one person urinated on their building, which has also been vandalized.
“It’s horrendous that, in the 21st century, the Jewish community still needs to fight for its protection, validation, respect and tolerance,” Asher said.
The report makes 21 recommendations that aim to reverse these trends.
“We’re very anxious to see what can be done with it. The report is one thing, but putting it into action is another,” said Art Sandler, the commission’s vice chair, in an interview on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The suggestions include adding a formal definition of antisemitism into state law and banning government agencies from contracting with companies that take antisemitic positions. The commission also wants to increase police training, improve data collection on hate crimes and create a new reporting system for incidents that occur in K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
Additionally, they want to expand K-12 standards of learning on the Holocaust and require recognition of religious holidays. The commission said the state should also support youth initiatives to mitigate radicalization and “prohibit indoctrination in public education.”
“In instances in Virginia and elsewhere, political advocacy in the classroom has been associated with subsequent antisemitic actions,” the report furthered.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who was the first Jewish person and first woman to serve as House Speaker in the Virginia General Assembly, said she was pleased to see a report focused on this problem. However, she said Gov. Youngkin needs to do more to condemn antisemitism within his own party. Youngkin has previously faced criticism for appearing with right-wing figures accused of making antisemitic statements.
“We need to hold our Governor accountable for some of the divisive rhetoric that we have seen,” Filler-Corn said. “The Governor’s silence on Donald Trump’s dinner with an avowed antisemite is extremely troubling.”
The commission’s report specifically references former President Donald Trump’s recent meeting white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.
“Even a former president recently met with two notorious antisemites,” the report noted, without mentioning Trump by name.
“This particular instance was put in the report specifically to point out that antisemitism and expressions of it have become mainstream,” Sandler said, adding that a failure to condemn these acts is a form of condoning them.
Asked about the meeting, Gov. Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter responded in a statement on Tuesday.
“The governor condemns all forms of hate speech, white supremacism, and antisemitism. He created a commission to combat antisemitism in his first day in office and would not break bread with white supremacists,” Porter said.