HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Officials in the Jewish community say antisemitism can be a widely misunderstood concept. They’ve now set out to better educate the public in hopes of decreasing the number of hate crimes.
Unfortunately, antisemitism is not new.
“I mean, this morning at George Washington University, horrible things on walls. In northern Virginia in high schools, swastikas. Hear about them every day,” said David Brand, chairman of the Attorney General’s Task Force on Combatting Antisemitism.
Tension overseas has only made it worse nationwide.
Rabbi Diana Fersko is a New York-based author who recently visited Virginia Beach to talk with the Jewish community. And as she addressed her congregation from the podium, she noticed something she couldn’t ignore.
“The more I spoke about it, the more congregants, friends, family members started speaking to me about antisemitism,” Fersko said.
That led to her writing “We Need To Talk About Antisemitism.” It’s an overview on the hate crime in its modern form. She said it’s important to know what it looks like, because it can be difficult to understand.
“It can change,” she said. “It’s sort of slippery, it’s anamorphous, it’s not logical. They’re not always reported, but second of all, when they are reported, they’re not always understood properly in the context of what’s happening.”
In May, Virginia passed legislation containing the definition of antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA. This clear-cut definition now acts as a reference for law enforcement that they didn’t have before. Brand was instrumental in drafting the definition for the legislation.
“This is what antisemitism looks like, this is how we define it, and this is how we will, as the state of Virginia, understand what our responsibilities are when it appears and how we deal with it,” Brand said.
According to the FBI, antisemitic hate crimes rose 25% from 2021 to 2022. The Anti-Defamation League said incidents in the U.S. rose about 400% since Oct. 7, when Hamas invaded southern Israel, killing and kidnapping thousands. But Brand said so many incidents go unreported.
“And the only way to keep Virginia safe is to educate people,” Brand said. “Let people know — if you see something, say something, the old phrase from 9/11. Report it, let the police know, let the store manager of a grocery store know.”
Brand said the Tidewater community has been fortunate in that it has seen very few attacks. He attributes that to great corroboration with law enforcement, and people in general in the community understanding the issue.
To report an antisemitic incident, fill out the form here.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance lists this as a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:
“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.”
For more on this issue and examples of antisemitic attacks, click here.