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National Push to Combat Antisemitism in Schools, Society

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

"History teaches that hate never fully goes away; it only hides until it is given just a little oxygen. That is why we must confront antisemitism early and aggressively whenever and wherever it emerges from the darkness."-- President Joe Biden, from the introduction to the May 2023 U.S. National Strategy to Counteract Antisemitism.

Antisemitism is on the rise in America. According to statistics cited in the U.S. National Strategy to Counteract Antisemitism, there has been a 50% increase in antisemitic incidents at K-12 schools. The report states, "antisemitic expression and acts have... become common at many public and private secondary and elementary schools. For example, in fall 2022 antisemitic language and swastikas were found on tables and bathroom stalls in public schools in Livingston, New Jersey. Similarly, the Montgomery County, Maryland, school district witnessed a series of antisemitic incidents, including graffiti and bullying, in early 2023."

Our schools cannot and should not become safe haven for antisemitic beliefs or actions, and we must condemn all forms of hate. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a directive to all schools and educational institutions, outlining steps it is taking to make sure that antisemitism and all other forms of hatred do not take root among our young people. There are many approaches to combatting antisemitism, and at this crucial moment in history, it's important that educators and citizens become partners in stopping hate in its tracks.

  • The USDE's Office for Civil Rights provides a fact sheet for Combating Discrimination Against Jewish Students which provides examples of kinds of discrimination, and how to report them.
  • Wisconsin is one of 24 states requiring Holocaust and genocide education. Act 30 (2020) was signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers, and requires that, "The Holocaust and other genocides be incorporated at least once in grades 5-8 and at least once in grades 9-12 as part of the social studies curriculum." The U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum is a useful source of information about the history and impacts of the Holocaust
  • The U.S. National Strategy to Counteract Antisemitism also urges that, "students should learn about global histories of antisemitism. This should include histories of antisemitism experienced by Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews — who trace their ancestry to Spain, the Middle East, and North Africa — and their stories of exclusion, persecution, and expulsion. Students should also learn about the history of antisemitism in the United States as well as contemporary manifestations of antisemitism." The United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum is tasked with developing comprehensive tools and resources to combat antisemitism, and its website already features primers on many of these topics.

Ultimately, while the federal government and our state and local governments can require and give direction for combating antisemitism, it is paramount that each of us understand why this issue is so important. It's not just important for our Jewish students and staff -- it's important for all students to understand why antisemitism has been and continues to be a virulent strain of hate. It is based on lies, stereotypes, and weaponized ignorance. Those tools can easily be wielded to endanger and hurt people from any and all marginalized backgrounds. Hate spreads like a wildfire, and each of us must be up to the challenge of stopping it before it spreads further.