By Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein
From the horrific attack of a young man from the Five Towns on the streets of Manhattan just a few weeks ago to the vicious murder of a great-grandfather at a Monsey Chanukah party just before the calendar flipped to 2020, to the vile incidence of swastikas scrawled in our communities, it is no secret that anti-Semitism and hate crimes of all kinds have been on the rise. That is unacceptable—and we must act now to change course. Bigotry and intolerance must be stamped out.
The statistics are scary: anti-Semitic acts were at historic highs in 2020, with 2,024 such cases reported across our nation, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Sadly, New York led the country in attacks directed at Jews last year, with a total of 336. And when considering the anti-Israel sentiments expressed during the recent conflict, as well as the growing BDS movement, things seem to be out of control.
It is incumbent upon us to put an end to the horrific acts of bigotry—and the tide may be turning. Last month, thousands of Long Islanders attended a rally against anti-Semitism in Cedarhurst Park, and thousands more signed a petition organized by local rabbis, community leaders, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center urging the state and federal governments to take tangible steps to combat hate crime. Here is an actionable plan:
Our law must treat hate crimes with the gravity they demand. To that end, we have introduced legislation empowering judges to set bail on all hate crimes—including misdemeanors. Earlier this year, a man went on a reckless vandalism spree in Riverdale, throwing rocks through the windows of local synagogues. Yet, since the offenses were committed against property, the defendant was released without the opportunity for the judge to set bail. We cannot allow that to happen—and under our bill, it will not. Under our legislation, any individual who commits a hate crime can have bail set. Period.
We also need to fix a loophole in our law which prevents gang assault from being prosecuted to the fullest extent. Bewilderingly, gang assault is inexplicably omitted from the list of offenses that can be classified as hate crimes. We must fix this and ensure that individuals who perpetrate these vile acts are held to account.
Second, it is important to continue investing in fortifying our community’s institutions. That is why we fought tirelessly to continue to fund the Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes grant program, which has provided tens of millions of dollars to synagogues, yeshivas, camps, and community centers to help deter hate crimes.
Though the executive budget proposed slashing this critical program, we fought to restore and fully fund it, and we strongly encourage our shuls and schools to apply for these crucial grants in the coming weeks and months. Ensuring our institutions are protected against hate crimes is imperative—and that is precisely why we fought for this funding.
Third, educating our children when they are young and impressionable is key. We are pushing for critical legislation to ensure New York schools are teaching students the horrors of the Holocaust and ramping up their efforts to stem bigotry at its source.
Holocaust education is needed more than ever. A survey conducted by the Claims Conference found disturbingly poor levels of Holocaust knowledge among New Yorkers ages 18 to 39. Nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers could not name a concentration camp, while 19 percent believed that Jews caused the Holocaust. This cries out for immediate action.
According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, many teens arrested for hate vandalism admit that they do not even know what the Nazi swastika stands for. But once they are brought to a Holocaust museum, they feel ashamed of their actions and come away with a deep understanding of the unspeakable dangers of hatred.
Lastly, no matter what, we must continue to stand with Israel. When bigots feel empowered to delegitimize the Jewish state and harm our fellow brothers and sisters, the floodgates of anti-Semitism open here in America. Let us be clear: anti-Zionism is a poorly-disguised form of anti-Semitism, and we must unwaveringly support our nation’s closest ally against those who seek to destroy it—be it with the BDS movement or anything else.
Hate crimes are a scourge on our society, and we need a multifaceted approach to stamp them out. Working together, we can. Our future depends on it.