Protecting our communities from hatred | Letters

Protect our communities from hatred

Last week, we watched a horrific attack on yet another Jewish institution in another U.S. city. We prayed for and were gratified by the ultimately safe escape of the hostages. Jews across America felt that this could have been their synagogue. And we know that they are right, because we have lived this before: one of us represents Squirrel Hill, home to the Tree of Life Synagogue, which in 2018 suffered the deadliest antisemitic attack in America, and one of us represents Washington State, home to the 2006 deadly attack on the Seattle Jewish Federation.

As hate crimes and bias incidents rise, spaces that should be safe and welcoming – houses of worship of all faiths, community centers, schools and nonprofits – have too frequently come under attack. The trauma of watching this happen repeatedly is immeasurable.

The attacks in Seattle, Squirrel Hill and Colleyville all were motivated by antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power and influence. These hateful narratives are centuries-old, but they morph to fit current times and circumstances. At their core, they boil down to a simple belief: the Jews are to blame. Domestic extremists are exploiting these narratives to recruit members and incite them to violence.

Jews are not alone in suffering stereotypes, hatred and violence. As antisemitic incidents rise, so too do hate crimes and bias incidents targeting people because of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or anything that can be used to identify them as “other.” None of us is safe until we all are.

We cannot legislate hate away. But we can take important measures to weaken the power hate holds and lessen the evil it can do. We can and must take both proactive and reactive steps.

As elected leaders and community members, we must be leaders and set examples. While we cannot criminalize hate and hate speech, we can condemn it and counter it with better speech. We must do so no matter the source: friend or critic, from our party or from across the aisle.

We can celebrate and protect diversity and ensure all Americans, regardless of identity, are protected under our laws. Civil and criminal laws guaranteeing freedom from discrimination and harm must be fully inclusive. We must recognize and counter the growing threat of domestic extremism and ensure we are engaged in a whole of society approach to fighting this threat.

We should create and fully fund programs to enable nonprofit institutions, including religious institutions, to upgrade security measures to make their spaces safer. Cameras, secured perimeters, security systems for entry are now, unfortunately, expensive investments houses of worship and other communal institutions must make. We should offer funding that enables these investments without requiring a reduction in services because of the costs.

We must work in partnership with law enforcement and provide them with the training they need to protect our communities. Together, we must ensure that members of targeted communities feel safe reporting bias incidents and hate crimes and believe the structures in place will operate to protect them.

We know that the attacks on the Seattle Jewish Federation, Tree of Life synagogue and Beth Israel in Colleyville were all made more dangerous because the attackers had firearms. Hate and firearms are a deadly combination; we must work to disarm hate and make it harder for those intent on harm to obtain firearms.

Education is a powerful force for sharing knowledge and creating allies. We need those allies if we are to prevail in the fight against hate of all forms. We must welcome robust debate and dialogue and learn from those with different histories and different perspectives in order to create a shared, safer future.

In 2006 and 2018, we each suffered and mourned along with our communities and healed as so many stood with us. We had hoped that no other communities would know the pain and horror our communities suffered. This was not to be. We hope that together, we can lead our colleagues across the nation in acting to help make our communities safer.

State Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators (NAJL). Dan Frankel is a Pennsylvania state representative and a NAJL board member.