The Anti-Defamation League celebrated its 100th birthday by staging a three-day conference on anti-Semitism in America and abroad and on the need to combat all forms of terrorism and hate crimes.
“We delude ourselves if we believe that the dark forces have been conquered,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, as he addressed a crowd of about 1,000 at the Grand Hyatt Washington, where the conference was held April 28 to 30. “They continue to exist in this nation. They continue to exist in the leadership of other nations around the world who have pledged to do harm to Israel and to Jewish people in other countries.”
The conference’s theme, Imagine a World Without Hate, dealt with ways to counter terrorism and to stop discrimination of religious minorities — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews — undocumented immigrants and those being bullied in schools.
Major General Amos Yadlin, former chief of intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces and one of the pilots in Israel’s 1981 attack against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant, called terrorism “a strategic threat, not an existential threat.”
While “you never eliminate the last terrorist,” there are strong signs that the world is winning the war against terrorism, Yadlin said. A terrorist’s motive is “fear and intimidation” of others, he explained. But “at least in Israel, and I think in the United States as well, the terrorists are not winning.”
Parents are not afraid to send their children out to play, people continue to go about their lives, he noted.
“The Palestinians understand that terrorism played against them,” Yadlin said. As for Hezbollah and Hamas, “we haven’t rooted out their capabilities,” but they have been deterred, he declared. Rather than firing at Israel, “they are now busy killing Syrian civilians.”
“Don’t underestimate the terrorist; they are smart, and they know how to use the Internet for propaganda and recruitment,” said Yadlin, who now directs the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “In the short run, in the middle run, they are not winning. We still have to look at the long run.”
Yadlin spoke optimistically about the Arab Spring, explaining that the young people who rushed to Tahrir Square in Egypt may not have achieved their goals, but over time, he predicted, their message will continue. Democracy is more attractive to the young than jihadism, he said.
“This is phenomena that cannot be put back in the basement,” he said.
A more immediate concern is Syria’s civil war, in which almost 80,000 people have been killed.
“The fears for chemical weapons should be downplayed” while what is happening in Syria as a breeding ground for terrorists must be addressed, he said.
While not recommending American boots on the ground, he did call for the establishment of a no-fly zone and a safe haven.
Another speaker, Elliott Abrams, who served under both Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, said there are 5,000 jihadists in Syria today, of whom about 1,000 were born in Europe. He predicted dire consequences should they return to their communities and spread their message.
They also may move to Lebanon, the Golan or Iraq, he predicted, adding that as long as the crisis in Syria continues, the number of jihadists will grow.
In a panel discussion on ways to counter terrorism in America following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, Washington, D.C., Chief of Police Cathy Lanier called on everyone to become the eyes and ears for police departments.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, there have been “some 52 plots, 40 of them home-grown” that have been largely subverted. She referred to new technology, including security cameras that turn in the direction of shots when they are fired.
Fighting terrorism, she said, means citizens no longer have the expectation of privacy.
“The key for us is to know when they [potential terrorists] are crossing the line from radicalism and extremism to action,” she said.
Lanier brushed aside criticism of calling so many acts Islamic militarism, noting, “You have to be honest [even] if some people are going to be offended, or you won’t have credibility.”
The world needs to address all the “hatred of Jews. Face up to it. There is an enormous amount of hatred, not just of Israel, but of Jews, that must be confronted,” said Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
There were more than 1,000 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States during 2011, according to the ADL.
Hate crimes across America, especially those involving the LGBT community, have increased, but that is at least partially due to the greater emphasis on reporting and keeping records of those crimes.
“Hate crimes are uniquely harmful. It doesn’t just injure the person, it harms everyone in the community who shares the victim’s background,” explained Miriam Ziedman, an ADL Midwest civil rights counsel.
That is why ADL continues to work hard, training law enforcement officials on how to recognize and best handle hate crimes, she said.
The ADL trains about 10,000 officers on hate crimes and extremism each year. The ADL helped create an online training program that is being used by police departments, and it launched a mobile website that displays various hate and terrorist symbols to help law enforcement officials recognize with whom they are dealing.
A hate crime must first involve a crime. To be elevated to the status of a hate crime, the victim must have been chosen due a particular characteristic, be it Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or transgender. As of this year, persons with a mental disability also can be victims of hate crimes.
Tagging on the additional charge of hate crime is not done to increase a prison sentence, but rather “to call something what it really is. There’s honesty in it,” explained Robert Moossy, chief of the criminal section of the civil rights division in the U.S. Department of Justice. It also greatly helps law enforcement to collect data and raise awareness.
Ziedman and Moossy participated in a discussion on Addressing Hate Crimes in America: New Tools, Trends and Tactics.
Moossy said his office has seen a 70-percent increase in reported hate crimes during the past four years as compared with the four prior years.
It’s important that people not be afraid, he said. When people are victimized, they often are reluctant to come forward, he said. An illegal immigrant may not report a beating for fear he will be deported. A gay person may also be afraid that their family or employers will find out about their sexual orientation, Moossy noted.
But these crimes can’t be prosecuted if no one reports them, he said, adding, “People are being hurt every hour of every day.”
By calling it a hate crime, Ziedman explained, law enforcement is sending a message that victimizing someone in this country because of his or her background will not be tolerated.
She noted that laws concerning hate crimes exist in all but five states — Georgia, Wyoming, South Carolina, Arkansas and Indiana.
Along with working with law enforcement officials, it is important to create partnerships to learn about the various groups living in a community and to teach empathy to others. “Have them feel the fear. That’s what’s going to get them out there working harder,” said Sgt. Lori Cooper, commanding officer of the special activities section of the Chicago Police Department, of volunteers such as those in ADL.
When a synagogue or church burns, it’s important to foster dialogue throughout the community, the speakers noted. When that institution holds a gathering, show up in force, let the perpetrators know that minority groups are welcome in the community but violent criminals are not.
Religious institutions and schools often paint over graffiti right away, but it is better to take photographs, let the community, police and media know what happened, the panelists agreed.
Reporting of these crimes need to improve, according to Michelle Deutchman, an ADL Midwest civil rights counsel. In 2011, there were 14,575 law enforcement agencies agreeing to report hate crimes on a form created mostly by the ADL.
“That’s the good news. The bad news is, 13 percent reported at least one hate crime” during 2011, meaning that 87 percent of the law enforcement agencies reported having no hate crimes in their area.
“I find that difficult to believe,” Deutchman said, adding, “We have come very far, but we have further to go.”
Suzanne Pollak writes for our sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.