Rhode Island is witnessing a rise in antisemitism, including threatening messages and students telling each other “Kanye was right about the Jews,” according to Adam Greenman, president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. But it’s a problem we can stand together to address, he says in this Q&A:
Q: In late October, an antisemitic note was left at the Brown University/Rhode Island School of Design Hillel, making violent threats against Jewish people. What was your reaction and is that incident part of a larger trend?
Greenman: When the acts of antisemitism in our state were more isolated, I would get frustrated each time they happened. Now, I get angry -- especially about the incident at Brown/RISD Hillel because it was directed specifically at a Jewish institution and because you can no longer say that these incidents are isolated.
We are grateful to law enforcement and the attorney general’s office for their investigation and work to make sure this crime is prosecuted appropriately. But this incident is part of a larger pattern. The Alliance tracks antisemitic incidents in Rhode Island, and more than 25 have been reported to us since June. During the same time last year, there were only six. So the trend is alarming.
Greenman: There is a huge danger when celebrities lift up antisemitic conspiracy theories because some people, especially children, absorb what is being said without thinking critically about what is wrong. We’ve had multiple incidents reported to us of students in Rhode Island saying, “Kanye was right about the Jews” to other students. We’ve been connecting local school districts to resources and professional development from the Anti-Defamation League on how to respond, and the Alliance provides funding for the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, which brings Holocaust survivors and educators into schools to teach what happens when hate goes unchecked.
Q: Earlier this month, Warwick residents found clear plastic bags on their lawns and driveways containing flyers reading “KANYE 2024″ and “DEFCON 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.” What does that tell you?
Greenman: It tells us that white supremacists are feeling more emboldened in Rhode Island and more comfortable spreading their hate here. Earlier this year, we saw them demonstrating in Providence, and the leafleting in Warwick is the latest of several like-incidents in just the last few weeks. Their goal is to scare and intimidate, and we won’t let them. It’s critically important for the larger Rhode Island community to stand with us and send a message that this kind of hate is not welcome here.
Q: What is driving the recent rise in antisemitism in the United States?
Greenman: In uncertain times, people look for why things are the way they are. Throughout history, the Jewish people have been a convenient target for blame, like other minority groups, as an explanation. That uncertainty can be exploited by political leaders, but the rise of social media has allowed these conspiracy theories to spread much further, almost unchecked. That is why it’s critical for leaders to call out acts of hate when they happen and why education is so important.
Q: What has the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island been doing to combat hate here?
Greenman: The Alliance has been working nonstop to fight not just antisemitism, but all forms of hate. Last year, we convened leaders from all of the communities affected by hate and bias to create an anti-hate agenda for our state. This spring, we’ll be hosting the state’s first anti-hate summit.
We’re working with schools to make sure they have resources to fight hate. We work with law enforcement to make sure Jewish institutions remain safe and secure, and we offer security trainings to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. We convene elected leaders and the business communities to ensure we have allies in fighting hate. And most importantly, we work throughout our Jewish community to strengthen what makes it wonderful. To bring joy.
We are proud of who we are, and we work every day to lift that up.
Q: How can Rhode Map readers be allies in the fight against antisemitism and other forms of hate?
Greenman: Our community and all marginalized communities need every Rhode Islander to stand with us to stamp out hate. We are your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends, and we want what all Rhode Islanders want -- a state free from hate and fear.
I’d recommend people educate themselves on how to spot hate when they see or hear it. The Anti-Defamation League has some great resources on that. We also need people to call out hate when they see it -- when and if it’s safe to do so -- and to report it always. You can follow us on social media to learn more. Don’t be silent. And reach out to us if you would like to help.
Our state was founded on the principle of religious freedom, and we need everyone to step up and say hate won’t be tolerated.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.