FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Aug. 24, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Addressing the International Religious Freedom Association (IRFA), Richard Foltin, AJC's Director of National and Legislative Affairs, warned that the rise in hate crimes across the U.S. and activities of neo-Nazis and white nationalists threatens American society values and structures that have long assured security for the nation's minorities and guaranteed religious freedom.
"The events of Charlottesville did not take place in a vacuum," said Foltin. "Even before Charlottesville, our democratic values have not protected American Jews and Jewish communities from threats, intimidation and attack." Since January, there have been hundreds of incidents of religion-based attacks or threats against Jewish institutions, as well as against Muslims.
The 8th World Congress of the IRFA, attended by more than 500 people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, began 10 days after the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan chanting "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us," along with other displays of hatred and the murder of Heather D. Heyer.
"This violence and hateful rhetoric has been blood-chilling for all people of good will – but, I dare say, particularly for American Jews," said Foltin, adding that he is a "child of Holocaust survivors who lived to come to America and begin new lives only through the grace of God, and who lost parents and other relatives in the conflagration of the Shoah."
Foltin criticized President Trump for his remarks after the Charlottesville tragedy. "Rather than serving as a voice of morality and as a unifier in response to what amounted to an act of domestic terrorism, the President of the United States conveyed a moral equivalence," said Foltin. "There can be no moral equivalence between one side that wishes to celebrate the racist, secessionist Confederacy, and the other side, which represents the voices of inclusion and diversity."
On the other hand, Foltin noted that the outspoken opposition to the hate groups gathered in Charlottesville demonstrates that the country's democracy is strong. "Those expressions of solidarity are an outgrowth of what this country has gotten right in creating a framework for coexistence across differences of religion and belief," said Foltin.
Foltin recommended several steps to be taken as an expression of this solidarity, and in furtherance of that framework for coexistence, including;
- Calling out anti-Semitism and declaring it beyond the pale, not once but repeatedly. The public needs to hear from the highest levels on down that "anti-Semitism violates our core values."
- Educating about principles of religious liberty and respect for diversity, beginning in elementary school and continuing through adult life.
- Encouraging encounters with people of diverse faiths to learn of the common humanity and values that they share, build relationships, and work together in common cause.
- Urging legislative and Administration responses to religion-based hate crimes, worth doing for its own sake, with the added benefit of building understanding and relationships between communities.
In addition, pointing to the conflicts that have arisen over the proper scope of religious accommodation in the face of other liberty and justice interests, Foltin noted, "It is critically important that there be an underlying structure…that is neutral as to matters of religious belief, and in which members of all faiths, and of none, can work and live together, across deep differences on issues of conscience, belief and practice."
Foltin's full address to the IRFA is available here.
SOURCE American Jewish Committee