U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

December 17, 2022

Clear and Present Danger

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, it is natural to focus on the incredible displays of compassion and charity that we see across Maryland and nationwide. Clothing drives, food drives, toy drives and more keep up our faith that community members are looking out for each other.

With this in mind, it is painful for me to see how hate crimes, particularly antisemitic incidents, are on the rise in this country – record highs, in fact. Last year, we recorded the highest number of antisemitic attacks in the United States ever, and 2022 appears to be on a similar trajectory. The numbers, a small snapshot of which were released earlier this year by the FBI as part of its annual hate crimes report, are cause for great concern.

Twice last month, Marylanders woke up to discover antisemitic and racist graffiti – first on the Bethesda Trolley Trail and the next week at the College Park/University of Maryland Metro Station parking garage. Unfortunately, these were not the first such incidents.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, which also tracks such activity nationwide, there has been an uptick in threats to threats to identifiably Jewish spaces, including synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish day schools. The threat is so serious that on November 30, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about the “heightened” potential for violent domestic attacks, including antisemitic attacks.

In recent years, synagogues have been violently attacked in Colleyville, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Poway, Calif. It’s shameful that synagogues and other houses of worship need to have armed security guards because of the threats to people as they pray. More than 25% of Jews in America report feeling unsafe.

Antisemitism is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the current wave of popular entertainers, professional athletes and public figures who are spreading antisemitic tropes to their followers on social media or through public statements. We all know that Donald Trump had dinner recently at Mar-a-Lago with “Ye” and self-described Holocaust denier and antisemite Nick Fuentes. Trump also had his photo taken with Liz Crokin, a prominent follower of QAnon, a group known for spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories. That a former president of the United States of America would give such hateful individuals a platform and spotlight is horrible.

But this is not another email about Donald Trump and his latest embrace of hate for his own political purposes. Standing up against antisemitism and hate is about all of us. We must speak out loudly and clearly against antisemitism when it occurs. We cannot allow antisemitism – or any other type of prejudice or intolerance – to be normalized.

But what about the First Amendment? Although the First Amendment protects even hateful speech, if that speech motivates someone to commit a crime, engage in violence, or take action that infringes on someone else’s right, that speech is not protected under the First Amendment and there must be accountability.

Antisemitism also brings with it additional threats. The conspiracy theories and disinformation targeted at Jews often use the age-old trope that claims “Jews control everything” to degrade public trust in government and the news media, and the rule of law. The twisted spread of antisemitism, disinformation, and conspiracy theories directly lead to hate crimes, crime of violence, and even insurrection, as seen in the violent January 6th attack at the Capitol.

Antisemitism is a danger to American society and to our national security.

I appreciate that President Joe Biden has consistently spoken out against antisemitism and hate-based violence. He has encouraged “a whole-of-society response to hate-fueled violence and to foster national unity.” The White House summit he convened September 15 was an important part of this mobilization.

On November 29, I convened a working group in the U.S. Capitol with Senators Jacky Rosen and Richard Blumenthal, and Congressman Marc Veasy, as well as high-level officials from across the government and the non-profit sector who are actively engaged in countering antisemitism. We heard from very senior officials from across the government on their agencies’ efforts to combat domestic and international antisemitism. Our dialogue was followed by a White House roundtable hosted by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff with senior administration officials and leading civil society groups.

This last week, I chaired a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on “The Alarming Rise in Antisemitism and its Threat to Democracy.” Witnesses included the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism, and Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Consistent coordination across our government and society is essential. As hate-based and antisemitic events occur, creating a timely, centralized space for agencies to share information with Congress, key stakeholders – and each other – will strengthen our response in the future.

To that point, I am grateful that earlier this month, President Biden answered the call from Congress and others to develop a unified, national strategy to counter antisemitism. The president formally established an interagency group led by the Domestic Policy Council and National Security Council to “increase and better coordinate U.S. government efforts to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias and discrimination within the United States.”

Such a national strategy on countering antisemitism must be built on strengthening education, protecting public safety, improving law enforcement and data collection, coalition building with other groups and leadership.

We also need public involvement. Countering antisemitism and other hate must be a public endeavor. There is an incredible amount of important work done behind the scenes, but if the public is not engaged in pushing back against antisemitism and hate, the haters will be emboldened.

Please know that I will remain active in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and hate wherever it manifests. I would ask you to do the same. We can all play a part in ensuring that compassion, charity and love can carry on well beyond this holiday season.

I thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

    Ben Cardin