Youngkin panel targets antisemitism in Va. classroom, courtroom

Calling antisemitism the world’s “oldest hatred,” the head of a panel commissioned by Gov. Glenn Youngkin says it is “surprising and disturbing that incidents of such hatred and bigotry have been increasing both nationally and in Virginia.”

Monday, the Commission to Combat Antisemitism, which Youngkin created with an executive order on his first day in office in January, released a report including 21 recommendations to address antisemitism in a variety of ways, including in classrooms, courtrooms and board rooms.

The recommendations outlined would require entities such as the General Assembly or the Department of Education to change policies before taking effect.

According to the report, citing data from the Anti-Defamation League, in 2021 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high, with 2,717 separate incidents reported. So far, in 2022, Virginia has seen nearly 350 reports of antisemitic acts.

In 2017, the Unite the Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly, and “brought together neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate groups, and a variety of other antisemitic organizations,” according to the report.

“It is clear that antisemitism is a wide-ranging problem that cuts across diverse segments of American society and exists on both the extreme left and extreme right sides of the political spectrum, as well as within the gradients in between,” wrote Jeffrey Rosen, a former acting attorney general under President Donald Trump.

The commissions recommendations include:

  • adopting a law affirming support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism in current society: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
  • passing a law that would require law enforcement to collect data referring to hate crimes and incidents that include papering neighborhoods and parking lots, stickering and vandalism.

In a section titled “Fighting Antisemitism through Education,” the commission calls for ensuring through the 2022 Standards of Learning that students in Virginia understand the history of antisemitism, the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. In addition, the panel calls for the study of Judaism in world history.

The commission recommends the Virginia Department of Education establish curricula for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Jan. 27, and Jewish American Heritage Month, in May.

The report suggests enacting legislation to prohibit “partisan political or ideological indoctrination in classrooms and curricula at state-supported K-12 schools and higher education institutions.” It would also require recognition of religious holidays; “To ensure that students of the Jewish faith are not excluded or treated as ‘outsiders.'”

The panel also issued several recommendations to fight antisemitism through law enforcement.

The Commission recommends amending Virginia’s hate crime language to include “ethnic identity” and “whether actual or perceived by the offender.” The change would allow prosecution if a defendant targeted a victim because he was Jewish, or if the offender mistakenly believed the victim was Jewish.

Other recommendations call for additional training for police departments, to identify and deal with hate crimes. The departments would also be expected to train staff about Jewish holy days and include hate crime response training for incidents at places of worship.

According to the panel, local departments would be expected to retain records of hate crime occurrences and to report hate crimes to the Virginia State Police, which should maintain a publicly available hate crime database.

“Combatting antisemitism takes the efforts of all in society — whether one is Jewish or not — and all residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia will find themselves in a better place if the scourge of antisemitism is rejected and excised as much as possible from our society,” wrote Rosen.

The full report is available online.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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