Looking at Perceptions of Anti-Semitism with the AJC

Since we began in 2019, the AJC has been a strong partner. Alan Ronkin, Director of the Washington DC office, has especially been a gracious advisor to help us clarify why we’re here and our unique role. AJC partners support our mission encouraging everyone to talk about Judaism as a way to fight anti-Semitism. They are especially supportive of providing a positive experience such as 2 for Seder.

While AJC has been fighting anti-Semitism and hate for literally 100 years, you may not know their role today since there’s a lot of work done behind the scenes. We interviewed Holly Huffnagle, the new U.S. Director for Combating Anti-Semitism to learn more about her role, the survey results they released in October, and how she feels about individuals like you building bridges in your own corner of the world.

Take Action:  Holly, thank you for talking with us. You are the AJC’s first U.S. Director for Combating Anti-Semitism.  What is your role?

My team works behind the scenes, helping American government and social media platforms understand anti-Semitism. They are looking for an explanation about the recent increase in anti-Semitism in North America, especially since the stereotypes and memes are constantly changing.

We support different levels of government to help them understand anti-Semitism and label/identify these hate crimes.  AJC has 100 years of experience working with governments here and across the world.

Most of my team’s focus is on social media platforms, primarily with Facebook and TikTok, where there is a huge rise in anti-Semitic language. We work with these platforms as we would the government, but the challenge is that each one has it’s own approach.  We take a unique approach to working with each platform.

There has been a shift in the dialogue in the past few years, realizing that social media has a role to play in limiting hate speech.  ISIS’ rise made a huge impression on the leaders of the platforms, the shootings at Poway and Christchurch had a big impact. Anti-Semitism is a very complex hatred.  We  work with the platforms to help them understand how they can see hate speech, identify it, and then change policies to allow them to take action.  We’re proud to be a part of this evolution.

TA: Tell us about the Survey – the State of Anti-Semitism in America
In the Summer of 2020 we surveyed the general American public to find out what they think of anti-Semitism, and to learn if they are aware of the problem. The results, released on October 26th near the commemoration of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Shooting, were startling, even to our team. The key takeaways were:

  • Lack of awareness about what anti-Semitism is by the general public. 50% of the non-Jewish population are not aware that there is an issue or a threat.
  • There is a dramatic disconnect between the Jews’ and general public’s perception of how anti-Semitism is rising.

FBI’s annual hate crimes report came out in November showing an actual rise in hate crimes and specifically anti-Semitic crimes, confirming the perceptions in this report.

If American Jews aren't going to share and answer questions about being Jewish who will?

TA: Take Action encourages Jews to talk with neighbors and co-workers of different religions about Judaism to fight anti-Semitism.  What do you think of this approach?
In my personal opinion, I feel this is a good idea. 2 for Seder and Take Action focuses on the positive, that’s what we really need to fight hate and specifically anti-Semitism.

European governments are connecting their coordinators/commissioners, both combating anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life. We need to talk about Jewish contributions and support. Few Europeans will meet a Jewish person, but in America there is more opportunity for direct interaction.  Answering questions takes away any opportunity for hatred.

If American Jews aren’t going to share and answer questions about being Jewish, who will?


One-on-one Conversations About Anti-Semitism are Critical

The AJC survey showed that even with all the recent press focus, there is a huge disconnect between Jewish and non-Jewish perceptions on the very existence of anti-Semitism in North America and the threat that it poses.

At Take Action, we believe that this chasm can only be bridged with individuals reaching out to each other and having one on one discussions – human to human. We will continue to work on ways to help you have these conversations.  A conversation seems like a small thing, but our words can change the world.

We’re stronger together