Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflection. This Rosh Hashanah, as we welcome 5774, we also reflect on the year behind us — an eventful one for the Jewish community at large, and a momentous one for the Anti-Defamation League, honoring a century of fighting for justice and advocacy under the theme “Imagine a World Without Hate.”
Imagining such a world may seem difficult, given the volatile state of global affairs. Between the unrest in the Middle East, the continued attacks against Israel, and the too prevalent instances of bigotry still lingering in society, it’s clear that we have a long way to go to fully realize our vision. Though we have made great strides in the face of these difficulties, there is still much work to be done.
The hopeful prospect of democracy emerging in the Muslim world has been deferred. The Arab Spring that began in the Middle East in 2011 is foundering in turmoil — political, social, and economic — with hundreds killed in conflict between the authorities and demonstrators.
In Syria, violence continues in a civil war between forces loyal to the government and those seeking to oust it. The latest revelations of chemical weapons used to kill innocent children, women, and men leave us sickened by the depraved inhumanity. The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, and over 1.6 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. This conflict has severe implications for the region and the international community, as incidents of cross-border violence persist, and no end to the carnage in sight. The major question of the moment is how the civilized democratic world will respond to the use of chemical weapons, if at all.
What the world does in Syria will determine what happens in Iran. The threat of Iran moving even closer toward a nuclear weapons capability is more urgent than ever. This poses a grave danger to America's closest allies in the Middle East, with Israel most at risk as Iran's leaders have repeatedly declared that Israel should "be wiped from the map." In June, Hassan Rouhani — a cleric whose tone and rhetoric are more moderate than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s — was elected to serve as the country’s next president. It remains to be seen if there will be a real change in Iran’s behavior and policies.
There has been an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism around the globe. The last decade alone witnessed some of the most serious manifestations of Jew hatred since World War II. The 2012 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom noted a continued global increase in anti-Semitism, citing the troubling proliferation of Holocaust denial, blood libel charges, and synagogue desecrations in Venezuela, Egypt, Hungary, and Ukraine, among other countries.
In Europe, anti-Semitism is escalating in two distinct forms. In Eastern European countries, there have been increased incidents of “old” anti-Semitism, i.e. the same anti-Jewish tropes that have fueled propaganda for centuries in the form of swastikas, stereotypes, and ethnic slurs. In Western Europe, “new” anti-Semitism is gaining traction, manifested under a thin veneer of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist sentiment.
There is rekindled hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with the renewal of direct negotiations arranged by Secretary of State John Kerry. We hope that at this ripe moment in history, the parties can negotiate a two-state solution that will result in peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.
In the United States, we continue to see a marked decline in anti-Semitic incidents. In 2012, the ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents reported a 14 percent decrease in reported incidents from the previous year, but the cases reported — 17 physical assaults on Jewish individuals, 470 cases of harassment, threats and events, and 440 cases of vandalism — demonstrate that anti-Semitism remains a very real threat in our country.
Flagrant anti-Semitism — once reserved for the most shameless bigots, and stifled by the threat of public scorn — is undergoing a dark renaissance with the aid of the Internet. This tremendous medium revolutionized the ways in which the world shares information, but there is a pernicious and hate-mongering side of the Web, which provides closeted bigots a new platform to disseminate hateful speech anonymously.
As a nation of immigrants, nearly all of our families once sought to become part of the American fabric. In the Jewish community, where many of us have parents or grandparents who sought refuge here, we understand deeply why it is so important to keep America’s doors open and welcome the downtrodden. We will continue to advocate as forcefully as possible for critically needed comprehensive reform of our immigration system, and we will also insist that immigrant communities be treated the same as other communities, free of the bigotry and hateful rhetoric that has tarnished our national debate on this subject.
Let us also keep in our mind a message that was just reinforced for all of us as the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. We have made considerable progress towards reaching the goal of equal rights for all, but in many areas, among them voting rights, education equity, marriage equality and discrimination, there is still work to be done. There are far too many places in this country where unnecessary obstacles make it difficult to vote, where school disciplinary infractions wrongly land students in jail, and where there is no marriage equality and it even remains legal for employers to fire employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recognizing the challenges we face, it is time to address them together, and also to place a renewed emphasis on civility in public life. As we ring in 5774, we pray for the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and for peace in those parts of the world that continue to endure great violence and instability. In light of our achievements over these hundred years and even this past year, we have much to be proud of. But as demonstrated by the challenges we have discussed, there is much work yet to be done. May the coming year be one filled with peace, prosperity, and hope for humanity, so that our vision — a “World Without Hate” — can move one step closer to reality.