ADL Oral Statement to Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Responses to Increase in Religious Hate Crimes

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Remarks by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt

May 02, 2017

Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein and Members of the Committee:

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, let me first say thank for your leadership in recognizing the importance of addressing the troubling increase in religious hate crimes.

Since 1913, ADL’s mission has been to "stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all." For us, this is a dual and interlocking mission. When fair treatment is secured for all, democracy is strengthened and that is good for its Jews and other minorities. And when Jews and other minorities can live safely and securely, that is good for our democracy.

You have my full testimony, but allow me to highlight a few points:

First, ADL has been polling on anti-Semitic attitudes in the US since 1964. The good news is that a large majority of Americans do not subscribe to common anti-Semitic stereotypes. But while attitudes are down, actual anti-Semitic incidents are up. Last year, there was a 34 percent increase in such incidents, including acts of harassment, vandalism and violence. Alarmingly, in the first three months of this year, the total jumped 86 percent.

Moreover, there were nearly as many incidents of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at K-12 schools in the last quarter as took place in all of 2016. We see this as a deeply unsettling pattern about the messages our children are getting and acting on.

Second, we have insufficient data relative to the size of this growing problem. Even the FBI’s information is incomplete, but it still reported crimes in 2015 against Jews increased 9 percent and crimes against Muslims increased 67 percent.  Last year, religion-based crimes were the highest proportion of overall hate crimes in the 25-year history of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.

It’s actually shocking to us that, last year, 87 major US population centers either affirmatively told the FBI that they had zero hate crimes or they did not provide any information at all.  There are very real consequences to this inadequate reporting but victims simply will not report crimes if they do not trust the police or if they believe law enforcement is unwilling or unable to respond effectively. 

Third, we need to deal with cyberhate. Now, more often than not, racists and anti-Semites including the so-called “Alt-Right” are exploiting the Internet to spread their hatred and harass Jews and other minorities. This became very apparent during the 2016 campaign when Jewish journalists frequently were terrorized on Twitter. Last year, we found that more that 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets were sent during a 12 month period, including tens of thousands that specifically targeted and terrorized a handful of Jewish journalists.

Finally, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of public figures speaking out strongly against anti-Semitism as well as other forms of bigotry including racism, xenophobia, and anti-Muslim prejudice. Members of the Senate and others in public life have a unique bully pulpit to elevate these issues and help guide the national conversation.

All of us are deeply concerned today about the ongoing harassment of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others who are being targeted because of their religion.  I should point out that Muslims are feeling especially vulnerable because of the rhetoric catalyzed during the campaign that crystallized into the “Muslim ban” earlier this year.  In a recent poll, ADL found that a majority of Americans told us that they are concerned about violence directed at Jews and an even a higher percentage of Americans -- 76 percent – said they were concerned about violence directed at Muslims. Unsurprisingly, 89 percent of Muslim Americans are concerned about violence directed at them, and 64 percent said that they do not believe the government is doing enough to ensure their safety.  

In response to these challenges, we believe that what is needed is a mix of approaches. These include:

  1. Establishing a Federal Task Force to coordinate Hate Crime responses across the Executive Branch. We applaud the Justice Department for creating a Hate Crime Subcommittee within the Attorney General’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, and we believe that this a federal task force is the next needed and logical step.
  2. Helping law enforcement agencies to improve data collection and training around how to handle hate crimes and their victims.
  3. Moving forward on legislative strategies, including enacting into law the NO HATE Act; passing an amendment to the Church Arson Prevention Act; securing passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act; and strengthening existing hate crimes laws;
  4. Exploring approaches to address cyberhate, such as studying the connection between online hate and bias-motivated violence as well as considering new, constitutionally-sound means for legal redress for victims of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and doxxing. 
  5. Making sure that calling out bigotry whenever it happens. I appreciated the President’s strong statement when he was here on Capitol Hill last month, and I was grateful when the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning racial, religious and ethnic hate crimes.  I hope this trend will continue.

In sum, the federal government has an essential leadership role to play in confronting hate crimes and in alleviating intolerance. 

The men and women of ADL look forward to working with members of the Committee to understand and combat religious hatred and crime – and to create a nation where, in the words of our first president, we are a country that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Thank you and I’m happy to answer your questions.

Read ADL's Full Statement Here