Former Shaker Heights resident William Daroff, who earlier this year became CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, warned about the rise of “old anti-Semitism” since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the need for a worldwide response to such hate.
He made the remarks as keynote speaker May 24 for the virtual World ORT General Assembly. Usually held in Jerusalem, the assembly celebrated World ORT’s 140th anniversary. Leaders discussed updates, recently deceased members and leaders, new members and leaders, COVID-19 effects and future plans. Three-hundred people from 29 countries registered for the assembly.
Daroff, who graduated from Hawken School in Chester Township, oversees 53 member organizations as conference CEO, including ORT America. He previously served as senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America for 14 years.
“We are living through an unprecedented time that brings with it many new and unique challenges that are felt worldwide,” Daroff said. “Amidst the current crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly urgent threat has shown itself in the global resurgence of anti-Semitism, which is also rightfully called ‘Jew hatred.’”
Daroff brought up warning signs that anti-Semitism, once thought to have faded from the American population, returned with a frighteningly familiar vengeance seen through desecrations of Jewish synagogue cemeteries; the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018; the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting in April 2019; increase in hate crime attacks on Jews in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2019; and the Monsey, N.Y., Chanukah stabbing in December 2019.
He also included Anti-Defamation League statistics released April 21 that showed about two out of three Jews living in America said their communities are less safe than 10 years ago. More than half of American Jews have experienced or witnessed some incident motivated by anti-Semitism in the past five years, and 20% have been directly targeted by
anti-Semitic comments, slurs or threats.
“For years, American Jews have focused on fighting new anti-Semitism, which has used the anti Zionism as a cover for hatred targeted to Jews,” Daroff said. “We have poured funds into fighting this threat on campuses and over the internet, while working with local, state and federal legislatures to shore up support against the delegitimization of Israel. During that time, old anti-Semitism remained semi-dormant, and we had hoped it would fade into the past.
“Unfortunately, the events in Pittsburgh and Poway, Brooklyn and Monsey, have shaken any faith that the old stereotypes had vanished. In COVID-19, we find a striking re-emergence of classic anti-
Semitic tropes about Jews in plague drawn directly from the 1300s. What was old is new again.”
He warned rising anti-Semitism isn’t just being experienced by Americans, listing attacks in Germany, France and Belgium; communal insecurity in South America; rising political parties holding anti-Semitic values; and anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanction activities on college campuses.
“Anti-Semitism – Jew hatred – is an international epidemic calling into question the post-Holocaust paradigm ‘never again,’” Daroff said. “As a people, we cannot accept this new status quo. We must learn from these tragedies and work to prevent further incidents. In order to fight it, we need an international response.”
Daroff stressed action from all government and society sectors, as well as a need to bolster intercommunal networks to administer assistance to communities in need and to permit those under attack to lead. He also demanded improved security to communal institutions like schools, synagogues and community centers.
“We must also push for a response that comes not just from Jews, but also from non-Jewish leaders and influential people the world over,” Daroff said. “We should not be alone in this fight against the world’s oldest hatred, but coming together. I’m certain that we can neutralize it.”
He lastly encouraged Jews to continue their support for the state of Israel and to welcome all Jews no matter their background.
“I believe to survive as Jews, we must be optimists,” Daroff said. “If we were not optimists, we never would have left Sinai. If we’re not optimists, we never would’ve left the shtetl. If we’re not optimists, indeed, here in the United States, we never would have left the lower east side of New York. I encourage you to join me in finding ways to craft a better future, to build a stronger community and to do all that we can to ensure that the Jewish future is strong and vibrant.”