At a Department of Justice anti-anti-Semitism summit Monday, Attorney General William Barr said the U.S. government would “not tolerate” anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish people and compared anti-Semitism to a “cancer” on American society.
Barr began his remarks by saying that he is “deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes and political violence that we have seen over the past decade. And this trend has included a marked increase in reported instances of anti-Semitic hate crimes.”
“The most ancient and stubborn form of racism throughout Western history has been anti-Semitism,” Barr continued. “Hostility or prejudice against the Jewish people has manifested itself in the organized violence of pogroms, expulsions, and massacres. Within living memory, these genocidal acts reached the unimaginable scale and evil of the Holocaust.”
“In the United States today, we do not see state-organized violence, but increasingly we are seeing hate-inspired violence against the Jewish community perpetrated by individuals and groups,” Barr expounded, mentioning recent attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Poway, California.
“In both instances, gunmen motivated by hatred against Jews opened fire, killing worshippers and injuring others; we were all horrified by these attacks,” Barr continued.
But while those attacks garnered nationwide media attention, Barr added, “far too often Jews and Jewish communities in America suffer outside the spotlight.”
“In New York City this past year,” the attorney general explained, “we have seen a sharp uptick in attacks on orthodox Jews, particularly in the Crown Heights neighborhood. People are attacking Jews in the streets and vandalizing synagogues. In Massachusetts in March, vandals desecrated 59 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery, knocking over headstones and scrawling swastikas and hateful graffiti.”
Barr said these lesser-known instances “form the daily background of concerns about security and safety that many in the Jewish community feel. The nation as a whole must be aware of these concerns and reject the forces that motivate them.”
“As attorney general and a fellow citizen, I want to assure the Jewish community that the Department of Justice and the entire federal government stands with you and will not tolerate these attacks,” Barr said to thunderous applause.
Barr went on to explain that anti-Semitism takes other forms besides violence toward Jewish people and organizations.
“We need to combat anti-Semitism on all fronts as a government, but also as a society,” he said.
“Hate crimes and civil rights prosecutions are important tools, but they cannot solve the problem on their own,” Barr added. “Hearts and minds must be changed, but that is not always the task to which the government is particularly well-suited. We have a legal obligation to respect the free speech rights of even despicable speakers and our harshest critics. But lines can be drawn by our society, sometimes easily and sometimes not so easily, between that commitment and repudiation of anti-Semitism.
“I think of the various forms of anti-Semitism as very much like different kinds of cancer,” Barr explained. “A healthy body with a strong immune system can have success in preventing cancer from emerging or spreading. But if the immune system weakens, cancer can emerge. Some might be localized, but others can rapidly metastasize and become systemic. Just like a physical body, a body politic must have an immune system that resists anti-Semitism and other forms of racial hatred.
“We’re a pluralistic nation composed of very distinct groups, each bound together by ethnicity, race, or religion — each group proud of its identity and committed to its faith and traditions,” Barr concluded. “Yet, despite these differences, we can be bound together into a broader community: Not one that seeks to grind away our distinctive identity. Not one that seeks to overbear our religious commitments, which must be paramount, but one that respects, indeed delights in, the freedom of each of us to hold fast our identity, our values, our religion, the part of us that give meaning to our lives, that help us understand our place and our purpose in this creation.”
Barr’s full speech can be viewed on C-Span. Here’s an excerpt: