Combating religious and cultural bigotry

Conference aims to attack growing anti-Semitism

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After a confrontational verbal exchange, two Egyptian men assaulted Israeli Jew Eli Cohen in Lithuania on Aug. 22. Cohen posted his story on Facebook two days later.

“Well Jew hatred is alive and well in the world, as I learned the other night when I was targeted for being an Israeli Jew,” he wrote. “I never imagined something like this could happen to me but here I am, the victim of a hate crime because of two guys that decided to target me for committing the offense of being an Israeli Jew.”

Cut and bleeding, Cohen was treated at a hospital for his injuries.

Cedarhurst resident Jeff Leb reposted Cohen’s story. “Reading Eli’s story just reinforced the sentiments that I’ve had for quite a while,” said Leb, an Orthodox Jew. “Anti-Semitism is alive and well, and the vast majority of those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are attempting to camouflage their feelings toward Jews by replacing it with the word Israel.” The BDS movement is pushing colleges, companies and governments to stop doing business with Israel and curtail the importing of Israeli products.

Even before a white nationalist protest turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., last month, prejudice against Jewish people was on the rise. Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. jumped by 86 percent in the first three months of this year, compared with the same time period in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

In an effort to combat the trend, the Global Institute at Long Island University is hosting a conference called “The State of Anti-Semitism: Local and Global” on Sept. 13, from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., at LIU Post’s Tilles Center, at 720 Northern Blvd. in Brookville.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is rising at home and abroad, it is critical to come together and work together for the common good,” said former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the Global Institute. “This conference will help bring our community together to have an open dialogue, share ideas and educate ourselves on the history of religious violence and global trends, so we can stand vigilant against anti-Semitism.”

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University, will be the keynote speaker. Lipstadt, a Far Rockaway native who attended the Hebrew Institute of Long Island, which merged with Lawrence’s Hillel School in 1978 to form the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, is one of the world’s most respected Holocaust historians and anti-Semitism experts. The 2016 film “Denial” is based on her work.

In an October 2016 interview on National Public Radio, Lipstadt explained when Holocaust denial began and how it is manifested today. “In truth, there was denial very soon after the Holocaust through the ’50s into the ‘60s,” she said. “But most of it was primarily far-right, extremist neo-Nazis, and it took a shift in the mid-’70s. They got rid of the neo-Nazi uniforms, and they got rid of meetings where they sieg-heiled and things like that. And instead they began to present themselves as out to revise mistakes in history and present themselves as academics, and they produced academic-looking journals. So it was an attempt to take the same hatred but dress it up in a more presentable veneer.”

The conference was planned before the events in Charlottesville, said LIU spokeswoman Jaime Franchi, adding that the demonstration at the University of Virginia highlighted a problem that has been “festering for many years,” which shows the need for such a forum. The hope is to bring key groups together and attack the problem head on, she said.

“The goal of the conference,” Franchi said, “is not only to shine a light on anti-Semitism in this region, but to utilize the reach of the Global Institute at LIU to bring partners together and build a strong coalition to put plans of action into place that can help to combat religious and cultural intolerance, and prevent violence going forward.”

Dani Dayan, the consul general of Israel in New York, will lead off the conference. Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini and Taryn Merkl, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will speak about protecting communities, and Anti-Defamation League officials will present updated information on anti-Semitism.

The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Contact Harrison Feuer at (516) 299-2560 or harrison.feuer@liu.edu.