The desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis in the past week, as well as a rash of bomb threats against Jewish community centers around the country in the last few months has prompted a call from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for the faithful to reject these hateful actions.
“On behalf of the Bishops and people of the Catholic Church, as the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United States,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield who serves as the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
“I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions. The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”
The most recent episode was the damaging of more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia this past weekend.
This act of violence was preceded by another episode of graveyard desecration that occurred a week earlier at a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. Police say 154 headstones were vandalized in the incident.
Vice President Mike Pence, who happened to be visiting a small business in nearby Fenton, Missouri that week, visited the site and condemned “”this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrate it in the strongest possible terms.”
These acts have become part of an alarming uptick in the number of attacks made against the Jewish community which began earlier this year with a spate of over 70 bomb threats made against Jewish community centers in the eastern U.S. and overseas, causing hundreds to be evacuated. Thus far, investigators have been unable to determine if one person is orchestrating the campaign or if more people are involved.
It’s part of a trend that has been gradually increasing since 2015. FBI and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports reveal an increase in antisemitic behavior between 2014 and 2015, but those numbers now seem small compared to recent developments.
“It was happening before Election Day, but definitely since Election Day, we’ve seen an uptick,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism to the Jerusalem Post. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Authorities also began monitoring a rise in antisemitic behavior on social media in 2016. They issued a special report on the phenomenon late last year in which they reveal that more than two-thirds of 19,253 antisemitic tweets targeting journalists during the presidential election had come from 1,600 Twitter accounts.
“I don’t think we can draw a direct line from any one thing to say that’s why antisemitism seems to be up, except for perhaps one place: social media,” Segal said. “The reality is, more people are likely to encounter a swastika on their [cell]phone than they are in their neighborhood.”
He added: “And when you see the number of trolls engage online in this antisemitic narrative, our concern is that their Internet activities will mainstream these hateful messages and have real-world consequences.”
This is precisely why bishops cite a warning from Pope Francis about the grave danger of disowning our neighbors because when we do so we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus.
“Herein lies the danger, dehumanization,” Bishop Rozanski said.
“But here we also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience and persistence.”
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