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Rep. Bill Pascrell demands action on COVID-19 antisemitism

'Things like this don’t start in a vacuum. They are initiated by those who seek to divide us'

A New Jersey congressman is demanding the federal government step up efforts to combat hate and antisemitism amid a surge in attacks on members of the Jewish community during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the midst of people trying to come together and do the right thing [to battle the virus], it is very sad when you see people falsely being accused of being the cause of the COVID-19, and this has being going on for a while,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Thursday. The New Jersey Democrat pointed to a report released earlier this week by the Anti-Defamation League, which found a 73% increase in antisemitic attacks in the state, an all-time high. “That’s nauseating, absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “And things like this don’t start in a vacuum. They are initiated by those who seek to divide us.” 

Locking arms: Last week, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced legislation requiring the Department of Justice to provide Congress with regular updates on the status of reported bias incidents during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (H.R. 6721) commands Attorney General William Barr to designate a DOJ officer to facilitate the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes reported to federal or local law authorities. The officer would also be required to issue a monthly report on the status of the cases for at least a year after the health emergency is lifted.  

Time to act: Pascrell expressed hope that the legislation, which was co-sponsored by more than two dozen Democratic House members, would bring awareness to the rise of antisemitism — an issue Pascrell called “a very serious problem which is affecting democracy” that “would precipitate” action. “Antisemitism has existed before COVID-19, it has existed for years — all over the place, and we’re not addressing it,” Pascrell lamented. “We bumper-sticker the problem. We say, ‘Oh, we are with you.’ But what are we doing?” Pascrell told JI it was time for lawmakers to call out antisemitism and bigotry “wherever and whenever it may appear.”

Full plate: Pascrell also called on his colleagues to authorize additional funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which helps non-profit organizations build and sustain security infrastructure, and to pass Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-IL) Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020, which would empower federal law enforcement to better monitor and combat acts of domestic terrorism. 

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