Md. lawmakers target antisemitism as reports of hate and bias


With reported anti-Semitic incidents in Maryland nearly doubling in the past year, state legislators are proposing a legislative package aimed at preventing and curbing hate crimes.

Senator Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) introduced five bills to the State Senate that he said target the major causes of the increase in incidents of prejudice in Maryland. increased from 55 in 2021 to 109 in 2022, according to a report released this week by the Anti-Defamation League.

“It was imperative that we do more than just talk about anti-Semitism,” Kramer said. “We are actually taking action and doing something proactive.”

Central to Kramer’s approach is a desire to better educate Maryland’s young students about the Holocaust and the history and culture of minority communities, which often face prejudice and hatred. He said the state is failing to teach its children this history, leaving a significant gap in understanding among young people of the massive loss of life and atrocities that have taken place in the past due to anti-Semitic violence.

“Anti-Semitism and hatred in general are clearly a consequence of ignorance, and that’s really the root where I think we need to focus the most effort,” Kramer said. “If we want to change our minds, we need to educate.”

As the ADL report shows, the issue of how to reverse rising hostility toward Jews is a national one, with recorded incidents of anti-Semitic assault, harassment and vandalism rising 36 percent over the past year to nearly 3,700 incidents – an average of more than 10 per day.

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The ADL documented a nearly 50 percent increase in reported incidents in K-12 schools. In Montgomery County, which Kramer represents, multiple antisemitic incidents at schools in 2022 sparked student work stoppages. At least nine other incidents occurred at schools in Maryland’s most populous borough, where about 10 percent of the residents are Jewish, although the school and local officials tried to stem the trend with harsh condemnation, community forums and police investigations.

One of Kramer’s bills would establish a Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 each year to coincide with the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Another would establish educational standards mandating that public schools teach students about the history of the Holocaust. A third law provides $500,000 to fund school field trips to museums dedicated to either the Holocaust or African American history. The fourth bill would provide $5 million in state funding for grants to nonprofit and religious organizations to allow those institutions to increase security measures in hopes of preventing future bias crimes. The final law creates a legal avenue for victims of hate crimes to sue offenders in civil courts and recover emotional and financial damages, similar to existing laws in states like New York and California.

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Although four of Kramer’s bills have garnered broad support — now passed by the state Senate and ready to go through House committees for a final vote — the proposal to require more substantive educational standards for teaching Holocaust history is on hit a snag, he called.

Some lawmakers are reluctant to interfere with the State Board of Education’s authority to make curriculum decisions, although Kramer noted lawmakers have done so in the past to require students to learn CPR and instruction on drug and alcohol abuse and health obtained, and even mathematical standards to be sure. Still, Kramer said he hasn’t abandoned the bill, which he hopes his peers will see as the most important proposal on the table to prevent future hate incidents.

“I think it’s on life support, but I wouldn’t say it’s completely off,” he said.

While many of the bills target hate across the board, Maryland officials are paying close attention to the sharp rise in anti-Semitism over the past year. More than half of the 109 incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League were classified as harassment and nearly 40 percent were vandalism; There have been three anti-Semitic attacks in the past year.

“I want everyone in Maryland to hear me clearly – hate has no home in our state. The recent increase in hate crimes against the Jewish community is absolutely unacceptable,” Gov. Wes Moore (D) said in a statement Thursday afternoon accompanying the report. “As Governor, one of my primary responsibilities is to ensure the safety of Marylanders across the state, and I refuse to allow these alarming actions to go unnoticed.”

Last year’s attacks in Maryland, spray-painted hangmen and swastikas along public trails included the words “Jews not welcome” scrawled on a high school’s entrance sign and hateful words to Jewish students.

The origins of many incidents were elusive. The Montgomery County Police Department, which had 48 investigations into anti-Semitic crimes in 2022, said Thursday that officers arrested a 17-year-old last month in connection with harassing phone calls to the Jewish Rockville Outreach Center, but an agency spokeswoman said that she was unaware of other recent arrests related to anti-Semitic incidents.

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Montgomery County spearheaded the proliferation of crimes of prejudice against Jewish communities Officials last year to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and creating an $800,000 fund for grants to nonprofit and religious groups to improve security measures such as cameras and outdoor lighting. Many district leaders have also participated in forums and joined the district committee against hate/violence to hear from residents affected by the growing antisemitism in the area.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said he was not surprised by the significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.

“Hardly a weekend goes by that I don’t get a call that something has happened,” he said.

He attributed the increase in hateful incidents against the Jewish community both in Maryland and nationwide to rising societal tensions over economic instability, the chaos of the pandemic, and a meteoric rise in conspiracy theories and hate speech on social media.

Halber said he supports Kramer’s bills because they address the root causes of antisemitism through education and also provide prevention and deterrence through funding for security measures and more opportunities to punish perpetrators of hate crimes.

“Society must rise up in strong condemnation lest this behavior be normalized or accepted,” he added. “We are at a tipping point where antisemitism will continue unabated and not only harm the Jewish community – it may start with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.”


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