MILWAUKEE COUNTY — It’s been nearly a month since the October 7 attack by Hamas, sparking the Israel-Hamas War. Groups continue to hold rallies in support of Israel and Palestine. While the violence is mainly happening overseas, the impacts are being felt here, stateside.
The Anti-Defamation League reports, that since the Oct. 7 attack, there has been a 387.5 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the United States compared to the same time frame last year.
“It’s hard,” Miryam Rosenzweig, President/CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said. “Not just in Milwaukee, not just in Wisconsin but globally for the Jewish Community.”
Rosenzweig arrived back in Wisconsin just hours before a Standing Strong for Israel event. For the last few days, she was in Israel with family and friends, seeing what they’ve lived with firsthand for nearly a month.
She speaks of hearing a red alert while she’s sitting on a bus. The sounds of rockets exploding had her shaken, even recalling the moment.
“It was so frightening,” She said. “As we’re running, I heard more rockets. Then, we’re in the bomb shelter with the community that just survived a massacre. They’re calm and the Americans are freaked out.”
After experiencing some of the fear firsthand, coming back home may have seemed to be a respite from the life-or-death moments happening in an instant in and around Gaza. But there’s a whole other set of problems she’s facing now at home that are impacted by what she experienced just hours before.
“It translates back home because when you have a terrorist organization say, I want to wipe you off the map,” Rosenzweig said. “And seeing that celebrated in the streets of Milwaukee. People celebrating ISIS, celebrating Iran-funded terrorism, it’s really frightening. It’s created a sense of instability, a huge rise in antisemitism and fear. When you’re celebrating people calling for your demise out loud and no one is stopping it, no one is saying it’s unacceptable. You can care about Palestinians and denounce Hamas at the same time. That is not incongruent.”
“If someone hates Jews or targets Jews or wants to attack Jews because they’re Jews, absolutely we will stand against that,” Othman Atta, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee said. “Because that’s not what our faith teaches us.”
For Atta, he’s no stranger to increases in hate crimes targeting people of his faith. Anti-Muslim hate crimes hit highs in the country after 9/11 but had been on the decline until 2016, where reports of anti-Muslim crimes started to creep back up.
And recently, Atta says the attacks are rising even more with people supporting Palestine being attacked.
He points to a horrific case in Chicago, of a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy stabbed 26 times for being Muslim, according to reports.
“They are being targeted,” Atta said. “They’re being told, ‘Hey, you can’t say that. You’re going to be fired form your jobs. You’re going to be arrested.’ Where is this idea about freedom and being able to express yourself?”
In a land defined by the First Amendment of the constitution, freedom of speech is leading to these spikes, according to both Atta and Rosenzweig. Expression that they hope people can understand in their discourse without crossing the line.
“We are going to criticize Israel,” Atta said. “We’re going to criticize their military leaders. We’re going to criticize people here who support them and the genocide that Israelis are doing. We will criticize them. They could be Jewish, Christian, they can be whatever. That is not antisemitism. But anyone who targets Jews because they’re Jews, we will stand against them, and we will stand in support of the Jewish Community. If people are going to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, I’ll tell you, we’re not going to accept that.”
“We live in a country with free speech,” Rosenzweig said. “That’s something to be celebrated. We live in a country where people fight for those in need. That should be celebrated. It’s when it crosses the line, calling for the death or demise of Jewish people or any people that we should be afraid. We are concerned for our Muslim neighbors and any minority group in this environment. These are hard times.”
Hard times are forcing both of these groups to increase protection during events. Both facilities had an increased security presence Wednesday night as a result of the spikes in hate crimes targeting them.