Hundreds gathered to learn more about what can be done to combat anti-Semitism.
Photography by Corrie Colf
U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin brought members of the community and a panel of speakers together at the East Lansing Public Library on Sunday, Feb. 23, for a conversation surrounding a recent local spike in anti-Semitic acts.
The event took place nearly a week after a swastika was found spray-painted in the snow outside of a Michigan State University fraternity house. The incident is currently under investigation by the East Lansing Police Department.
Slotkin (D), whose district includes the Lansing area, also referenced two other recent anti-Semitic events on MSU’s campus.
“We have seen incidents take place here, particularly in our community of greater Lansing,” Slotkin said to the crowd. “We know that among other incidents, our Michigan State Hillel was vandalized this past October during Sukkot…we just had a swastika painted outside a fraternity, and a mezuzah was ripped off a student’s door just off of campus during the fall. This problem is here and it is not going away.”
Slotkin discussed the Homeland Security Committee that she serves on in Congress and its focus on the rise of domestic terrorism, and noted that local terrorist groups in white supremacist circles and foreign terrorist groups such as the Islamic State share similarities in recruiting tactics.
Roughly 120 people were in attendance. The crowd was mostly older, with minimal representation from MSU students.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, the Anti-Defamation League of Michigan’s regional director Carolyn Normandin, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Director of Community-Wide Security Gary Sikorski and two local FBI agents were also on the panel.
“Last year we created a hate crimes unit to battle the onslaught of hate crimes that are being perpetrated against minority communities in our state,” Nessel said to the crowd. “It is my intent to be as aggressive as possible in prosecuting these cases.”
“We are not only aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes, but we are also working with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on educational programs,” Nessel added. “Our office has also started working on probationary requirements for people who are found guilty of a hate crime because to me, the best practice is not to throw people in jail, but to educate them on what it means to whole a community when you commit a crime with this type of bias.”
Each panelist further discussed their role and detailed what they have done to help fight against anti-Semitism. They also provided insight on what to do if you witness an anti-Semitic or hate crime and how to report it.
“Report, report, report. If you take nothing else away from this forum, at least remember to always report something when you see it,” Normandin addressed the crowd. “These incidents are taken very seriously, and at the ADL we track all of these actions and help take control of the narrative.”
Near the end of the forum, Slotkin opened up the floor for questions. Audience members voiced concerns surrounding freedom of speech and hate speech, battling anti-Semitism in the workplace and security in places of worship.
“I think the main takeaway from this event was that if you experience anti-Semitism or any other hate crime, you must report it.” Slotkin later told the Jewish News. “We must take them seriously because an isolated incident today can represent a trend later on for more dangerous incidents.”
This was Slotkin’s first community forum on the topic, and her next move is to host a similar event for college students.
“Even though we had leaders here from MSU Hillel, I believe that our next step is to do something like this on our campuses,” Slotkin said. “We need to educate our students and help them come together as a community.”