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June 24, 2015 0

The Time to Address Gun Violence is Now

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Last week in Charleston, we were trag­i­cally reminded yet again that domes­tic extrem­ists pose a seri­ous threat to our soci­ety. And the threat they pose is mag­ni­fied many times over when extrem­ists like self-confessed shooter Dylann Roof have firearms.

Sim­ply put, guns in the hands of extrem­ists — guns in the hands of white suprema­cists, guns in the hands of big­ots — are a clear and present dan­ger. To this dan­ger, we must add the threats posed by other shoot­ers with mal­ice in their hearts and guns in their hands: school shoot­ers, work­place shoot­ers, fam­ily and domes­tic vio­lence shoot­ers, as well as all the oth­ers respon­si­ble for so many thou­sands of gun deaths each year in America.

Our nation can no longer afford to ignore this dan­ger. We face seri­ous chal­lenges when it comes to the cur­rents of racism, hatred and prej­u­dice that harm and divide our soci­ety, chal­lenges that won’t be resolved overnight. But we must also con­front and deal urgently with the plague of gun violence.

When it comes to guns, Amer­i­cans can no longer afford to look the other way, or to shrug and say we are pow­er­less to change the sit­u­a­tion. For us at the Anti-Defamation League, we have rec­og­nized the dan­ger of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of guns in our soci­ety as long ago as 1967. And in 1971 and again in 1999 we urged new restric­tions on gun pos­ses­sion, includ­ing the adop­tion of fed­eral and state ini­tia­tives designed to make it more dif­fi­cult for chil­dren and extrem­ists to access guns.

If “now is not the time” was ever a valid argu­ment to avoid dis­cussing the issue of gun vio­lence, its valid­ity has now van­ished. Now is the time; now must be the time. We have to find a way. We have no choice.

There are peo­ple in this coun­try of com­mon sense and good will who have been try­ing, against great obsta­cles, to find ways to deal with the issue of gun violence.

Five years ago, ten major law enforce­ment agen­cies stepped for­ward to cre­ate a Part­ner­ship. These promi­nent insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Asso­ci­a­tion, and the National Sher­iffs’ Asso­ci­a­tion, expressed a shared com­mit­ment “to address the per­va­sive nature of gun vio­lence and its hor­rific impact on com­mu­ni­ties across Amer­ica.” They argued, accu­rately, that “the cri­sis of gun vio­lence in our coun­try neces­si­tates a sus­tained, coor­di­nated, and col­lab­o­ra­tive effort involv­ing cit­i­zens, elected offi­cials, law enforce­ment and the entire crim­i­nal jus­tice system.”

Polit­i­cal lead­ers from both par­ties, such as for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, Sen­a­tor Orrin Hatch and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nancy Pelosi, have also called for changes in our cur­rent system.

In the after­math of the mass shoot­ing in Charleston, Pres­i­dent Obama repeated what he said after 20 chil­dren and six edu­ca­tors were killed at the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut, call­ing once again for “common-sense gun reforms.”

Point­ing out, sadly, that this was the 14th time in his pres­i­dency that he has addressed the nation after a mass shoot­ing, he said that even if some of the reforms rec­om­mended after New­town would not have pre­vented the Charleston mas­sacre, “we might still have more Amer­i­cans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some fam­i­lies might still be whole.”

In the past, too few of the men and women we count on to lead our nation have answered the call to action issued from these pub­lic offi­cials and law enforce­ment offi­cers. That must change. We no longer have the lux­ury of inac­tion, if we ever did. We must join together in a sus­tained effort.

Address­ing gun vio­lence means impos­ing sen­si­ble stricter con­trols on firearms, such as com­pre­hen­sive back­ground checks of all pur­chases of firearms, dan­ger­ous weapons and ammu­ni­tion — includ­ing pur­chases at gun shows — and man­dat­ing rea­son­able wait­ing periods.

It also means bet­ter data col­lec­tion and research on the causes and pre­ven­tion of gun vio­lence, and — as lead­ing law enforce­ment agen­cies have pre­scribed — “clos­ing gaps in the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, includ­ing those that enable felons, minors, per­sons with men­tal ill­ness and other pro­hib­ited per­sons to access firearms, and those that allow the traf­fick­ing of ille­gal guns.”

These reforms do not need to, and should not, demo­nize law­ful gun own­ers, nor should they inspire more irre­spon­si­ble, inac­cu­rate and odi­ous analo­gies to Nazi Ger­many or stig­ma­tize those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

The time has come for us to come to grips with this prob­lem. It is not enough to con­demn the Charleston shooter and mourn the vic­tims. We owe it to those vic­tims and to our­selves to find a way mean­ing­fully to advance gun vio­lence pre­ven­tion efforts before there is another tragedy.

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May 19, 2015 0

Reencounter: Ethiopian Jews and Their Children

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

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In the 1990s, in the years after the Israel Defense Forces air­lifted 22,000 Ethiopian Jews in Oper­a­tions Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991) to bring them to the Jew­ish home­land, an idea was born to have these new Jew­ish immi­grants share with Amer­i­can stu­dents their expe­ri­ences as Africans, Jews and Israelis. That idea resulted in ADL’s Chil­dren of the Dream, a pro­gram that began in Los Ange­les and then quickly expanded across the U.S.

In Amer­i­can class­rooms, recre­ation cen­ters and across lunch tables, young Ethiopian Israelis told com­pelling sto­ries of res­cue from oppres­sion in Ethiopia and their jour­neys to free­dom in Israel. It was pow­er­ful and mov­ing to see these young Israeli men and women inter­act­ing with Amer­i­can stu­dents, who were awed by the fact that these young Ethiopian teenagers were not only immi­grants from a far­away land, but were also, remark­ably, newly minted Israeli cit­i­zens and Jews. In short, they did not fit the stereo­typ­i­cal notion of who is Jew­ish and what is a Jew.

Amer­i­can stu­dents responded with their own sto­ries of dis­crim­i­na­tion and flight.

Although orig­i­nally designed as a pro­gram to edu­cate Amer­i­cans about Ethiopian Jews and Israel, the pro­gram also served as a lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram for the Ethiopian Israeli stu­dents them­selves. In the decade or so of the pro­gram, 120 Ethiopian Israelis received lead­er­ship skills in an inten­sive prepara­tory pro­gram. 

A year and a half ago, when ADL cel­e­brated its 100th anniver­sary, we had a reunion with our Chil­dren of the Dream grad­u­ates, many of whom have gone on to edu­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional suc­cess and main­tained their con­nec­tion to ADL. 

At that event, the grad­u­ates shared what a life-changing expe­ri­ence they had – that because ADL believed in them, because they were selected to rep­re­sent their com­mu­nity and their coun­try, they believed in them­selves.

I so enjoyed this rem­i­nisc­ing and catch­ing up with these now-adults, that I asked if we could con­tinue to meet and, next time, if they would please bring their chil­dren.

And this week, in Israel, we did. I met the spouses and chil­dren, and heard the suc­cess sto­ries of our grad­u­ates who have gone on to higher edu­ca­tion to build fam­i­lies, homes and careers. The drive, pride and energy con­tinue to the next gen­er­a­tion. 

One of the chil­dren of our grad­u­ates, 10 years old, asked her mother if the “founder” of the pro­gram was going to be present. “Can I speak to him in Eng­lish?” she asked. She approached me and said, much as her mother did some 15 years ago, “My name is Galit, and I wanted to talk to you in Eng­lish to show you that I know. I prac­ticed with my mother all the way.”

Cur­rent chal­lenges were on everyone’s mind. The Ethiopian com­mu­nity in Israel has expe­ri­enced dif­fi­cult weeks with demon­stra­tions against the Israel Police with claims of bru­tal­ity and racism. These con­cerns, along with charges of dis­crim­i­na­tion and mis­treat­ment, are real and must be addressed together with the com­mu­nity on every level of Israeli soci­ety.

There were nods and applauds when I said: “Is Israel a racist coun­try? No, it isn’t. Are there racist peo­ple? – Yes. But this coun­try took its sol­diers into Ethiopia to bring the Jews here. Israel is not per­fect and there is an oppor­tu­nity to right past mis­takes.” 

One of the par­tic­i­pants, who is now a Lieu­tenant Colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, asserted, “I don’t believe this coun­try is racist.” Sev­eral oth­ers added, “The vio­lent demon­stra­tions won’t serve us well. Now we have to work together to improve our sit­u­a­tion.”

We have rejoiced in the story of the aliyah of Ethiopian Jews for decades and the strength and inspi­ra­tion they have brought to the Jew­ish state. 

The story is not yet over, nor should our efforts be. Together, we need to ensure inclu­sion and equity, to empower and enable the con­tri­bu­tions of those who expe­ri­enced the dream of com­ing to Israel, and their children.

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May 4, 2015 0

Israeli Ethiopians & Israeli Society

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

As anger and frus­tra­tion boiled over in the streets in Tel Aviv and our hearts ached over scenes of con­fronta­tion and vio­lence between Israeli Ethiopi­ans and the Israel Police, our thoughts turned to an ear­lier time for the Ethiopian Jews who made the ardu­ous jour­ney to their Jew­ish home­land in Israel.

Some 15 years ago in the after­math of the riots in Los Ange­les trig­gered by police mis­treat­ment of Rod­ney King, the Anti-Defamation League devel­oped a unique pro­gram to fos­ter under­stand­ing between minor­ity groups and encour­age the devel­op­ment of young lead­ers who would stand up to prej­u­dice, big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion.
We called it “Chil­dren of the Dream,” and the expe­ri­ence of Ethiopian Jewry was the main focus.
“Chil­dren of the Dream” was designed to empower Israeli Ethiopian teenagers to share their immi­grant sto­ries with Amer­i­can youth, to illus­trate how Israel brought this endan­gered com­mu­nity to their Jew­ish homeland.

ADL’s her­itage as an Amer­i­can Jew­ish civil rights and human rela­tions orga­ni­za­tion and our strong pres­ence in Israel made us uniquely posi­tioned to broaden our work build­ing bridges of under­stand­ing within diverse com­mu­ni­ties in both coun­tries through this program.

In the process, we chal­lenged and broke down stereo­types. It was pow­er­ful and mov­ing to see these young Israeli men and women inter­act­ing with Amer­i­can stu­dents, who were awed by the fact that these young Ethiopian teenagers were not only immi­grants from a far­away land, but were also, remark­ably, newly minted Israeli cit­i­zens and Jews.  In short, they did not fit the stereo­typ­i­cal notion of who is Jew­ish and what is a Jew.

Through the years, the pro­gram gave every­one touched by it a feel­ing of hope. The pride those Ethiopian teenagers felt in being cho­sen to rep­re­sent their new home­land as Jews played a crit­i­cal role in their absorp­tion into Israeli life. And it con­tributed to their suc­cess sto­ries as they ful­filled their ser­vice in the Israel Defense Forces, com­pleted their aca­d­e­mic stud­ies, chose their careers and built families.

The dis­turb­ing images last week of Israeli police mis­treat­ing an Israeli Ethiopian sol­dier, fol­lowed by ugly inci­dents of vio­lence in street protests against the inci­dent Sun­day night in Rabin Square — as with the recent vio­lence in response to alle­ga­tions of police mis­treat­ment of African-Americans in the U.S. — were a stark reminder that Israel, also like the U.S., still has a long way to go in ensur­ing full equal­ity for all of its citizens.

Israel, which was founded on demo­c­ra­tic ideals of equal­ity and has wel­comed immi­grants from all over the world, must inten­sify efforts through­out Israeli soci­ety to pro­mote and strengthen under­stand­ing and respect among its citizens.

So where have things gone wrong?

From our work in diver­sity edu­ca­tion, we have learned that the ear­lier chil­dren learn to respect oth­ers, the ear­lier we see the most sig­nif­i­cant results. Sadly, with the need to meet aca­d­e­mic goals, pro­grams to pro­mote under­stand­ing and respect are often left behind or de-emphasized. It can­not be so in Israel, a land of immi­grants.  And it should not be so in Amer­ica, either.

The chap­ter on Israel’s efforts to bring Jew­ish Ethiopi­ans to Israel — going so far as to air­lift them to the Jew­ish state — is a mag­nif­i­cent one.  Yet 15 years ago, as today, we know it is not enough just to bring Jews to Israel from all over the world.  They must be assim­i­lated and accepted into soci­ety. It is like­wise not enough to have laws to pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion; the laws have to be enforced to be meaningful.

Just this past week, Israel Police Com­mis­sioner Yohanan Danino took the first steps toward engag­ing in the hard work needed to pro­mote a sense of trust between the Israel Police and the mem­bers of the Ethiopian com­mu­nity they are sworn to protect.

Ensur­ing that all cit­i­zens of Israel feel pro­tected by the law and respected by law enforce­ment requires con­stant vig­i­lance.  While we under­stand their frus­tra­tion and anger, we also need to remind the Israeli Ethiopian com­mu­nity that vio­lence will only cause fur­ther dam­age to their cause.

And for the future: The gov­ern­ment of Israel and Israeli civil soci­ety should com­mit to a plan of action to coun­ter­act racism in gen­eral and toward the Ethiopian com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar as a pri­or­ity in order to ensure a healthy soci­ety for all Israelis.

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