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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at an Interfaith Leaders Press Conference in Support of Hate Crimes Legislation

Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C.
May 15, 2002

Contact: Alexis Rice or Dan Kaufman 202-387-2800

Good afternoon. First and foremost, I would like to thank Senators Kennedy and Smith for their passionate and powerful leadership on this issue. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is a critical step toward ensuring that all Americans are protected from the terrible violence that stems from hatred.

Tomorrow is the start of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a holiday marking the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.

During Shavuot, we read the biblical story of Ruth, a passage that tells of Naomi's and Ruth's return to Bethlehem after Ruth's husband dies. We learn that despite ample opportunities to treat Ruth-a woman, stranger, non-Jew, and foreigner-poorly, Boaz, a relative of Ruth's deceased husband, repeatedly interacts with Ruth with caring and kindness.

It is in this spirit and with this teaching in mind that I stand here today to call on the Senate to pass the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (S. 625).

As it is written in Leviticus 19:16, "You cannot stand idly by when your neighbor's blood is being shed." We cannot stand idly by while our brothers and sisters, parents and children, live in fear that racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia continue to go unchecked. We cannot stand idly by while hate crimes destroy the sense of community that we and so many others have worked so hard to build.

This is an issue that hits especially close to home for the Jewish people. We have watched in horror as anti-Semitism has terrorized Europe and nations across the globe over the last few months. Hundreds of hate crimes against Jews have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation: Gunmen in Toulouse opened fire on a kosher butcher shop. Synagogues in Antwerp, Brussels, Tunisia and Marseilles were firebombed. Cemeteries in Krishinev and Strasbourg were vandalized. Attacks against Jewish institutions and individuals send us reeling, disgusted by these blatant and brutal displays of ignorance and hatred. And, even here, the ugly head of anti-Semitism continues to raise its head. In 2001 alone, 1,432 anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported in the FBI's hate crimes statistics survey. Although anti-Semitism is included under federal hate crimes law, a number of groups remain unprotected. This legislation addresses that urgent omission by empowering the police to act more effectively against hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, and disability.
(over)
In this troubled time for Jews throughout the world, we must voice loudly our desire for our government to take the moral lead in the crusade to quell the violence stemming from hatred.

More than that, though, we are ever mindful that Jews are far from the only victims of senseless hatred. It is a painful bond we share with all too many others. Hate crimes need special treatment because they are different from other kinds of crime in vital respects. First, any given hate crime may only have one direct victim, but anyone that shares the targeted characteristic is affected by the crime. For instance, if a Jew, or African American, or gay person is attacked on the street for being Jewish, African American, or gay, other Jews, Blacks, and gays in that particular community will fear victimization as well. The fear generated by hate crimes can be devastating.

Second, hate crimes are more than mere acts of violence. They are more than murders, beatings, and assaults. Hate crimes are nothing less than attacks on those values that are the pillars of our republic and the guarantors of our freedom. They are a betrayal of the promise of America. They erode our national well being. Those who commit these crimes do so fully intending to tear at the too-often frayed threads of diversity that bind us together and make us strong. They seek to divide and conquer. They seek to tear us apart from within, pitting American against American, fomenting violence and civil discord.

An historic opportunity is now before us. Together, we must unite to say: Eliminate fear. Expose hatred. Provide law enforcement with the necessary tools and the mandate to fight properly the hate crimes that plague our communities. Strengthen our efforts against crime, injustice, and inequality and thereby send a message to the people of our country and set an example to the nations of the world-that intolerance and hate violence are not acceptable in any civilized society.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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