WHITEFISH – This year has seen a major rise in something that many would think was far in the past — anti-Semitism.
Just a few months ago a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched on the University of Virginia campus chanting “you will not replace us” and “white lives matter”.
The torchlight march was a precursor to a rally the next day labeled “Unite the Right” where protestors clashed with counter-protestors and the rally become violent. At the height of the chaos white supremacist, James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors killing Heather Heyer.
As shocking as this rally was, recent findings show it wasn’t rare for the year 2017. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s recent report, 2017 has seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
The report shows that 1,299 incidents occurred between January and September, up from 799 cases reported over the same time period in 2016. Not only have these incidents risen since 2016, but specifically since the rally in Charlottesville.
The ADL says 306 incidents were reported between July and September — with 221 of those occurred either on Aug. 11, the day of the rally, or the month following.
There was talk of a white supremacist group organizing an armed march in Whitefish just under a year ago. Then after seeing the events unfold in Charlottesville, there were questions about whether or not whitefish would see similar instances of violence if that rally had taken place.
What started as an attack on a Jewish real estate agent, spread to the immediate Jewish community, and ultimately became a full-on attack on the city of Whitefish.
The controversy stemmed from a situation involving the mother of Alt Right leader Richard Spencer, who was a part-time Whitefish resident, city officials immediately started to plan for the worst in case the march happened.
Meanwhile, the Jewish community in Whitefish began to plan counter-protests, but in a different area, to ensure there was no violence and to steer the attention away from the hate group.
Whitefish City Councilman Richard Hildner says the way the community responded was ideal in a difficult situation.
“The community really got together and said this is not who we are. These are not our community values. Our community values are values of inclusion. I just couldn’t be prouder and people I’ve talked to since have said exactly the same thing.”
In a state where there are under 2,000 Jews — accounting for less than 2 percent of the population — a city came together and took a stand against hatred.
“While it was terrifying and horrifying, we also knew we weren’t alone,” said Rabbi Francine of B’nai Shalom in Whitefish who received thousands of cards showing support.
The city of Whitefish was also presented with a menorah from Jerusalem to honor their courage in battling the issue.
The approach that Whitefish took against the attacks is something every community could learn from said ADL’s Scott Levin who added that it’s important to not only stand up to Antisemitism, but hatred of all forms.
“So, it’s important that everyone stand up for each other. We certainly are highlighting what’s been happening over this past year or two with rising rates of Antisemitism but we need to also all stand up against racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry,” said Levin.
There have already been more anti-Semitic incidents reported this year than in all of 2016.