Like many others in the Jewish community, Kenneth Marcus has been overcome with emotion since Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched one of the most destructive attacks on Israel in decades on Oct. 7.
The death toll has soared to over 2,300 people in Israel and Gaza, including at least 22 Americans, according to the Associated Press.
"I know people who have lost loved ones in Israel, and I have been waiting in despair to see what additional news will come out of Israel and Gaza," said Marcus, the founder and leader of the Louis D. Brandeis Center in Washington, D.C., an institution dedicated to advancing the civil and human rights of Jewish people. "This is an agonizing time."
History shows that global conflicts can lead to repercussions in the workplace. Russian-American employees were harassed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A widespread conspiracy theory falsely accused the Asian American community of spreading the coronavirus, resulting in workplace hostility toward the group. And many Muslim people in the U.S. were harassed after the 9/11 attacks.
Marcus said many Jewish and Israeli workers are traumatized by the recent events in Israel, and their emotions could be exacerbated by antisemitism. He has noticed a spike in anti-Jewish rhetoric on social media since Hamas began its attacks and expects to see a rise in many other sectors, including the workplace, as the war progresses.
Employers are urged to be on the lookout for discrimination against Palestinian and Israeli employees and be ready to offer them support.
Bias Against Jewish, Palestinian Workers ‘Not OK’
Jonathan Segal usually doesn't watch the news much. Over the past week, though, he's been glued to the TV.
Segal, a Jewish attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City, said he was shocked upon learning of Hamas' attacks. Friends and colleagues have reached out to him asking if he's OK emotionally. He called the assault on innocent civilians "like 9/11 for Israel."
"Make no mistake about it: This was not just an attack on Israel as a nation," said Segal. "It was an attack on the Jewish people writ large."
However, he also made clear that "any bias against Palestinians is not OK."
The White House recently released a joint statement with leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. stating that Hamas does not represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people. While there has been a surge of support for Hamas online, many Palestinians have condemned the attacks on Israeli civilians.
In an interview with NBC News, Najeh Zahghlol, a Palestinian American in Chicago, said Palestinians "are against killing civilians," while Nathan Al, an Iraqi native who lives in Michigan, added that many Arab Americans "just want both countries to resolve their issues and come to peace."
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) unanimously approved a resolution on Oct. 10 reaffirming its commitment to combat "all forms of harassment and discrimination against members of the Jewish community, and to ensure equal opportunity, inclusion, and dignity for all in the workplace."
The agency has also announced in the past that discrimination against Muslim workers is unlawful.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Workplace Conflict]
What HR Professionals Need to Know
As the war continues, Marcus recommended ways for employers to be proactive in supporting Jewish employees:
- Establish an employee resource group for Jewish employees if you haven't already.
- Consider sending messages of support to any employees impacted by the attacks, including employees who may have lost family or friends in Israel.
- Be aware that some Israeli American employees may be called to service if they are members of Israel’s military reserves.
- Stay cognizant of the prospect that your workplace may experience an uptick in harassment and bias incidents against Jewish employees.
"Corporate leaders should be sending messages of support, both internally and externally," Marcus added.
He also said companies should check their policies to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations to all employees.
"It is also helpful to be attentive to specific employee concerns," Marcus said. "In other words, managers should be clear that they are available to listen to any special needs or concerns that their employees may have at this difficult time."
Be available for Palestinian Americans, too, who are fearful for their family and friends.
Segal said organizations that have condemned other societal horrors, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, should also denounce the Hamas attacks without equivocation because "selective silence is problematic.
"Even if you don't specifically condemn the attacks," he explained, "please let employees know what resources you have for [traumatized employees]."