Combating Antisemitism in the Workplace

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales February 1, 2022
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Combating Antisemitism in the Workplace

​In January, an armed man entered Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and held a rabbi and three worshippers hostage.

While law enforcement denied that the motive behind the attack was related to the victims' Jewish identity, hostage Jeffrey Cohen later told media outlets that their captor hurled antisemitic tropes, such as conspiracy theories about Jewish people, during the event.

This occurrence is a recent episode in a slew of antisemitic events in the U.S. over the past few years. One in 4 Jewish Americans say they have been a target of antisemitic behavior, such as a physical attack or a racial slur, according to a 2021 report by the American Jewish Committee.

These incidents happen in public, at schools and in the workplace.

"There has been a rising tide of hatred," said Andrea Lucas, a commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). "Too often, instances of antisemitism in the workplace go ignored, unreported or unaddressed."

Examples of antisemitism in the workplace include firing, not hiring or paying someone less because the person is Jewish; assigning Jewish individuals to less-desirable work conditions; refusing to grant religious accommodations; and making anti-Jewish remarks.

The increased use of technology has led to antisemitic harassment via social media, Zoom meetings and companies' internal chat platforms. This toxicity can contribute to a culture of hate that leads to emotional distress or physical violence.

"Antisemitism, like other types of discrimination, can have a devasting impact on individual employees and the workplace as a whole," Lucas said. "Antisemitism has no place in our workplaces, schools or communities."

A combination of education and the implementation of policies against antisemitism and other forms of discrimination can suppress this trend and help to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs.

What Employers Should Do

For EEOC Commissioner Keith E. Sonderling, antisemitism hits close to home.

"As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who suffered unspeakable discrimination because of their religion, I am keenly aware of the impact of antisemitism," Sonderling said. "Employers must be vigilant about the global rise of antisemitism to ensure it does not creep into the workplace."

Sonderling said it is incumbent upon business leaders to raise awareness and educate their workforce on the dangers of antisemitism. He outlined best practices to tackle antisemitism in the workplace:

  • Speak up unequivocally in support of Jewish employees and against antisemitism.
  • Consider forming voluntary faith-based employee resource groups, either interfaith or specifically for Jewish employees.
  • Provide clear guidance about how to respond to inappropriate statements and postings on social media, including content involving antisemitism.
  • Have a clear policy about religious accommodations, including whom to contact. Make sure you follow an interactive process and educate and train employees on this policy.
  • Specifically address antisemitism in anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and diversity trainings, initiatives and policies. 

Kenneth L. Marcus is the founder and leader of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, an institution dedicated to advancing the civil and human rights of Jewish people. He said some DE&I trainings have been rife with anti-Israel or antisemitic bias.

For example, some companies have excluded Jewish people and discussions of antisemitism from DE&I programming based on perceptions of these individuals as being part of a group that has strong influence over the U.S. government. This perpetuates myths and tropes based on antisemitism.

"We're seeing this increasingly, and it is particularly problematic for those of us who are committed to civil rights for everyone," Marcus said.

Employers should carefully audit DE&I content and ensure that these efforts do not contribute to antisemitism through assumptions; stereotypes of power, privilege or racial identity; or conclusions based on racial or ethnic disparities.

They should also educate HR and DE&I personnel, managers and employees about antisemitism, including religious stereotypes and conspiracies. Individuals involved in DE&I initiatives should look inward to determine whether they are focusing too much on the collective, viewing employees as part of a category instead of as unique individuals.

"Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts can be tremendously wonderful if done correctly," Lucas said. "But if you are excluding Jews from that conversation, if you're ignoring the risks of engaging in antisemitic tropes, you can end up hurting the very people you thought you were helping."

What Workers Should Do

Sonderling said employees play a critical role in combating antisemitism. They should report misconduct to management or HR immediately if a worker experiences antisemitism or other forms of discrimination at work.

"It's really important now for not just those being subjected to discrimination but others who are seeing it and are aware of it to speak up, to go to HR and to help make sure not only is it stopping, but there are proper systems in place to prevent this from ever occurring," Sonderling said.

Employees can also file a charge with the EEOC if necessary.

"There are a lot of remedies for you if you've been discriminated against," said Sonderling. "The EEOC stands ready to investigate those claims."

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