Marc Brenman

Marc Brenman

Marc Brenman is a retired U.S. federal and state civil rights law enforcement executive. He was Executive Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission and Senior Policy Advisor for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He is the co-author of a number of books, including The Right to Transportation; Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity; When Hate Groups March Down Main Street: Engaging a Community Response; and Religious Diversity in the Workplace. He has taught human rights in several colleges and universities. His firm, IDARE LLC, provides training, consulting, and expert witness services in discrimination cases.  

This is not your usual discussion of antisemitism. It’s hard to know what to do about it as an American Jew. This is because the prevalence of antisemitism is rising, most of what has been tried before has not worked and is not working, and more of the same failed ideas are being promulgated. It can even be hard to know whether to take action, since many Jews are in denial or are befuddled as to when to take action and how.

Antisemitism around the world is increasing. It’s time for fresh thinking and approaches. Antisemitism has led to injuries, murder, and genocide of Jews. As a link in the chain of causality that leads to genocide, antisemitism should be broken, prevented, disavowed, and discarded. Effectiveness is determined by results. Alas, almost nothing to prevent, ameliorate, eliminate, or reduce antisemitism for the past 3000 years has worked. It behooves us to think about what might work.

This article makes recommendations for what works or might work. There is not proof that all of these work. They have to be evaluated like any other initiative. But they’re worth a try. Some of the recommendations may sound militaristic or legalistic, but the fight against antisemitism is existential.

The spectrum of violence helps us define and identify threats by reality, severity, magnitude, frequency, and extent. A taxonomy is also useful in identifying patterns and perpetrators. Make no mistake—we are in a war, and any theoretical set of rules that prevents us from taking action is a suicide pact.

You may wonder how to fund these recommendations. Existing Jewish philanthropy is very large. Some funds can be redirected. Speaking of which, here’s a recommendation:

Recommendation: Offer financial rewards for information leading to the apprehension, arrest, disruption, trial, and conviction of antisemites who engage in illegal behavior. This idea is similar to the recent $10 million reward from the US Department of State Rewards for Justice Program for information leading to the disruption of financial mechanisms of Hamas.

My work background is in social justice, and I’ve often had to ask and answer the question of how to reduce/ameliorate/eliminate racism, bias, prejudice, and discrimination. We Jews are not alone in being unable to successfully combat a major social ill. I don’t just ask Jews and Jewish organizations these questions, I ask anti-racism groups also—what have you accomplished, numerically, on the ground, in reducing racism? I get very few answers that are worth much.

An example of education that doesn’t work is civic education. An example of education that is destructive is the antisemitic curriculum in many Palestinian schools. For example, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in Palestine “regularly call for the murder of Jews, and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis, and incite antisemitism.”

This leads to this recommendation: End UNRWA support for Palestinian schools until all antisemitic elements are removed from the curriculum and exercises.

When I say that education doesn’t work, that creates a problem for Jews and Judaism, because we are not only People of the Book, but also studying the Torah and the Talmud is an esteemed duty. We believe in the power of education. Thus, it creates cognitive dissonance when I say education doesn’t work to reduce antisemitism.

Recommendation: Some education works better than others. For example, there is a severe lack in American schools and society of a logic and evidence-based approach to information and knowledge, with critical thinking. Instead, on one end of the ideological spectrum, books are being banned and the facts of history discarded, while on the other, ethnic studies programs are being added which surrender to the social construct of race and emphasize guilt and blaming rather than causality. In some places, media literacy courses have been introduced. We should always be critical consumers of information. Credibility and veracity determinations need to be made. Factchecking should be encouraged. We should encourage civil discourse, discussion, critical thinking, and use of logic and evidence. We should encourage the use of science and the scientific method. This includes knocking down false science like the Nazis used.

A major distinction among these recommendations is that most depend on us as Jews taking action, while others rely on the outside world, the governance structure we live in, taking action. Will those outsiders do the right thing? Can they be trusted? We need to make allies in that outside world. That means they have to trust us; we have to do something for them. It can be difficult to conceive of one aspect of antisemitism as due to the unpopularity of Jews in some quarters. Public policy should not be a popularity contest. Nevertheless, antisemitism does in part hinge on public sentiment. It may be useful to try to think of ways to leverage or change such emotions in favor of Jews. This can be an uncomfortable thought, since we want to be accepted as who we are in our totality. 

Recommendation: Make allies, not enemies.

Some of the potentially more powerful actions cover events on the Internet, so I’ll list them early on.

Recommendation: Many concerns about antisemitism revolve around material on the Internet and in social media, so we need to think about how to stop, reduce, and ameliorate this material. Some of these fall into the realm of cyberwarfare, and have legal, moral, and ethical implications. High-tech countermeasures may include denial of service attacks, drowning out, blocking and jamming, involuntary content moderation, global removals and delisting, limiting shares, downranking bad posts, limiting functionality on repeat offender accounts, removing repeat offenders from recommendation engines and search results, promulgating urgent corrections, ‘circuit-breaking’ that temporarily suspends or slows the dissemination of emotionally charged content, anti-worms, spam, botnets, misleading evil-doers, tracking file transfers, creating fake vulnerabilities, and other counter-attacks. Other forms of cyberwarfare and cyberdefense or “active response” include obtaining sensitive information that can be used for intelligence, destabilization of critical systems used by antisemites, economically disrupting the haters by making their financial assets unobtainable, interfering with their communications, dark web monitoring, creating a map of the enemy’s network, exploiting vulnerabilities, and sabotaging their systems.

Cyberdefense can be used to identify the enemy, detect threats, find out details about them that can be used against them, identify legal wrongdoing and report it to prosecutors, and report violations of standards of use on platforms to network administrators and executives. Decryption can be used to discover secrets being kept by the haters. There are also commercial takedown services, and governmental rules for taking down false information in the EU.

Recommendation: Disincentivize hate speech on the Internet. A high-tech campaign can be created using AI to detect hate speech on social media platforms.  Countering includes replying to toxic messages explaining that every time the hateful post is republished or shared, a donation will be made to an organization supporting diversity and equality.

Recommendation: Invest resources to develop and test artificial intelligence to detect misinformation. Consider using Blockchain to create a ‘built-in truth index’ for the Internet, labeling and verifying each piece of information, creating a watermark for authenticity. Used the right way, this could help people be sure that the news and media they receive are real.

Recommendation: We need to show compassion for other people who are suffering. One of the biggest mistakes we Jews have made in America is not keeping alive the coalition of Blacks and Jews during the Civil Rights Movement. How is it that 47% of Congressperson Tlaib’s constituents are African-American, but she feels free to engage in genocidal talk about Israel? If the Black and Jewish coalition still existed, her Black constituents would rise up and vote her out. We have left them behind, instead of following the rule, “Leave no one behind.” The NAACP used to have Jewish members and leaders; today it’s 98 percent Black. What other groups have we left behind who could become our allies?

Recommendation: We need to police ourselves, to make sure we don’t do things the potential haters and even neutrals find offensive. When I say this I include our use of language. Some of us oppose affirmative action. How is that leaving no one behind and being compassionate? We believe in education at the roots of our religion. Shouldn’t education be available to everyone? We should not hog opportunity. Everyone should get a chance at the American dream.

We aren’t a perfect people. Some of us are indeed crooks, fraudsters, and murderers. Some of us dress funny and act in odd ways. Some of us are arrogant, superior, occupy places in Ivy League colleges at an order of magnitude more than our numbers in the overall population. A few of us have engaged in abusive practices and not let the external world in. A few of us have taken over public school districts and even entire small towns in New York and New Jersey. Some of us support Israel blindly, even when it does things we wouldn’t approve of any other nation doing, like tearing down the olive and orange groves in Palestinian areas. I don’t mean to just create a list of our sins. What I mean is we’re a lot like everyone else. When Mark Twain was asked what he thought of Black people, he responded, “They’re human. What worse can I say of them?” Well, we’re human also. We may be the Chosen People, but God gave us Free Will, and sometimes we abuse that freedom.

Recommendation: We need to address the neutrals as well as the haters. We need to make sure to keep the neutrals neutral, or convert them to our side.

Recommendation: Investigate and determine what rights Jews have, where, and how much. Rather than asking whether something is antisemitic, it may be more useful to ask whether or not Jews’ rights have been infringed upon. Because unlike a metaphysical concept like antisemitism, rights are legally definable. An important project is to figure out what rights Jews have.

Recommendation: Antisemitism should be treated as deviant behavior. Make it feel aberrant rather than normal. Do we need to restore more of a shame culture?

Recommendation: A lesson can be learned from the BDS movement—Jews can boycott and disinvest from organizations that take antisemitic stands and are insufficiently supportive of Jewish survival. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement works to end international support for Israel’s alleged oppression of Palestinians and pressures Israel to comply with international law.

In January 2024, the Hayward, California City Council voted to divest from what it saw as four Israel-linked companies as an act of protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. None of the companies are based in Israel. Intel, Chevron and Caterpillar are U.S. companies. Hyundai is South Korean. The lead City council person said the motion targeted “stocks” held by the City. However, the City does not hold stocks. It holds corporate bonds, which are investments that come with periodic interest payments and full repayment on maturity, similar to government bonds. So the City’s action appears bizarre, but Jews should consider disinvesting from dealings with Hayward.

Another example is the ACLU, which defended Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, in 1978, and is currently defending Casa de Maryland, an immigrant rights group, after the organization issued a pro-Palestinian support statement. Free speech is wonderful and should be protected, but we don’t need to fund anti-Jewish hate speech. We need to reconsider our relationships with organizations that failed us after Oct. 7. These include many feminist and women’s rights organizations that have stayed silent about the horrendous violence against women by Hamas and it allies. Another example is the California College of the Arts, which posted a photograph of a sign at a pro-Palestinian protest that read “Decolonization Is Not a Dinner Party.” The phrase seems to be a riff on a saying coined by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong: “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.” The caption accompanying the photo condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and expressed support for Palestinian self-determination without mentioning Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre. The Jewish Wornick family has supported the College in the millions of dollars, and now has threatened to withdraw that funding.

Recommendation: Evaluate education programs to ensure that Holocaust education is effective in sensitizing people to antisemitism and actually reduces it. Alas, and this may be disturbing to many Jews, Holocaust education is not effective in reducing antisemitism. The lack of adequate evaluation of educational programs for effectiveness is common.

The Holocaust itself provides the greatest lesson. But its lessons are often ignored by most Jews. One important way to combat antisemitism is to ask what would have worked against the Nazis to prevent, reduce, or ameliorate the effects of the Holocaust. Mostly we know what didn’t work. These include assimilation. In Germany assimilated Jews were not excluded from the Holocaust. Another is wealth. If Jews had been armed and been willing to use those arms, the Holocaust probably would not have happened.

Recommendation: Jews should have strong physical defenses and use them. What is the exceptionalism that makes so many people feel that Jews should not fight back? The origins cannot be found in the Hebrew Bible, which contains many stories of warlike Jewish tribes. Our defenselessness was especially evident on Oct. 7, when many Jewish villagers and kibbutzim were not armed and did not fight back.

Recommendation: Prepare, Train for and Practice Self-Defense, individual and group. There are far too many diaspora Jews who are effectively pacificists, in that they have no concept, plan, or thought for how they will defend themselves against personal violence. Abjuring violence only works if the attacking side also adjures it. In states with Stand Your Ground laws, Jews should consider taking kinetic defensive measures such as shooting the threatening assailant or person. In these states, no other rationale than feeling threatened is a necessary defense. Other states have the Castle Defense. That is to say, you are permitted to be secure in your home. Extreme defensive measures are justified if the threat is genuine. Any reasonable person can make this determination. In the face of attempted genocide, it is better to stand your ground rather than cooperate or go like sheep. Practice no self-harm.

Recommendation: There should be legal defense funds to help pay for criminal defense lawyers for Jews who defend themselves kinetically.

Recommendation: Jewish leaders should not cooperate with antisemites. During the Holocaust, there was a breakdown in leadership in the Jewish community, with many leaders cooperating with the Nazis by providing lists of Jews, addresses, and wealth.

Recommendation: Pay attention to language used by current leaders. For example, today Donald Trump is echoing Nazi language when he calls political enemies ‘vermin,’ echoing genocidal dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. Yet about 22 percent of Jews support Trump, with a higher percent among the Orthodox. This is self-harm.

Recommendation: No Jew should support Donald Trump or any Republican who supports Trump, which is almost all Republicans. I’m not making a political statement, I’m making a life preservation statement. We need to distinguish between politics and preservation of life.

Recommendation: In terms of language, the US should emulate Canada, Germany, and France where Holocaust denial is illegal. So is the sale and wearing of Nazi paraphenalia. In the UK, wearing clothing in public displaying Nazi and Hamas slogans could breach section 5 of the UK’s Public Order Act 1986, which says a person is guilty of an offense for displaying “any writing, sign, or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person” that is likely to cause “harassment, alarm, or distress.” In Germany, on November 1, 2023, the Vice Chancellor notified antisemitic offenders that they face legal prosecution and, in the case of non-residents, deportation. 

Recommendation: Encourage and demand that law enforcement authorities, both civil and criminal, take antisemitism seriously, and prioritize it in their enforcement plans. Ensure that state laws include hate crime enhancements, and that law enforcement entities know how to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

Recommendation: When violent antisemites are apprehended, they should be punished severely and removed from positions of authority. 

Recommendation: Uncover the Perpetrators of Antisemitism and Identify Them. Don’t let them stay anonymous. Anonymity encourages aggression. Flush out who our enemies are and don’t forget them. Covert antisemitism tends to turn into overt antisemitism.

Recommendation: Don’t give jobs to antisemites; deprive them of jobs, internships, opportunities for success, and admission to college.

Recommendation: Use Disincentives. When neo-Nazis threatened a march against the Jewish community of western Montana in 2017, local people pledged that if the march went ahead, they would donate money to things the haters detested, such as anti-bias education, hate crime training, and increased security for the Jewish community.

Recommendation: Use risk assessment. We typically measure risk through measures like knowing who the enemy is; what their resources are; how likely they are to use those resources; the likelihood of occurrence of an adverse act or acts; probable magnitude; severity; frequency; egregiousness; hazard; degree of likely and possible harm. We can look at the progression of events from hidden antisemitism all the way to genocide. Once we know the factors and probabilities we can try to break the chain of causality at critical and weak links.

Those links should be discovered and studied for how they can be attacked, overcome, and destroyed. This may require military-style thinking. But we should also bear in mind that asymmetric and guerilla warfare use a concept of “hit them where they aren’t.” Where are the haters not expecting to be hit? We don’t always need to be reactive. In fact, being reactive may be a poor tactic.

An important component of risk assessment is not underestimating the enemy. We must know who the enemy is. This has been a perennial problem with the Jewish community—not being entirely aware of who the enemy is, and what resources they have and are willing to use.

Recommendation: More research is needed in using behavior modification to reduce antisemitic acts and desires. This includes using psychological concepts like extinction to reduce problem behaviors. Extinction in this case is a technical term meaning that the reinforcing consequence of the original behavior must be identified and eliminated. Functional assessment includes identifying the antecedents and consequences of the problem behavior. Extinction requires eliminating the reinforcer after each instance of the problem behavior. Extinction can be carried out only if the change agent (that’s us! Or whom we delegate or appoint) can prevent the reinforcing consequence each time the problem behavior occurs.

This leads to the idea that each instance of serious antisemitic behavior has to be identified and evaluated, especially about the perpetrator. This kind of record keeping and analysis is not commonly done, if ever. This is not just a list of horrors, but is a psychological autopsy, diagnosis, and evaluation. There are many Jewish psychologists who could work on this. The behavior modification approach also argues for a Jewish Quick Response Force that doesn’t let too much time go by before working on extinction of the problem behavior. For extinction to be used correctly, the reinforcer must never follow the problem behavior. This resonates with the discussion elsewhere of cyberdefense and cyberwarfare, where reinforcers must be extremely quickly shut down before they take effect. All people involved in the “treatment” must be consistent and work together. This reinforces the discussion of the problem discussed elsewhere of Jewish organizations not working together. Lack of consistency is a common reason for the failure of extinction procedures.

Recommendation: To avoid the “Silent Holocaust,” the Jewish community should be more accepting of mixed marriages, and work harder to integrate the children of such marriages into the Jewish community.

Recommendation: Many Jews, especially in the US, are still in denial about antisemitic threats. We need to decrease that denial before the railroad cars to the extermination camps arrive. Denial is a useless defense mechanism. Freud said that denial occurs when a person is faced with a fact too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite overwhelming evidence. A novel way to reduce denial is to reframe it and treat it as a strategy aimed at frustrating the adversary’s power. There are four different denial logics: capability elimination, operational paralysis, tactical degradation, and strategic effect reduction. To be clear, the adversary is antisemitism and its adherents and implementers. 

Recommendation: The Jewish community and Jewish individuals should allocate our charitable giving more strategically, by giving money to organizations likely to respond effectively to antisemitic acts, plans, and speech. An example is the recent withdrawal of support by a Jewish family foundation from Casa de Maryland, an Hispanic immigrant rights organization that issued a strong statement in support of Hamas after Oct. 7, 2023.

Recommendation: We should also work to make sure that our tax money is not used to support antisemitism. For example, “Rupa Marya, professor of hospital medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said in January 2024, “The presence of Zionism in US medicine should be examined as a structural impediment to health equity. Zionism is a supremacist; racist ideology and we see Zionist doctors justifying the genocide of Palestinians.” UCSF Hospital is funded by the State of California, and our taxpayer money should not support people who make such statements and hold such beliefs. Those of us who are Californians should write to the head of UCSF Hospital and the Governor of California. And file formal complaints with the State’s Civil Rights Commission alleging hate speech by Dr. Marya. Further, the American Medical Association should discipline Dr. Marya. Unfortunately, they probably will not, as part of a general failure of gatekeepers in American society.

Recommendation: The idea of changing toxic group norms resonates with the idea of improving morality generally to reduce antisemitism, in part because antisemitism is immoral. This resonates with using shame. The question is, how to reduce toxic group norms? Research suggests that norms can be changed more easily than underlying attitudes.

Recommendation: Consider using shame to prod antisemites back into their holes. It is sometimes said that America has moved away from being a shame culture. Shame is a complex experience with powerful and often deeply uncomfortable emotional effects. It arises from a person’s concern about public judgment or disapproval of behaviors that violate that person’s or their culture’s values. This concern about public scrutiny can and often does lead to socially beneficial outcomes. Experiencing the effects of shame has been shown to increase a person’s empathy towards someone they have harmed, illuminate socially appropriate behavior, and help a person maintain social connections. 

Recommendation: Regarding media, in public messaging campaigns like billboards, like those of JewBelong, campaigns are more likely to be effective when creators research the intended audience to understand the behavior they hope to change, and pretest messages for effectiveness…telling a relatable story makes people want to act. People respond better to real images and situations in public service announcements, especially when the topic is unpleasant with a call to action. People need a concrete action to take.

Recommendation: The veteran advertising expert Gary Wexler has said, “to succeed…we…need to focus on five key goals.” First is coordination and collaboration in media campaigns, with a Big Tent of Jewish organizations working together. 

Recommendation: Be more open to long-distance trade. Historically, antisemitic persistence disappeared in Germany in locations where the costs of discriminating against outsiders was high—among members of the Hanseatic League in northern Germany, which specialized in long-distance trade.

Recommendation: Support rapid urban growth. Where legal immigration is massive the extent of antisemitic persistence declines. 

Recommendation: Judaism should become more of an evangelical religion, and more accepting of converts. Note that it is hard to generalize about Judaism because there are so many variants.

Recommendation: Decrease tension and unrest in the Middle East without endangering Israeli security. It can be argued that “Anti-Jewish violence … tends to increase during times of unrest in the Middle East, leading some to believe the nature of antisemitism is morphing into hatred of Israel, a development that has been called the “new antisemitism.” (My Jewish Learning, Antisemitism 101; no date; accessed 1/24/2024; 

Recommendation: Consider an “antisemitism test” in naturalization examinations for prospective citizens. Prospective citizens should be questioned on their attitudes towards Jews before being naturalized. Questions could include whether they participated in antisemitic demonstrations or been involved with organizations whose missions run counter to democratic values.

Recommendation: Enforce State Department of Education rules and regulations that prohibit teachers from giving instruction or sponsoring an activity that promotes a discriminatory bias on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Recommendation: In the 1920’s in the United States, many states passed “anti-masking laws” to try to combat the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, a rabid white suprematist organization whose members wore costumes including facial masking. These laws prohibited wearing facial masks in public. Today, some anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators are wearing masks, in order to disguise their identities. It is useful to know who these demonstrators are, and they should take responsibility for their public actions. Existing anti-masking laws can be used to create a legal cause of action to enhance such public identification by prohibiting wearing of masks in demonstrations. 

Recommendation: To help prove intent to discriminate in a future lawsuit, write demand and dear colleague letters to institutions noting that if they continue on the path they are on, the logical and foreseeable consequence will be discrimination. This will help overcome the bar to private suits under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the Sandoval Supreme Court decision. Such demand and dear colleague letters can also warn institutions that they are violating state hate crimes statutes in not reporting antisemitic incidents.  

Recommendation: File administrative complaints with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education alleging discrimination against Jewish students and students of Israeli ancestry or citizenship, through creation of a hostile learning environment. 

Recommendation: Consider using cognitive warfare concepts. The aim is to change not only what people think, but HOW they think and act. Cognitive warfare seeks to sow doubt and introduce conflicting narratives. Techniques can include manipulation, destabilizing institutions, sowing division and undermining cooperation in a target population by emphasizing existing differences and promoting polarizing views, puncturing the walls of echo chambers, creating an anti-QAnon, etc.

Recommendation: Kumbayah Won’t Help. Get rid of sentiments like this: “The only way to stop the cycle of ignorance and hate is through knowledge and love.” Knowledge and love did not prevent or stop the Holocaust. Compare all preferred solutions to what didn’t work in the Holocaust.

Recommendation: Use Electoral Political Tactics. Run against antisemitic elected officials, and contribute money to their opponents. Deborah Lipstadt advocates building democracy. She notes that antisemitism is not just a threat to Jews, but also to democracy itself.

Recommendation: Reduce Radicalization and Violent Extremism. This may help reduce the consequences of antisemitism. This includes measures designed to prevent recruitment to extremist groups.

Recommendation: There may be a possibility that antisemitism can be reduced through attention to individuals’ beliefs in political control. Antisemitic conspiracy theories are linked to a person’s belief that they lack political control, as opposed to a feeling of lack of uncertainty about what’s going on in the political landscape.

Recommendation: Emphasize and increase rule of law and economic openness. When a nation has strong rule of law, there is less tendency toward hostility against groups seen as exploitative, and thus there is less antisemitism…The more economic openness, the less antisemitism; and the stronger the rule of law, the less antisemitism. A problem with this is that the U.S. has strong rule of law and a great deal of economic openness, yet is experiencing a sharp rise in antisemitism. Sweden has an initiative to bolster democracy to combat racism and antisemitism in schools.

Recommendation: Use Contact Theory. This theory holds that if someone has positive experiences with members of another racial or ethnic group, that person is less apt to be prejudiced. Within the prejudice reduction approach, there is significant empirical support for the idea that programs that increase intergroup contact, under specific conditions, can reduce intergroup prejudice. It may seem like common sense with respect to overt racism, but it also may reduce unconscious bias. 

Recommendation: Investigate whether mental health techniques can be used in regard to antisemites, if antisemitism is considered a mental illness. A problem with this idea is that in the United States, people cannot be forced into treatment.