Addressing Antisemitism in the Workplace
Antisemitism is shaped across time and context. Its presence today differs from that of 200 years ago, but at its core, antisemitism is the marginalization of people who are Jewish or perceived to be Jewish based on myths and stereotypes. Just as we all harbor unconscious bias towards race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and class, so too do we harbor unconscious bias surrounding Judaism and other minority faiths. Though Jewish people are only 2% of the U.S. population, 60% of religious hate crimes are committed against Jews, as are 13% of all total hate crimes. While businesses are not often thought of as places where hate crimes occur, 11% of hate crimes against Jewish people were committed in business establishments, the fourth highest across multiple sectors.
Combatting antisemitism matters. On February 10, 2022, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) led a briefing with Open to All® and corporate partners to discuss antisemitism in the workplace and how we can actively assess our biases to create an environment where everyone is welcome. Founded in 1913, ADL is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping the defamation of Jewish people and securing justice and fair treatment for all. If biases are deemed insignificant, they can instigate larger incidents of discrimination.
Microaggressions, harassment, and advancement discrimination are common experiences across all marginalized groups. Jewish employees, however, also have to contend with inequitable observance of religious holidays — specifically hesitance or questioning around needing time off to observe Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover. Assuming that all Jewish people are inherently loyal to Israel can feed into larger instances of bias, including the propagation of conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denialism.
In many ways, antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine. When antisemitic sentiments are allowed to go unchecked, it signals that discriminatory attitudes are acceptable or even celebrated, regardless of what initiatives may be in place for other marginalized identities. Jewishness cannot be separated from other types of marginalization; there are Jewish women, Jewish people of color, disabled Jews, Jewish members of the LGBTQ+ community, and more. If Jewish identity is not properly accounted for and included in these conversations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, harm will still be perpetuated. For Jewish employees, antisemitism in the workplace can result in social isolation and psychological harm. For organizations, these inequitable policies create a non-inclusive work culture that directly contributes to diminished workforce cohesion, higher turnover rates, and even violence. How then do we effectively address antisemitism in the workplace?
As non-Jewish people in a culturally Christian nation, it’s important to recognize that Jewish identity and culture are neither widely nor adequately taught. Curiosity and openness will be close companions as you identify and create opportunities to not only learn about antisemitism, but to educate others. The burden of education should not and cannot fall solely on the shoulders of Jewish people. Proactively engaging in these topics frees them from having to repeatedly discuss the painful history of antisemitism while addressing the bias itself. Resources like those made available by ADL are a great place to start. Directly addressing antisemitic behavior and reporting it to human resources or organizations like ADL are ways to actively use that newly acquired knowledge to be an ally and create a safe environment.
In terms of policy, the holiday calendar that most companies observe is not representative of all faiths and cultures. By creating a flexible out-of-office policy, employers give Jewish and non-Jewish people alike the choice to celebrate what resonates with them without penalty. Another way to provide time and space for Jewish employees to engage with their identity is through employee resource groups (ERGs). Though interfaith ERGs are an opportunity to spark cross-cultural and cross-religious conversation, Jewishness spans both ethnicity and religion. Not all Jewish people consider themselves followers of Judaism. Providing space to acknowledge that aspect of their identity — as well as to just have intracommunity conversation — is imperative.
The eradication of bias goes beyond a series of checklists. It requires us to acknowledge the gaps in our social and cultural understanding of one another while remaining open to conversations that place us out of our comfort zones. But the things we say have power. Our good intentions cannot overcome the negative impact of our words. Only by taking ownership of our own education, centering Jewish voices in discussions around antisemitism, and offering sincere allyship can we work towards creating a workplace where everyone, Jewish or not, can feel recognized and accepted.
To learn more about ADL and their resources, check out the following: