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Alex Cochran, Deseret News

How to combat antisemitism in your office

Antisemitic behavior is not always obvious. Here’s what experts want you to watch out for

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This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Highly publicized antisemitic incidents, like a Utah tech entrepreneur’s recent effort to spread conspiracy theories by email, are just one small part of a rising tide of hatred affecting Jewish workers, according to experts on antisemitism in the workplace.

For every event that captures national attention, there are dozens that go unreported or unaddressed, said Andrea Lucas from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during a Jan. 10 webinar on combating antisemitism.

“Too often, incidents of antisemitism in the workplace go ignored ... but we cannot dismiss them,” she said. “These insidious acts ... can contribute to a culture of hate that may give rise to physical violence later.”

The best way to protect the Jewish community is to prevent antisemitic discrimination and harassment before it arises. Educating yourself about what types of behaviors are inappropriate is an important part of achieving this goal, noted Keith Sonderling, who, like Lucas, is a commissioner for the EEOC.

During last week’s event, Sonderling reminded listeners that antisemitism is not always as obvious as hostile remarks or unequal treatment. It can also come in the form of refusal to accommodate religious practices, such as Sabbath observance, or a failure to offer help when a Jewish employee raises concerns.

Both business leaders and regular employees have a role to play in preventing and addressing these behaviors, Sonderling noted.

Bosses can specifically address antisemitism in company policies and provide the time and space for workers to create faith-specific resource groups. Others at the company can commit to being active supporters of their Jewish co-workers.

People should “speak up unequivocally in support of Jewish employees against all kinds of antisemitism,” Sonderling said.

The EEOC modeled how to preemptively and clearly offer support last year when commissioners unanimously approved a resolution condemning antisemitic violence and harassment, and emphasized their commitment to combating workplace discrimination.

“The recent violence and harassment against Jewish persons serve as a reminder of the challenges we face as a nation and the importance of the agency’s work. The Commission stands with the victims, their families and the nation’s Jewish communities,” said Charlotte Burrows, the EEOC’s chairwoman, in a statement accompanying the resolution’s release in May 2021.

Currently, reports involving alleged antisemitism account for around 9% of the total religious discrimination charges the EEOC receives each year, according to commission data.

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Sabbath

The Sabbath is the day of the week set aside for rest and worship. Depending on your religious background, you may associate the Sabbath with Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Compared to other biblical commandments, keeping the Sabbath seems like a pretty simple task. Who doesn’t enjoy taking time to rest? However, in many religious traditions, the Sabbath is serious business. Some Jews who observe the Sabbath can’t even flip a light switch from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Some Christians don’t read any book but the Bible on Sundays.

As I noted in my recent article on Sabbath laws, Americans, in general, have pretty bad Sabbath habits these days. We’re so addicted to being productive that we rarely step away from our work (and our smartphones) for a much-needed break.

What I’m reading ...

Plans to build a mosque in Horn Lake, Mississippi, are moving forward after a judge ruled earlier this month that the city’s effort to block construction violated federal religious freedom protections. At least one of the officials involved in delaying the mosque project had admitted that it was held up because of concerns about the Muslim faith, Religion News Service reported.

Christian radio personality Dave Ramsey found himself at the center of yet another negative news cycle last week when a clip of him talking about landlords raising the rent sparked a social media firestorm. My colleague Jennifer Graham listened to Ramsey’s full remarks and wrote a thoughtful reflection on whether we should be criticizing the substance of the remarks or just how they were delivered.

Odds and ends

Pope Francis created a social media firestorm last week when he criticized couples who choose to raise pets instead of kids. If you’d like to understand the context behind his remarks, I recommend checking out America magazine’s coverage.

This week, I finished reading “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans. It was a beautiful reflection on the millennial generation’s complicated relationship to organized religion.