May 9, 2017; Hamodia
It is no news to anyone that a wave of anti-Semitism swept the country before and after the 2016 presidential election. Anti-Semitism seems never to actually leave the building; it lurks, waiting for a time of general intolerance when it can show itself again. During election season, it evidenced itself in threats and anti-Semitic posts to publications and a stream of threats to community centers.
“The best analogy I can give is that the campaign turned over a rock and a lot of stuff began crawling out from under it,” said John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine. “There were these code words and dog whistles that let it appear that people who had been doing things in the shadows could now start marching forward.”
Some of these groups were already prepared to some extent because of a largely unknown federal grants program. The Nonprofit Security Grants Program (NSGP) started in 2005 and provides funding support for “hardening and other physical security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack and located within one of the urban areas receiving funding under the…Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI).” Congress recently voted to increase this grant program from $20 million to $25 million.
NGSP was created due to influential Jewish lobby groups as part of a national post-9/11 response to heightened domestic terror threats, and funding has primarily gone to Jewish organizations. From 2007 to 2010, 734 grants, or 73.7 percent, went to Jewish organizations. Although legislation and the rules defining eligibility do not give preference to Jewish institutions, the numbers communicate otherwise.
Buried within the scoring criteria, nonprofit institutions with a religious affiliation get their eligibility scores multiplied by three, which gives these institutions a distinct advantage. Additionally, the definition of “terror threat” is vague: “Identification and substantiation of current or persistent threats or attacks (from within or outside the U.S.) by a terrorist organization, network, or cell against the applicant based on their ideology, beliefs, or mission.”
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But Jewish institutions are not the only ones under consistent threat of this sort. Recently, Muslims and Muslim institutions have been the target of religiously motivated crime. In 2016, the Council on American Islamic Relations 2017 Civil Rights Report recorded that anti-Muslim bias incidents jumped 65 percent from 2014 to 2016, and that hate crimes against Muslims surged 584 percent. Anti-Islam acts targeting mosques have also shifted from efforts to block expansion or construction to more direct destruction and vandalism. These statistics alone should support a greater funding effort for Muslim organizations in the United States.
The same issue at a state level was recently covered by the Forward, which noted that Florida’s budget includes a $650,000 grant for security at Jewish schools—a line item that’s raising questions among civil liberties advocates. “The fact that the funding singles out one religion raises serious concerns about unconstitutional discrimination, whether intentional or not,” ACLU of Florida legislative counsel Kara Gross told the Miami Herald.
Readers may remember that Muslim nonprofit organizations recently rejected more than $2 million in federal aid to prevent the radicalization of community members, citing the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Muslim Americans and Islam and their new policies as their reasons for rejecting funding. It is not clear whether their objections might extend to this grant program.
In February, Muslims across the country raised over $160,000 using the crowdfunding platform LaunchGood to assist in repair costs for Jewish cemeteries that had been vandalized. The funds were initially raised to assist a synagogue in Pennsylvania; however, it gained so much support that the excess funds allowed for assistance in Illinois, Missouri, and Colorado.
Maybe there is a lesson here; while the NSGP may be important for many nonprofit organizations, they seem to create a divisive competition for limited resources. Instead, it may be important for the federal government to support organizations creating national collaboration efforts towards emergency preparedness.—Suja S. Amir