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Kentucky starts task force against antisemitism

Democratic Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville joined state antisemitism task force
Ryan Van Velzer
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville joined the state's antisemitism task force, and spoke on the issue during a Team Kentucky Update Thursday 21, 2023.

After threats were made against several Kentucky synagogues, the state has started a task force to combat antisemitism.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the formation of the Kentucky Antisemitism Task Force at a press conference Thursday. The 18-member group includes many prominent Jewish Kentuckians and a few members of other faith groups. The chiefs of the Louisville and Lexington police departments are appointed in an ex-officio capacity.

“The Kentucky Antisemitism Task force will help guide this administration and our entire Commonwealth and make sure we're getting it right — that everyone in our Commonwealth is treated like the child of God — the human being — that they are,” Beshear said.

The group, created by executive order, will conduct a “comprehensive review of the state of antisemitism in Kentucky,” according to Beshear.

The governor noted that several Kentucky synagogues were among those targeted in a nationwide rash of bomb threats last week against Jewish communities.

“It's a scary time to be Jewish, particularly when you have kids or grandkids who are most affected,” said former state treasurer Jonathan Miller, a member of a Lexington synagogue and school where worshipers and students had to evacuate last week due to a bomb threat.

Beshear appointed Miller as the chair of the task force. Other members include Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, state Democratic Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville, Democratic state Rep. Daniel Grossberg of Louisville, Louisville Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, and Dr. Muhammad Babar, a family medicine specialist in Louisville.

The task force will also be charged with reviewing the state’s Holocaust curriculum, which is required in every Kentucky public middle school and high school. Beshear also said the task force would advise and review law enforcement training, noting that in 2020 high school journalists uncovered a Kentucky State Police training that drew from Nazi ideology.

Beshear said some may not have recognized the material as antisemitic.

“It's so important that we have those that know, that experience it, that feel it, that can guide us and make sure that we're not missing a thing,” he said.

Officials named several other forms of hate during the press conference, including Islamophobia and racism. In a video message, Miller also said it’s “important” that the work of the task force go “beyond the issue of antisemitism.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism has been on the rise since 2016, and spiked dramatically after the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Anti-Arab incidents and Islamophobia are also on the rise in the U.S., according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Those incidents include the fatal stabbing of a six-year-old Palestinian boy by his landlord in Illinois in October. The FBI is investigating another possible hate crime in Vermont where a gunman shot three Palestinian students in November.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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