More than 50 people sat inside the auditorium at Wyngate Elementary School in Bethesda to hear from Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1), county police and other partners as they described a problem in both the local and national sphere: antisemitism.
Locally, there have been multiple incidents involving antisemitism — including a recent incident around Nov. 14 where a swastika and other threatening images were drawn on the Bethesda Trolley Trail.
Earlier this year, similar incidents happened on the Trolley trail and in Kensington.
Regionally, Tim Poole, a right-leaning podcaster, hosted Kanye West, a rapper who has made antisemitic remarks, Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist commentator, and Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right political commentator. The three walked off Poole’s podcast set in western Maryland, when Poole pushed back on their antisemitic views.
Nationally, the Department of Homeland Security warned earlier this week of a “heightened threat environment” for minority groups in one of its pre-holiday bulletins, according to media reports.
Friedson and County Police Chief Marcus Jones told those gathered Wednesday that despite these events, residents were lucky to live in Montgomery County, where such threats and incidents are taken seriously.
(Disclosure: Jillian Copeland, co-owner of Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat, donated $3,000 to Friedson’s campaign during the latest reporting period. Copeland is not involved in the editorial decisions of Bethesda Magazine or Bethesda Beat.)
Jones and Capt. Amy Daum, commander of the county police’s 2nd District — which includes Bethesda — encouraged people to call the police department’s non-emergency line, 301-297-8000, if they have any information on anti-semitic vandalism or other events that have occurred.
In response to an attendee’s question, Daum said that incidents like the one earlier this month on the Bethesda Trolley Trail are extremely difficult to solve. The most information police get is from residents who see something on their video cameras or witness the event, and report their findings to police, Daum said. Lt. Ari Elkin, who works under Daum in the Second District, agreed.
“In my experience, we’ve had community members who told us they didn’t want to call and bother the police, because they weren’t sure if they saw something that was out of place, or they had a feeling but weren’t sure,” Elkin said. “What I would encourage people to do, is give us that information, and let us determine if it will help us in our investigation.”
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and Meredith Weisel, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, highlighted some of the resources available and challenges seen in recent anti-semitic incidents.
Halber mentioned the council’s efforts in securing $1.5 million in grants over two years for local houses of worship to use for security — it can be for police, but they emphasized it can also be used for other operational costs like cameras and other needs, Halber said.
Friedson said before the meeting that he thinks that county police and other local partners do a good job of taking care of anti-semitic vandalism as incidents occur. He added, however, there can be improvement.
There can be more operational changes, like better lighting and addressing tree cover and shrubbery near the Trolley Trail and other places, in order to make communities feel more secure, Friedson said. And more cameras could be put in place to prosecute people who commit vandalism and similar acts, he added.
Halber said he’s concerned about the next presidential election cycle and what anti-semitic hate could be spewed during the election. It’s imperative for all residents to stand against that, he added.
“The most important thing you can do is be a voice against bigotry, hate, antisemitism and racism,” Halber said. “Which means if you hear racist incidents, you tell people you don’t find it funny. If you see something, you contact the police … in other words, get involved in strengthening the fabric of the community that rejects hate.”