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Peabody’s Bettencourt shines light on antisemitism

This article was published 1 year(s) and 6 month(s) ago.

Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. (Alena Kuzub)

PEABODY — Mayor Edward A Bettencourt Jr. will be the honorary chair of the Two Steps Forward Against Antisemitism Summit on March 28.

The summit, which will be held via Zoom from 1-2 p.m. Monday, will be hosted by the Salem-based Lappin Foundation, a nonprofit focused on promoting and learning about Jewish identity.

Bettencourt will speak about the rise of antisemitism and call upon leaders to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

Bettencourt said the verbal abuse of a rabbi in his city in 2017 inspired him to take an active role in standing up to antisemitism and other forms of hate.

“That incident was upsetting to me. It couldn’t go unanswered by community leaders,” he said. “The city held a rally that drew several hundred people. It’s important to be part of the solution.” 

The working definition of antisemitism by the IHRA is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”  

This definition was codified by the IHRA in 2016 and Gov. Charlie Baker proclaimed an endorsement for it on Feb 18.

Bettencourt said the reason he supports the definition is that it will help bring the broader discussion to communities.

“I think the IHRA working definition of antisemitism will prompt real discussion, bring it to the forefront and lead to action in several communities,” Bettencourt said.

According to Bettencourt, Peabody commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day each year on Jan. 27.

Joining Bettencourt at the summit will be Marblehead teenagers Sofia Vatnik and Lucy New, the youngest speakers scheduled for the event. 

The Marblehead High School seniors believe hearing from youth will make an impression on the politicians attending.

“They will realize antisemitism affects everyone, not just people who survived the Holocaust, but us, as teens,” Vatnik said. “Hopefully hearing from young voices will spark their interest to do something.”

On March 3, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which works to stop the defamation of Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all, released a report that said Massachusetts has the fourth-highest levels of hate propaganda in the nation.

According to the ADL, there were more than 12,000 incidents of extremism and antisemitism in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, and 653 in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security reported that more than 50 incidents of anti-Jewish bias were reported to State Police in 2020. 

Per a State of Antisemitism in America study released in 2021, 90 percent of American Jews believe antisemitism is either a very serious problem or somewhat of a problem. However, the study also showed that 21 percent of the general public believes antisemitism is not much of a problem in the U.S.

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