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Metro Detroit's Jewish, Arab communities discuss rise in hate crimes since October 7 attack in Israel

Posted at 3:08 PM, Dec 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-05 15:08:44-05

DEARBORN, Mich. (WXYZ) — The war in the Middle East continues to hit close to home here in Metro Detroit, as various communities struggle with a rise in hate crime.

Ruth Poberesky and her friend Alina Latinsky are busy preparing for a peaceful rally that they believe carries an important message.

"Solution and peace. Stop killing and release hostages," Ruth says.

Ruth moved to Michigan from Israel in 1994. But since then, Ruth says a lot has changed.

"This is not the America I moved into. I was never asked maybe to consider removing my mezuzah from my front door, but since October 7 this is what we see," she says.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Ruth says as a precaution, the Jewish community across the country is being urged to stop displaying Jewish symbols at their homes or even wearing jewelry that celebrates the Jewish faith.

"I will not hide my Jewish Identity, I mean if something wants to kill me, too bad, I can't do anything about that. I was born Jewish, I am Jewish, and I will be wearing whatever I feel like," she says.

But sadly, The Anti-Defamation League's Carolyn Normandin says the rise of antisemitism since October 7th continues to be unprecedented.

"We've had an average of more than 20 incidents reported to our office a week," Normandin says.

According to the ADL, over 80,000 Jews live in Michigan. Meanwhile, as per Brandeis University, there are an estimated 6.8 million Jews in the US.

"We have more incidents of antisemitism in the State of Michigan than we should for our population," Normandin says.

Cara Lopatin is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Last month, while walking back to her dorm from Shabbat dinner, the 20-year-old says a group of young men targeted her.

"They just said behind us, oh hey look there are Jews, and they were like you know Palestine or Israel, like free Palestine or free Israel? Hey hey, free Palestine," she says.

"Hatred towards another human being because of the characteristics that they have, must be called out," Normandin says.

The Department of Justice defines “Hate Crimes” as illegal actions motivated by bias against a race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, and a hate incident is an act of prejudice that does not involve violence, threats, or property damage.

But even though lawmakers in Michigan updated the State's Hate Crime Act earlier this year, giving more protection to vulnerable groups, another community within metro Detroit is also concerned for their safety.

"We are not here today to discuss the details of what's happening overseas, we want to talk about what's happening in our backyard," says Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud.

In Dearborn, interfaith leaders, the FBI, Mayor Hammoud, and Chief of Police Issa Shahin recently held a roundtable to discuss the rise of hate crimes towards Arabs and Muslim Americans and how to restore peace for the community at large.

"We know whenever there is something unfolding throughout the Middle East, and North Africa, Dearborn comes under the microscope, unfortunately," he says.

According to new census data, Arab Americans now make up a majority of the residents of Dearborn for the first time, and Michigan's total Middle Eastern population has surpassed 300,000 residents. That's why Dearborn Police Chief Shahin says the city has become a target during the rise of Islamophobia.

"We've received threats from outside the State, we've tracked down threats all over the country," Shahin says. "Everything from your, now your run of the mill, disgusting language, racial epithets to threats of violence. Suggesting coming to Dearborn to hunt Palestinians."

Since October 7th, CAIR Michigan has recorded over 24 incidents of hate towards Arabs and Muslims within Metro Detroit.

"I would say beyond the threats I've outlined, Faraz there is just a sense of fear in the community. I've fielded a number of phone calls from parents just concerned about sending their kids to school," says Shahin.

As a Palestinian American, Zeyan Mohammad feels hurt and tired of hearing all the negative rhetoric.

"It's my people, it's us, and it's unfair. It shouldn't be, like, we all wish for peace," he says.

"It also doesn't help, Faraz, when we have children peacefully demonstrating outside of class, and being labeled as pro-Hamas- pro-terrorist supporters," Shahin says.

Lexi Zaidan is a social activist who has held several rallies across metro Detroit.

"Someone asked me the other day, are you going so hard because you are Palestinian, I said no I'm going so hard because I'm human," Zaidan says. "The free Palestine movement is simply a movement that's calling for the dismantling of any organization or any government that seeks to destroy or deny one the right to self-determination and freedom, and it doesn't seek to exile all Jews."

Since October 7th, Hamas has killed over 1,100 Israelis, while the Israeli Military has killed more than 12,000 Palestinians, making it one of the worst humanitarian crises of all time.

"We need to separate out a few things," says Normandin. "The current situation? It wasn't caused by Palestinian people, and there should be no beef between Jewish community and the Palestinian community. It should be let's figure out how we get out of a situation, let's educate ourselves about the situation, and let's move forward."

Law enforcement is encouraging everyone to report any form of hate crime or incident. Carolyn says by doing so you are not only protecting yourself and the community but in the long term it will help with policy changes because data drives decisions.