Live updates: Oklahoma coronavirus cases now 429; 16 deadCoronavirus in Oklahoma: 429 confirmed cases, 16 deaths

NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Lankford helps form task force aimed at fighting anti-Semitism

James Lankford [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
James Lankford [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

U.S. Sen. James Lankford said he wants to raise awareness about the increase in anti-Semitism and combat its spread across America.

Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, recently joined Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, to launch the Senate Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism. The two senators — Lankford, a Southern Baptist Christian, and Rosen, who is Jewish — announced the formation of the task force on the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings. Eleven people were killed on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh by a gunman spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The pair called on their fellow congressional leaders "to set aside the labels, the bickering and the grandstanding to join together to take on one of the most disturbing trends of our time."

A local Jewish leader commended the duo for the collaborative effort.

"We need to be able to live in safety. We need to not be fearful for who we are and that people will target us for who we are," said Roberta Clark, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.

"It's pretty scary right now. Scary when we've had so many anti-Semitic incidents because, quite frankly, you don't know where it's going to happen next."

In a recent telephone interview, Lankford said the mission of the task force will be to bring law enforcement, federal agencies, state and local government, educators, advocates, clergy and others together to collaborate on efforts to combat anti-Semitism by educating and empowering communities. The goal will be to speak with "one voice to call out hate," support legislative efforts to combat anti-Semitism, promote Holocaust education and bring the issue of battling anti-Semitism to the forefront of national conversation.

Lankford said the House of Representatives already has such a task force, and he was honored to help sponsor the effort when Rosen approached him about the idea.

"For us it is how do we elevate the dialogue about the rise of anti-Semitism and what has happened in the past when anti-Semitism occurred," he said. "Our plan is we're going to have hearings, we're going to have round-table meetings to elevate points of conversation. And we'll continue to encourage people to look at people of faith, of all faiths and backgrounds, and be able to see people for who they are."

Lankford said it was important to him and Rosen that the task force be bipartisan.

"Religious hatred, bigotry should not be a partisan issue. As a nation, we have different faiths, we have different cultures, we have different backgrounds, but we're all part of an American family and we should be able to receive each other. So if we show a division on that, it discourages our message from the very beginning," he said.

'We can't be silent'

Clark said shining a spotlight on anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred is critical. She said the murders at the Tree of Life synagogue were terrifying and the worst attack on Jews in the U.S. Not many months later, in April 2019, there was another attack on Jews at a synagogue in Poway, California, in which one woman was killed and several people were wounded.

Just days after Lankford and Rosen announced the bipartisan task force, an FBI team stopped an attack on Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, Colorado. The two senators praised FBI efforts for arresting a man with suspected anti-Semitic views on Nov. 4 and thwarting his alleged plot to bomb the Colorado synagogue.

"So I applaud our government leaders, the House side and the Senate side, for understanding what a serious problem this is and for understanding that it doesn't go away by saying 'Oh gee, anti-Semitism is horrible,' " Clark said.

"I don't know the steps they are going to take, but I do believe to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred; we have to take a multi-prong approach, and it involves education, the justice system, civil discourse and it involves people getting to know each other as human beings."

Clark said it's important to note that people who espouse anti-Semitic views often harbor hatred toward other groups.

"Haters hate," she said.

"For the Senate to be following the House, making this important statement and I hope, making a positive impact in facing anti-Semitism in this country, is to be commended. Whether it's anti-Semitism or racism or Islamophobia or homophobia, whatever it might be, we can't be silent. We know that by being silent, nothing will get better."

Related Photos
<strong>Roberta Clark [The Oklahoman Archives]</strong>

Roberta Clark [The Oklahoman Archives]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Roberta Clark [The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Roberta Clark [The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Roberta Clark [The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - James Lankford [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" James Lankford [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> James Lankford [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›