Since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war, the nation as a whole has seen a rise in hate crimes and bias-related harassment directed towards Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and other groups. Photo: ULU_BIRD

Last week, Epicenter brought you two stories on the reported rise in bias-related harassment directed towards Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans and other groups. We explained the recent data, looked at the headlines and turned to an expert for advice on how to keep each other safe. Now we turn to trainers with an expertise in combating Islamophobia and antisemitism to give guidance on specific scenarios. 

Epicenter attended two especially timely bystander intervention training sessions hosted by the nonprofits Right to Be, CAIR-Chicago and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. The content below features some scenarios from the trainings that are unfortunately all-too-common experiences for some of our neighbors — and several suggestions from trainers and anonymous community members on how to navigate them. 

The scenarios and suggestions included below are just a small part of these bystander intervention trainings, which also include historical and contemporary context, a deeper dive into intervention tenets, guided exercises based on lived experiences and opportunities to get your questions about Islamophobia, antisemitism and intervention strategies answered.

The excerpted content builds on previous reporting Epicenter has done with Right to Be, including a breakdown of the 5 D’s in bystander intervention:

Distract – create a diversion to de-escalate the situation or create chaos to get harm to stop

Delegate – find someone else to help 

Document – record the incident, only if there’s somebody else already intervening

Delay – check in on the affected person

Direct intervention – literally tell the person doing the harm to stop, let them go, leave them alone

Trigger warning: This content contains scenarios of abuse and violent language.  

How to help stop Islamophobia

When it comes to deciding what to do in the face of bias-related harassment or other harm, there isn’t a perfect response, according to Right to Be / CAIR-Chicago. Depending on the situation, we might have a particular preference on how to intervene or we could experience a specific trigger. 

It’s always good to acknowledge what’s happening for us internally, think about what hesitations we may have, and then decide which of the five D’s is right for us in that situation. Here are just some examples:

Providing a distraction is a recommended intervention during a tense situation. Photo Keira Burton

Scenario: 

You are standing on an elevated train platform and observe a woman wearing a hijab approaching. Some young men nearby shout out “Go back to where you came from, you ***** terrorist” and begin to approach her. She seems physically scared, but no one else looks up or acknowledges what is happening.

Suggested interventions:

  • Distract: initiate a conversation with the woman by waving and saying a simple “hi, it’s good to see you again,” or smiling, asking her how often the train comes and then chatting with her. Maybe accompany her to another platform. 
  • Delay: check in with her and be physically near her. You might also glare at the young men to let them know you’re watching, then ask the woman how she’s doing. 
  • Delegate + document: find someone else to get the conductor to help while you document the incident. A record may be useful if the woman decides to report it to organizations such as CAIR or Right to Be. 
  • Direct: yell at the young men to “leave that person alone!” 

Here, leveraging the power of being physically present can be as small as a glare and as big as a shout. You just want to make sure that you’re keeping yourself and others safe while you intervene, avoiding any potential physical escalation, especially while on a train platform. 

Scenario: 

You are a high school student and one of your friends, Tamer, comes to school wearing a kufi (Islamic cap). Tamer occasionally wears ethnic or religious apparel to school, and you loved discussing cultural differences with him. You take a picture of you both and post it to your Instagram page. Joyce, a friend of yours from summer camp, comments “Tamer, when is the camel race?” Tamer asks Joyce to apologize, but Joyce replies “C’mon! I am just kidding around.”

Suggested interventions:

  • Direct: DM Joyce something like “hey, I saw your comment to Tamer and it surprised me, can we check in?” Then explain the impact of comments like that.
  • Delay: call Tamer and tell him you saw what happened and that it’s not OK. Find out how you can support him.
  • Delegate: DM another mutual friend from high school with a closer relationship to Joyce, and ask them to explain to Joyce why their comments were not OK. 

Both the “direct” and “delegate” suggestions for intervening highlight leveraging the power of our social networks, often tied to the privilege we have in some spaces, to support others with less privilege in those spaces. When facing similar situations in our workplaces, we could likewise be an ally or call on others with more privilege or closer ties to the person doing the harm to intervene. We could also leverage more formal forms of power such as getting a manager or leader involved to support. 

Scenario: 

You’re in the grocery store and you hear raised voices down the aisle, and then you see a man spit on a woman wearing a niqab (covered from head to toe, except the eyes), and continue yelling at her.

Suggested interventions:

  • Direct + Delay: address the man directly with a firm statement like “sir, that is not Ok. Please leave her alone.” And then turn to the woman to check in.
  • Distract + Delay: create a simple diversion by being super noisy, saying “excuse me! excuse me!” repeatedly while passing through and wedging your cart between them. Pretend you can’t find what you’re looking for on the shelf. When the man goes away, check on the woman.
  • Delegate: find a store clerk and ask them to approach the woman and create a distraction. They can say something like “hi! I found the item you were looking for, it’s in aisle six. I can show you the aisle.”

Sometimes physically getting in between people under the guise of obnoxiousness or needing help can de-escalate the situation. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, leveraging the owner of the store or security personnel to intervene and let the man know that behavior is unacceptable could be even more effective. 

How to help stop antisemitism

Scenario: 

You are in the park. Nearby, a woman wearing jeans and a T-shirt is speaking Hebrew to her young child. A teenager saunters over and loudly asks her if he can borrow ten cents. You see a group of his friends watching this and chuckling nearby. As she ignores the teenager and deflects, the teen says “come on, you’re Jewish, you too cheap to spare ten cents?”

Suggested interventions:

  • Distract: hold up an object like a stick or chewing gum and ask the woman “did you drop this?”
  • Delay: after the teen walks away, approach the woman and say you’re sorry she was spoken to that way. Ask if she’s okay.
  • Document: discreetly record the situation. Ask the woman if she’d like you to share with her should she wish to report it to park authorities. 
  • Direct: check the kid, letting them know they’re being offensive or explain why what they’re saying is a problem. Or step in and give the kid a dime. He’s asking for a dime and you’re giving it to him while letting him know he should move on and stop bothering the woman. 

Scenario: 

You’re riding the bus. Across the aisle from you sits an older man reading the paper in traditional orthodox Jewish dress: long black coat, white button-down shirt, black wide-brimmed hat. Two seats over from you, two people are having a conversation. You’re not paying them much attention, until you hear one of them say loudly, “of course the Federal Reserve is going to raise interest rates. Didn’t you know the whole thing is run by Jews?” The man across from you looks uncomfortable. The second person responds, “you’re right. It used to be run by Alan Greenspan, then Ben Bernanke took over, followed by Janet Yellen, and now Jerome Powell is in charge. All of them Jews. They should call it the Jewish Federal Reserve.”

Language like this is antisemitic because it involves stereotypes and evokes tropes about Jewish people and power, control and manipulation, as a Right to Be / T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights trainer explained. This is distinct from critiquing the Federal Reserve, or any other government agency or operation, which is an expression of free speech rather than hate speech. 

Suggested interventions:

Distract: approach both passengers and pretend to be lost. Ask them for directions to the complete opposite side of town. 

Delay: switch seats next to the elderly man and ask him if he’d be willing to share the comics section with you. Then give him a knowing smile.

Direct: tell the person, “your conversation is making me and those around you uncomfortable. Please change the subject.”

Scenario: 

On your Facebook page, you notice that your high school friend Josh, who is Jewish, has shared a news story about Israeli authorities demolishing a Palestinian house because it was built without a permit (Israel makes it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits). His only comment is a sad face. Then you read the comments below his post:

Michelle: Israel just loves terrorizing the Palestinians. It’s terrible.

Anna: Israelis are all a bunch of hypocritical blowhards. They whine about the Holocaust and then turn around and do sh*t like this. Bunch of Nazis, if you ask me.

Suggested interventions:

  • Document + Delegate: report Anna’s comment to a site regulator, saying respectful criticism of Israel is OK, but her comment crosses the line.
  • Direct: DM Josh and share your discomfort with Anna’s reply and your concern that it will invite more hateful comments. Ask if he’d like to disable comments on his post.
  • Delegate: DM Michelle to say you support her right to criticize Israel. And also that you found Anna’s comment very hurtful and wonder if she’d be willing to speak to Anna about it if she knows Anna better than you do. 

How to learn more: 

You can register here for the full online training on how to intervene against antisemitism. The next upcoming sessions hosted by Right to Be and T’ruah: The Rabbanic Call for Human Rights are happening tonight, Nov. 14, and Nov. 29 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Register here for the next trainings on how to help stop Islamophobia and xenophobia, hosted by Right to Be and CAIR-Chicago. The next sessions take place this Friday, Nov. 17 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and Nov. 30 from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. 

This post has been updated to include further context about the limitations of this content, which is excerpted from Right to Be programming.

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1 Comment

  1. Should we not intervene with compassion & understanding? Speak to the Islamophobe. See them as a person. Do not OTHERIZE. “Hey, I understand that is how you feel.” Engage in inter-faith dialogue. These situations can be a learning & teaching moment. Conversation even difficult conversation is better than confrontation. Do you agree?

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