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Reps. Omar and Schakowsky: We must confront threat of white nationalism -- together

Updated 10:55 AM ET, Tue May 14, 2019

Editor's Note: Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, is the US Representative for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat is a US Representative for Illinois's 9th Congressional District.. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. Read more opinion at CNN.

(CNN) - Just over two weeks ago, we watched in horror after a man walked into Chabad of Poway synagogue in California and opened fire on worshippers, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injuring three others. The attack on the synagogue took place on Shabbat, the holiest day of the week, and Acharon Shel Pesach -- the final day of Passover.

As information about the attack came in, we learned more shocking details. The same terrorist who attacked the Chabad Synagogue allegedly set fire to a nearby mosque, Dar-ul-Arqam, just weeks earlier. Evidence also suggests that the suspected Poway shooter was inspired by the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand, which took the lives of 50 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand in March.

As a Muslim American and a Jewish American elected to the United States Congress, we can no longer sit silently as terror strikes our communities. We cannot allow those who seek to divide and intimidate us to succeed. Whatever our differences, our two communities, Muslim and Jewish, must come together to confront the twin evils of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence.

The evidence that violence against both our communities is on the rise is overwhelming. Anti-Semitic assaults in the US more than doubled in 2018 compared to the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The organization also tallied a total of 1,879 incidents of assault, vandalism and harassment against Jews and Jewish institutions last year, marking the third-highest year on record since the ADL started keeping track in 1979.

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations found a similarly shocking increase in anti-Muslim violence in its most recent report. There were at least 300 hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2017 -- up from 260 the year before -- and nearly 2,600 incidents of anti-Muslim bias.

We're not alone. Violence against minority groups is increasing in our country. In the months leading up to the Poway shooting, three black churches in Louisiana were set on fire, a civil rights center in Tennessee burned down -- with a white power symbol found nearby, a Hindu temple in Kentucky was vandalized, and a Hindu priest was attacked in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime. Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported in 2017 -- the last year data was available -- nearly four out of five were motivated by race, ethnicity, ancestry or religious identity.

As a nation, we cannot afford to be silent on the source of this violence. Far-right terrorists were linked to every single extremist-related murder in 2018 -- the most in any year since 1995, according to the ADL. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports a 50% increase in white nationalist groups from 2017 to 2018, and according to SPLC, 81 people were killed by those influenced by the alt-right since 2014.

The goal of these terrorists, articulated in attack after attack, is as consistent as it is unhinged: to create a white ethnostate that excludes religious, ethnic, and racial minorities. White supremacists claim Islam is incompatible with Western society and seek to terrorize Muslim communities in order to strike fear in practitioners of the religion. Jews, who for centuries have faced discrimination, dehumanization, scapegoating and even genocide, are once again under threat today.

Addressing this hate should not be a partisan issue in the United States.

Yet the current administration has manifestly failed to address its rise. It is no secret that the President normalized white nationalism when he referred to some of the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville as 'very fine people' -- and again doubled down on this statement last month in a speech before the National Rifle Association, by characterizing those who attended the Unite the Right rally as people who "felt very strongly about the statue of Robert E. Lee."

Less well-known are the policies put in place by this administration, which undermine the fight against domestic terrorism. Last year, President Trump ended grants from the Department of Homeland Security designed to help fight white supremacist violence. And just weeks before the Poway attack, Trump's Department of Homeland Security disbanded a group of intelligence analysts focused on domestic terrorism.

White nationalists win when our two communities are divided. They seek to exploit our divisions and grievances to further an agenda of hate. But we know that when are united, we are stronger. We know this because in our own communities, Jewish and Muslim constituents have joined hands in solidarity and denounced these hate-filled massacres.

We saw it when Muslim-American organizations raised more than $200,000 to support the victims and their families after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. And we saw it again in March, when Jewish groups from the city of Pittsburgh raised money to support the New Zealand Muslim community in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shooting.

We may not see eye to eye on all issues, but we must acknowledge that attacks on our faiths are two sides of the same bigoted coin. As Americans, we must all stand together in rejecting hate and embracing one another in order to create a country and a culture of unity and justice. White nationalism is on the rise. And we must defeat it -- together.


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