Naomi Kraus, Google’s Inter Belief Network Global Chair
The Anti Defamation League estimates that 1.09 billion people hold antisemitic attitudes. In the United States alone, antisemitic incidents hit a record high in 2021. Jewish employees worldwide increasingly face this scourge of hatred, and often feel stressed, wary of revealing their faith, and attacked for merely being who they are. The Global Chair of Google’s Inter Belief Network employee resource group offers suggestions and recommendations that businesses and corporate leaders can adopt to help their Jewish employees feel supported both in and outside of the workplace.
A few weeks ago, Jews all over the world celebrated the holiday of Purim. It is considered the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar and celebrates a momentous victory over antisemitism thousands of years ago. On Purim night in my neighborhood in New Jersey, some community members went to synagogue to hear a reading of the book Esther that commemorates this holiday. They returned home to discover they had been the target of antisemitic vandalism: the Mezuzot (small prayer parchments contained in cases you see on the doors of many Jewish homes) had been ripped from their door frames. It was an act of desecration that was heartbreaking and vile, and is becoming all too familiar for many of us.
89% of Jews feel antisemitism is a problem in the United States today, and this intrusion was certainly familiar to me. I am the granddaughter of four Holocaust Survivors. My grandparents welcomed the freedom and protection they thought America offered after they got out of the camps. However, my grandmother would wake at 3am with nightmares of Auschwitz as it was, so I am actually relieved that they are no longer here to see what is happening now.
As the volunteer head of the Inter Belief Network Employee Resource Group and co-head of the global “Jewglers” community at Google, I get to advocate on behalf of our internal Jewish community. In my day job, I work on projects that also help our billions of users. Both are privileges that I cherish.
In my 10-plus years at Google, I’ve watched this tech company move from a smaller up-and-comer to one of the biggest companies in the world. I’ve seen how we’ve evolved and embraced the inclusion movement, encouraging Googlers to “bring their whole selves to work.” One’s faith and ethnic identity is very much a part of that process, but as of late, many have become more wary of expressing it due to the hate they fear they may experience. Some Jewish employees have likely changed their behavior in the last few years because of this fear.
There are many steps businesses can take to help end the scourge of antisemitism and to support their Jewish employees.
(1) Adopt and/or use the principles of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. It may not be perfect, but it’s the baseline standard that has been adopted by countless cities, 39 countries along with a number of corporations, including Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen. It shouldn’t be hard to stand up and say “no” to antisemitism – though I will be the first to recognize that this can be easier said than done – this has been a north star for my work with Jewglers for 2+ years to date.
(2) Acknowledge that Jewish people live with tremendous fear and vulnerability, as a minority that is disproportionately targeted by hate violence and threats, like other targeted communities. Those of us who have to worry about displaying visible signs of our faith and walk past armed security guards simply to pray in a house of worship each week in “The Land of the Free” need to feel the same support just like other marginalized groups. Make sure to take this into consideration in all spheres, be it communications, hiring or marketing.
(3) Be cautious about how you ask people to self identify in corporate surveys and workshops, etc. Too often, assumptions are made about Jews that are not rooted in reality. In the allyship course we teach at Google, we make the point that though Jews are often portrayed as White, Jews come in all races and all ethnicities. For example, many Jews of Ashkenazic descent (those whose families migrated through Eastern Europe after exile from Ancient Israel) may have white skin, but forcing them to classify themselves as Caucasian can be incorrect.
(4) Add education about antisemitism into DEI programs. As a result of acknowledging that Jews are a minority and targeted group, companies have an obligation to create spaces for deeper, more intentional discussions via their DEI educational programs. Many employers do not understand the stress and fears their Jewish employees face outside the office. Antisemitism is often a precursor to other forms of hatred – don’t just give it an offhand cursory mention, give the time and space you similarly dedicate to other societal forms of hatred, such as anti-black racism and homophobia.
(5) Holocaust denial and minimization should be uniformly and immediately condemned, wherever and whenever it occurs. No one is entitled to falsify the truth. And there is no other truth than that Jews were targeted for annihilation and six million of them were murdered. Period. This fact is being disputed or goes unrecognized more and more each year.
(6) Don’t allow antisemitism to masquerade as political activism by employees or anyone else. Antisemitism is about hate. There is nothing complex, nuanced or political about it. It is not limited to a specific political viewpoint. It comes from both the right and left. In the workplace, employee debates and discussions should always steer clear of invoking stereotypes or bigotry against any group and it’s important to have policies and guidelines in place that clearly articulate these guideposts for your employees. When criticism of Israel draws on classical antisemitic tropes, or when crimes are committed against Jews to protest Israeli policies, that’s antisemitism, and it’s unacceptable. This conflation of policy criticism of a government with anti-Jewish hatred is harmful and counterproductive.
(7) Make it easy for your Jewish employees to form an Employee Resource Group. Google’s willingness to fund and support a space in which Jewish employees can seek support and resources in times like this has been very helpful to those in our community. It has enabled volunteer leaders like me to provide programming and educational resources on antisemitism at a scale that would be unthinkable without its help. When the hostage situation in Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Austin happened in 2022, our local representatives organized support sessions for Jewglers. After recent threats from extremist groups threatened an antisemitic Day of Hate targeting the Jewish community in the U.S., we arranged for personal safety training for our employees with a Jewgler who works in our security department. We’ve also staged talks with Holocaust Survivors and run internal allyship courses to familiarize employees with the antisemitism that their Jewish colleagues encounter.
IF YOU AS AN ORGANIZATION OR LEADER WANT HELP – Be humble, be honest & ASK! Jewish employee leaders like me and the many others who serve would be grateful for your interest, your offers of support, and your willingness to invest the time to get it right in what you say and do. It’s good for your business, your customers, and the world.
# # # END # # #
Naomi’s Keynote from Dare to Overcome 2023: