Attorney General William Barr announced Tuesday federal authorities will more aggressively pursue alleged acts of anti-Semitism moving forward as part of their commitment to prosecuting hate crimes cases.
Barr made the announcement during a meeting with Jewish leaders, adding that he's "extremely distressed" about recent acts of intimidation and violence against Jewish communities.
"It strikes at the very core of what this country is about," Barr said during a meeting in New York at the Boro Park Jewish Community Council. "I've always felt it is particularly pernicious because it does target people based not only their ethnicity but also on their religious practice."
Allen Fagin, executive vice president and chief professional officer of the Orthodox Union, also attended the event. He told ABC News in a phone interview that the group had a "very open and candid conversation" with Barr over the steps the federal government can take to combat anti-Semitism.
"When the federal government says we will prosecute as a hate crime ... conduct that might be seen as relatively low-level criminal activity, I think that also conveys a message that the enormous weight of federal authority and resources will be brought to bear on this issue," he said.
Fagin added that "time will tell" whether the specific proposals put forward by Barr will have a real impact on problems facing the Jewish community, but he applauded the attorney general for his public declaration.
"Just being there and declaring publicly that there would be zero tolerance for such conduct is enormously important," Fagin said.
As a part of his new effort, Barr disclosed new federal charges unsealed against Tiffany Harris, a woman accused of slapping three Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn in December. Harris had been released on bail when she allegedly attacked another women and she was released on bail again.
"We are charging her federally," Barr said, inserting the federal government into the highly charged debate in New York over the state’s new bail reform law.
The federal complaint said Harris knew she was walking through the "Jewish neighborhood," where she allegedly told police she recalled slapping the women, cursing at them and saying to them, "F*** you Jews."
The incident was one in a series of acts alleged to have been motivated by anti-Semitism that alarmed New York's Jewish community just before the New Year, including the Dec. 29 stabbing of five people at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey.
In addressing what he described as a nationwide uptick in anti-Semitic acts, Barr sought to tie the issue to government actions that have attempted to restrict the curriculum of religious schools, stepping into another politically charged debate in New York. Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have come under fire for maintaining yeshivas – or schools that focus on traditional Jewish texts -- that do not properly teach secular courses.
Barr told the group of leaders he was concerned that a deterioration of values and a "spiritual hollowing out that's been occurring in the western world" was a broader concern of his in working to address acts of harassment and violence against religious groups.
"One worries whether barbarism is right below the surface," Barr said.
Barr announced another initiative, where he said a directive will be sent to U.S. attorney's offices across the country, calling for them to "initiate or reinvigorate" their outreach to Jewish communities.
He said the directive will also require them to provide points of contact for Jewish leaders to report hate crimes and law enforcement concerns.