Bringing Together Thought Leaders to Tackle Anti-Semitism From All Angles

Note: These are my opening remarks at the Anti-Defamation League’s “Never Is Now” Summit on Anti-Semitism, which is taking place on November 17, 2016 in New York City.

Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you all for coming here today for ADL’s inaugural Summit on Anti-Semitism, Never is Now.

Let me start by thanking the talented team of professionals at ADL who labored long and hard to put together this remarkable event. Let me thank ADL’s national chairman Marvin Nathan and all the members of ADL’s national commission who are here today and whose support long has been essential to our success. I want to give a special shout-out to Phil Rubin and his team of volunteer who helped with the creative for this conference. And let me thank all of you who have come here to spend the day with us.

Now, it may come as a surprise but, in our 100 year history, ADL had never before convened a summit like this on anti-Semitism. This is a first.

In our early days, I suppose, it was because everyday anti-Semitism was a given; it’s why ADL was founded.

More recently, while anti-Semitism has been present under the surface of society, it was more like a persistent and nagging ache, a chronic condition that you knew about and simply tried to keep under control.

We were vigilant. We monitored. We spoke out and we fought back.

And, by and large, America and American life have been remarkably tolerant and welcoming. The Jewish community lives here in this country with historic privilege and has achieved unprecedented success.

And yet, today, I think all of us fear that something has changed. There are troubling signs. Now they may be subtle, they may go unnoticed by the vast majority of Americans, but we see them. We know.

First, over the past few years, we have seen the growth of ugly campaigns on our college campuses, efforts that seek to delegitimize Israel and to reduce the Jewish state into some kind of taboo. This virus has spread and made some of greatest universities hostile to Jewish students and those who support them. I could tell you stories about Stanford, Tufts, Columbia, Wesleyan, and so many others. At UCLA, a university where I taught for many years, the head of the graduate student association — who is not even Jewish — transferred to finish his law school education here in New York rather than continue to deal with the wrath of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic groups in Westwood.

And, while many in this room might make the case for criminal justice reform and to aspire to address racial inequities, all of us noted when some of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement crafted a platform earlier this summer that singled out and slandered just one country in the world — Israel. This demonization caught many by surprise and seemed to resurrect the rifts between the African-American and Jewish communities that the ADL and others have worked so hard and so long to repair.

And then of course there is what we have seen this election season.

Because it rolled on for so long, it’s hard to remember just how unique the election was, and not just because of the candidates themselves. The harassment and hate that bubbled up around the campaigns was unlike anything we have seen in recent history.

This was an election where a presidential candidate criticized Israel in a manner that evoked a blood libel; where another unapologetically tweeted a sinister Star of David meme that had been created by white supremacists; it promoted a campaign slogan that evoked the phrase most associated with notorious Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh, and sponsored a closing television ad that echoed anti-Semitic conspiracies that have been used to justify anti-Jewish persecution for centuries.

During this political season, we saw white supremacists use a triple parentheses to target Jews online and simultaneously, relentlessly harass and intimidate Jewish journalists on social media with anti-Semitic tropes and horrific images of the Holocaust.

In short, the American Jewish community has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s.

Sadly, it is only being matched with escalating levels of hate toward other minorities, too, including Latinos, the disabled, Muslims, African-Americans, and the LGBT community.

In the days since the election, reports of possible hate crimes such as physical attacks, vandalism and harassment have flooded ADL’s local offices and streamed into the news. There has been a litany of incidents: a black doll hanging from a rope in an elevator of a freshman dorm in Buffalo; anti-gay threats left on the windshield of a car in North Carolina or the hood of the car of my former intern in Texas; taunts yelled at Latino students of “build that wall” at a school in Michigan; a young Muslim woman assaulted and her hijab yanked off her head on a street in San Diego.

And, yes, anti-Semitism has continued to proliferate as well. According to statistics released just this week by the FBI, Jews suffer from hate crimes at more than twice the rate of any other religious group. This week has been no exception. We have seen swastikas scrawled on a Philadelphia store front, a Jewish cemetery in New York, and on a public school in Maryland.

Jewish journalists who were harassed and terrorized online are now coming home to find anti-Semitic taunts in their mailboxes. And the chief curator of a website that hosted many of the most hateful ideas of the so-called Alt-Right has been appointed to a high post in the new administration.

The sum total of all these signs? People are afraid. They worry about their children. Many are asking themselves — are we safe?

Well, we as a people invented the phrase Never Again — so let me just say — Never is now.

We must not be silent. We must raise our voices. We must act. And to act, we must understand what we are up against.

We need to wrap our heads around the threats from the Radical Left that seek to de-legitimize Jewish peoplehood and an Extreme Right that is embracing white nationalism and other racialist ideas that are anti-Semitic to their core.

We need to understand how technology is spreading these hatreds and becoming a weapon that threatens our Jewish community.

That is what we are doing here today.

We have assembled an amazing line-up — there are activists and academics, executives and entrepreneurs — and more than 1000 ordinary people who are here to listen and learn, to take stock and take action.

I expect today will stimulate debate. You might agree with much of what you hear, perhaps disagree even more. The ideas are intended to explore new angles to address this age-old issue. To get you thinking. And inspire all of us to action.

More than 100 years ago, the founders of ADL came together in dark days — at a time when American Jews were not able to live, work, or learn anywhere they wanted…at a time, when anti-Semitism was acceptable in polite society…at a time, when a Jewish man could be lynched by a mob rather than tried by the law. Yes, there were days much darker than ours today.

At that most difficult moment, the founders of ADL said that we — American Jews — a group that lacked power and standing and whose future in this country was shaky and uncertain — they envisioned that we would exert our power for good, to stop the defamation of the Jewish people even as we would stand up and pursue equal justice for all.

Now more than ever, we need to honor that mission.

We need to speak out when we see anti-Semitism and bigotry — no matter the source, whether it’s a publicly traded company or a high-ranking public official, whether it’s what you hear from a progressive street protestor or a conservative radio host. No one has an excuse for excusing intolerance.

We need to educate where we can, oppose where we must, and lock arms with those who embrace our mission.

And we must stand with our fellow Americans who may be singled out for how they look, who they love, where they’re from or how they pray.

And let me say this. There recently have been reports that the new Administration plans to force Muslim-Americans to register for some sort of master government list.

Look, Islamic extremism is a threat to us all. But as Jews, we know what it means to be registered and tagged, held out as different from our fellow citizens.

As Jews, we know the righteous and just response. All of us have heard the story of the Danish king who said if his country’s Jews had to wear a gold star…all of Denmark would too.

So I pledge to you right here and now, because I care about the fight against anti-Semitism, that if one day in these United States, if one day Muslim-Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.

Because fighting prejudice against the marginalized is not just the fight of those minorities. It’s our fight. Just as the fight against anti-Semitism is not only the fight of us Jews. It’s everyone’s fight.

That is the cause that ADL signed up for when we were founded a century ago.

Will we make enemies? No doubt.

Just like we made enemies when we took on the KKK in the 1930s…just like when we spoke out against Joe McCarthy in the 1950s…and just like when we marched for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s.

But making powerful enemies is the price one sometimes must pay when speaking truth to power.

Now, it will not be easy. It may be extremely difficult at times. There will be those in our country and even those in our community who disagree — sometimes strongly.

But I welcome their disagreement. I look forward to the debate. Because I know our mission. We know why ADL was created. And it was founded for moments just like these.

And so I pledge to you today that I will do everything in my power — and work as hard as I can with you — so that ADL meets the moment…defends the Jewish people…and fights for justice and fair treatment to all.

Written by

CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

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