October 18, 2021
Remarks by Jonathan A. Greenblatt
ADL CEO and National Director
to the Eradicate Hate Global Forum, Oct. 18, 2021
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Thank you, Jeff, for that nice introduction. I appreciate it.
I’m humbled to be back in Pittsburgh, this amazing community whose people are a beacon of neighborliness and civility, of kindness and candor. What an honor and privilege it is to be back here and to speak to all of you today.
I’m inspired and awed by the work this community has done – and continues to do -- to overcome one of the deadliest acts of hate in our time – the horrific attack on three congregations at the Tree of Life synagogue nearly three years ago. This gathering – featuring an impressive list of more than 100 leading experts on issues of extremism and hate -- is the ultimate response to an unthinkable tragedy, one that stole the lives of 11 innocent people and forever changed this city, as well as the lives of Jews everywhere.
The message it sends is not just one of resilience, but of healing and hope. Of overcoming adversity through the efforts of individual citizens, friends, and neighbors who care deeply about one another.
Pittsburgh hasn’t cowered in the face of hatred; you have seen an opportunity to do better, to lift each other up, to roll up your sleeves and to work toward finding common solutions, and to help build a better world. And you do it in every forum imaginable, whether it is through your sports teams, universities, your schools, your institutions, or major gatherings like this one.
This is indeed, truly, a model for the rest of the country and the world to emulate.
I’m so impressed by your efforts to organize this conference devoted to seeking solutions in a world scarred by antisemitism and rising hatred. The caliber of speakers and thought-provoking discussions are sure to have an impact far beyond this convention center. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your efforts to keep fighting hate on America’s agenda.
As we all know, there’s still much work to be done.
For the Jewish community, and ADL, the attack here in Pittsburgh weighs on our hearts as a painful reminder of what can happen when hatred is left unchecked.
ADL is the oldest anti-hate organization in America, and we started to see a worrying uptick in antisemitism and hate just a few years ago. The whole world saw what happened in Charlottesville in 2017 as neo-Nazis with tiki torches marched through town yelling: “Jews will not replace us.” And then the attack here in Pittsburgh…which was followed by Poway, Jersey City, Monsey – all of which took place against a wave of harassment and assaults in Brooklyn against the Orthodox Jewish community that continue today.
And then the January 6 insurrection at our Capitol, which was a culmination of this rising hate in many ways. On that day the rioters were seething with rage and embraced outrageous conspiracies including virulent antisemitism … which some proudly wore emblazoned on their sweatshirts or around their arms.
Let’s be clear: The unapologetic extremism and poisonous hate we saw on display at the Insurrection -- and that is what it was -- hasn’t gone away. Not by a longshot. Our experts at ADL are monitoring it, documenting it, and reporting it to law enforcement every single day because it continues. And they will tell you what the data over the past 20 years demonstrates: that extreme right wing violence has been the source of the vast majority of violent, hate-related murders in this country. The threat that white supremacists, anti-government activists and their ilk represent cannot be understated. It is a clear and present danger to Jews and other minorities that live among us.
But that is not the whole story.
Indeed, it feels like every day you can open up your phone, or turn on the TV, or pick up the daily paper (to those who still do that) and see instances of antisemitism and hate that could chill you to your bones.
For example, there are never-ending comments made by elected officials on all sides, from sitting members of Congress, from state legislators and in city halls, giving credence to ideas that Jews are only interested in themselves and hold powerful positions solely to steer government policies in their favor. These are followed by an ever-expanding pattern of Holocaust trivialization, distortionism and denialism, comparing the state-sponsored persecution, torture and slaughter of six million Jews to requests to wear masks indoors or to vaccinate our children to preserve public safety. There is no comparison.
Then there’s the continuing spread online of conspiracy theories so often rooted in antisemitism. From the bizarre -- like QAnon or notions of Jewish space lasers, which is not a thing -- to the more relatable, like COVID-19. Indeed, the global pandemic catalyzed a wave of bizarre and groundless antisemitic claims, such as the notion that the novel coronavirus was bioengineered by Israel to kill Muslims, to the idea that Jews singularly were responsible for spreading the virus, to the charge that Jews deliberately were profiting from the vaccines.
And that's a short hop to the constant, relentless obsession with, and demonization of Israel. We see this happen on our college campuses and even in the halls of Congress. When the Jewish state is involved, defensive systems that protect civilians of all ethnicities should not be funded because, somehow, they are symbols of racism or tools of government waste. Collective punishment by the Jewish state is criticized but applying collective punishment against the Jewish state in the form of boycotts somehow is laudable, even if the people behind these campaigns can’t clearly explain their logic when asked about it by a reporter.
Finally, who can forget the shocking surge of violence against Jews during the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel earlier this year…when Jewish people were brazenly and brutally beaten as they walked down the sidewalk or were eating a sushi dinner with friends. And to elected officials or public personalities who suggest that hardline Israeli policies are the actual root of the problem. Let me clarify: no one asked them about their views on a two-state solution or the Nation State Law before assaulting them.
Conflating all Jews with Israel this way is the epitome of antisemitism. It doesn’t matter if its adherents try to dress it up as antizionism. Antizionism is antisemitism, pure and simple.
Compare this to the universal public outrage around anti-AAPI violence, which was spawned by a blame game, by wild accusations, launched by our former president and his fellow travelers. No one in public life suggested that vicious harassment and random assaults of elderly Asian Americans was justified because of Beijing’s policies toward the Uighur community or because of its clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
Indeed, the unequivocal statements of support for our AAPI brothers and sisters appropriately were swift and inspiring. By the same token ,the equivocal statements or even lack thereof when Jews similarly were assaulted were shameful and indefensible.
What makes it even worse is that these waves of anti-Jewish racism, if we are being honest, are coming from all sides. No matter what you might hear from partisans on one end of the spectrum or the other, hatred of Jews is neither the sole province of the extreme right, or the radical left. Neither side of the spectrum -- neither side -- is exempt from intolerance.
Both are taken with different theories about how society works – or should work – that have no place for Jews. One side blames the Jewish people but claims to respect the Jewish state. The other side blames the Jewish state but claims to respect the Jewish people. Sense the pattern?
Both are normalizing antisemitism, using it as a weapon against their foes, instead of as a shield to genuinely protect the Jewish community and our interests.
This isn't some abstract fear. It is an unnerving reality taking shape around us every day.
ADL conducted a survey at the end of May, following the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and the rise in related antisemitic incidents here at home. We found three-quarters of American Jews were more concerned about antisemitism in the U.S. than before, and 60 percent of American Jews had themselves witnessed behavior or comments they personally deemed antisemitic.
The FBI’s most recent hate crime data released in August, while an imperfect snapshot, shines a light on this growing problem – revealing the highest total in 12 years. And attacks against the Jewish community made up a staggering 60 percent of all religion-based hate crimes.
We also know that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. Antisemitism may be the most persistent and prominent form of hate, but it almost always serves as a harbinger of other forms of hate. And this, too, is playing out right before our eyes.
While more people stayed at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has not reduced antisemitic acts or other hate crimes. As we heard from Gov. Locke just a few minutes ago, and as we are talking about here today, across the board, attacks were up against LGBTQ people, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and African Americans. Hate crimes against people of color alone rose a staggering 43 percent, and anti-Asian hate crimes nearly doubled as well.
While it’s not entirely clear what is driving these attacks, one should look no further than the disinformation and conspiracy theories peddled online and echoed by some elected officials and media pundits for signals that stereotypes are okay.
Take, for example, the recent mainstreaming of the white supremacist “Great Replacement Theory,” the conspiratorial and hate-filled notion that white people are systematically being “replaced” by people of color -- Mexicans, immigrants. Once the province of far-right extremists, this conspiracy theory has slowly moved into the mainstream – as I noted, it was on full display in Charlottesville by the mob that chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and later by the Pittsburgh shooter who sought out the Tree of Life because he blamed Jews for bringing hordes of non-white immigrants to this country.
Recently, we’ve seen “the Great Replacement” theory getting a megaphone from primetime TV hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham on Fox News. I've called it out again and again and again, because it is dangerous and disturbing that millions of viewers each night watch the open embrace of a conspiracy theory that has prompted unthinkable violence right here in the U.S. And yet, with each monologue on mainstream television, the fringe inches further into the forefront of our society.
And so we have to ask ourselves: When will this rhetoric stop? Will it continue until we have another El Paso? Christchurch? Pittsburgh? Another insurrection even? Or will it just continue unabated, even as more blood is spilled?
Then there is social media which is nothing less than a super-spreader of disinformation and hate. No service exemplifies this fact moreso than Facebook. As the revelations have come in over the past several weeks, we have been reminded of what we already knew: that Facebook lies and dissembles to the public while it rakes in billions in profits, its algorithms amplifying the most extreme voices in a way that would make Pravda pale in comparison.
It is appalling that it took the bravery of Frances Haugen to remind the world how Facebook’s leadership continues to ignore this problem and put profits over people. This is why ADL organized the Stop Hate for Profit campaign last year, a coalition of civil rights groups that motivated Coke, McDonalds, Starbucks and more than 1,200 of the most prominent brands in the world to abandon Facebook in July, to inspire a celebrity walk-out on Instagram in September and to ring a series of concessions out of Facebook for the first time in its 16 year history – from hiring an executive to overseas civil rights to classifying Holocaust denialism as hate speech to taking extremists off the platform once and for all.
And yet a year later Facebook is more imposing than ever. It has more than 2.9 billion users, $80 billion in revenue, and a $1 trillion in market capitalization, we've got to face the facts about its size and scope.
And so I believe it is long overdue for Facebook to do what any other business in any other industry would have done a long time ago – take its product off the shelf and fix it. Take it out of circulation and correct it. And demonstrate the moral leadership that the public should expect from you.
But since it seems unwilling to undertake this most basic act of self-repair, I would argue that the time has come for regulatory intervention. Whether it originates in Brussels or Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, governments must hold Facebook accountable for its malign practices and monopolistic indifference in order to protect our kids and our communities. To paraphrase what activist and entertainer Sacha Baron Cohen said at ADL’s Never Is Now Summit in 2019, freedom of speech has never been freedom of reach. And so it's time to shut that down.
So, what else will it take to move the needle in the fight against antisemitism and fight back against the rising tide of intolerance?
First, there is no silver bullet, no single approach that can turn the tide. In fact, we will need a whole-of-society strategy to heal our collective wounds and stop the spread of hate. That means all stakeholders – government bodies, political parties, businesses, media outlets, nonprofit organizations, houses of worship, colleges and universities, cultural institutions – we all need to join hands and work together, to pull us back from the brink and to steel ourselves for what promises to be a long battle. Frankly, your work here, in Pittsburgh, stands as a role model for the rest of the country in this regard.
We need our nation’s leadership to recognize the problem and, firmly and forcefully, condemn hate whenever it happens, especially when it appears among your own allies. You see, it’s easy to finger point and play politics, blaming the other side. It's harder to push back on peers, but there is nothing partisan in calling out prejudice. All leaders -- all leaders -- should embrace a zero tolerance policy on intolerance, period.
But we also need to convert the talk into action.
This starts with broad and innovative solutions. We need better data and more accountability, creative approaches and smart partnerships, responsible policy and better politics.
But it starts with discussion, introspection and understanding. Liberal democracy depends on such dialogue rooted in facts and a citizenry armed with information and thus able to participate effectively in an open society. That means creating the metaphorical space and the literal freedom so a person has the confidence to take a controversial position on a college campus, the courage to pull the lever of their choice in a voting booth without worrying about laws that would restrict that access, and the certainty to express an unorthodox idea, to stand up as an ally and to show up for others, perhaps even at a conference such as this one.
In my mind, that’s why today matters so much.
We at ADL stand ready to make our resources and experts available, and indeed, to work alongside you in any way possible, as we pursue our shared goal to eradicate hate.