New York, NY, December 3, 2018
Thank you for that kind introduction, and welcome to our third annual Never is Now conference.
You know, ever since I started as ADL’s CEO nearly three and a half years ago, the thing that has kept me up at night is the fear that I will wake up the next morning to the news that something horrible has happened to a Jewish community in some far-off place.
I worried that one morning I would awake to learn of an attack on a school or synagogue where some crazed extremist had massacred a classroom full of students or a sanctuary full of worshipers. In my mind, the locale would be Paris or Istanbul or London or Tehran, and the reason would be simple: they were killed because they were Jews.
And, over these few years, I have stood with a heavy heart in otherwise unremarkable sites that, in recent years, have become holy places, consecrated by the blood of Jewish martyrs.
I have laid tefillin inside the Hypercacher market in Paris where gunmen took 15 hostages and murdered four Jews.
I have bowed my head in the Jewish Museum in Brussels where a terrorist opened fire and killed four tourists.
I have stood in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem where worshipers were butchered in cold blood as they said their morning prayers that same year.
I have said a kaddish at the entrance to the shul in Copenhagen where a gunman slayed a security guard who died protecting a bat mitzvah celebration.
And each time, I walked away worried about our brothers and sisters in Europe and comforted by the fact that: it couldn’t happen here in America.
Then, there was Pittsburgh.
My worst nightmare – OUR worst nightmare -- had happened here.
It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. I am sure that all of us will remember where we were when we heard the news. And many of us in this room know someone affected from that amazing Jewish community.
And as we reflect on that tragedy, that’s why now, more than ever, it is so important…so gratifying…to see all of you here today.
Because while the horror of this massacre is shocking, it was not entirely surprising.
ADL has been tracking and fighting anti-Semitism for over a century. And while Jews have enjoyed an extraordinary, historic degree of acceptance and achievement in the United States, recent trends are alarming.
While anti-Semitic incidents generally had been declining for more than a decade until 2016, last year we saw the largest single-year increase since ADL initiated our annual audit 40 years ago. Regardless of what some might say, this is a plain fact.
This was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, a surge that included high-profile incidents such as neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” along with high-profile acts of vandalism and a seemingly unending series of cases of bully, harassment and intimidation.
Part of this sharp rise came from a large increase of anti-Semitic incidents in grade schools and college campuses. These nearly doubled for the second year in a row. And for those with any lingering doubt, the latest FBI statistics corroborated what our researchers already had found: a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes overall, with more than half of faith-based hate crimes — 58 percent — committed against Jews.
Anti-Semitism has endured for eons, across cultures and countries. So, the questions my staff and I asked ourselves are: why this? Why here? Why now?
To start, feeding this upsurge in hate is the toxic soup of anti-Semitism found online.
Whether Facebook or 4chan, social media creates its own realities for individuals. People feed off the anonymity. After all, it’s easier to insult or attack a person when you don’t have to confront them in real life.
These cowards then use their namelessness to attack Jews or others, often with some of the most disgusting imagery and language you can imagine.
Believe me, I see it in my own feed – every…single…day.
Social media also enables you to tailor what you read and whom you speak with so that it can feel that everyone thinks and talks as you do. Pretty soon, the abnormal becomes normal. Taboos fall away.
And as much as this is distorting, it also can be empowering. Recall that the last thing the Pittsburgh murderer did before heading off to the Tree of Life synagogue was to post about it on Gab, a hotbed of anti-Semitism.
This is not just a problem for the online world. A similar phenomenon is unfolding in the real world too.
When anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric is elevated or tolerated -- either through appropriating the anti-Semites’ rhetoric outright, “dog-whistling” to them, or just allowing their hate to go unanswered – it sends a signal.
Over the past few years, these signals have been crystal clear to the anti-Semites and the bigots.
It’s sad to say, but increasingly, it seems that we are witnessing the normalization of anti-Semitism in our country.
This past year we saw a record number of explicitly and unapologetic extremists and bigots running on the ballot in campaigns at all levels this past year.
And we have seen a shocking surge of anti-Semitism on campus with most university administrations pathetically slow and fecklessly stumbling in their responses.
And the rate to which this new language has seeped into the mainstream is stunning. There are those — including the president of the United States — who rail against “globalists” that are ruining the country, a term popularized by the Alt-right who regularly use it as a euphemism for Jews.
During this past election, there were television ads run by mainstream political candidates and parties that shamefully portrayed the Jewish philanthropist George Soros, casting him as a grotesque caricature pulled right from the pages of the Protocols of Zion responsible for all the world’s ills.
Earlier this year, a Congressman from Florida invited a Holocaust denier to sit with him in the Capitol and watch the State of the Union. And a city council member in our nation’s capital claimed that the Rothschilds were manipulating the weather. Neither of these elected officials was censured or disciplined by their respective bodies.
This fall, another member of Congress, Steve King of Iowa, endorsed a neo-Nazi for elected office and openly met with a far-right, anti-Semitic political party in Austria on a visit ironically paid for by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. And yet he also faced no consequences.
Earlier this month, Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, called Jews “termites,” and too many leaders — many of whom have dedicated their lives to social justice — overlooked it, noted but dismissed it, or simply continued to embrace him nonetheless.
And when such behavior is acknowledged, even the contrition can be chilling. Just a couple of weeks ago, one leader while she ostensibly was apologizing to the Jewish community for her insensitivity to anti-Semitism, in the same breath leveled the classic anti-Semitic stereotype of dual loyalty, claiming that Jews only pretend to be progressive because, actually, their real allegiance lies with the Jewish state.
Now some have said – all these happenings are not equivalent.
I get that. And I agree. But make no mistake, all these incidents matter.
And so, my friends, this must end.
All of it.
Across the spectrum, all Americans — online and offline — and all responsible leaders from across our society – whether you sit in the Oval Office, in the C-suite, or in the Dean’s chair – it is time to step forward and clearly, consistently, and quickly denounce anti-Semitism and hate.
People of all faiths and ideologies must speak out clearly and quickly against anti-Semitism, scapegoating, and stereotyping in our society.
But the good news is that the American people are good. I am proud to report that many are doing this. Americans of all walks of life are standing with us – just as we stand with them.
I felt it when civil rights leaders from across the country reached out to me in the hours after the news broke of the horror in Pittsburgh to express condolences and ask how they could be helpful.
I saw it in Pittsburgh when Wasi Muhammed of the local Islamic Center told me about the $230,000 that he had raised from the Muslim community to repair the Tree of Life synagogue.
And I was reminded of it just a few days ago when I heard firsthand from the Jewish students at Duke how the non-Jewish students of color joined hands with them after the community repeatedly was targeted in recent weeks by anti-Semitic attacks. Together, they demanded that the Duke administration do more to fight hate.
We must value these gestures because it takes courage to stand up, to reach out, and to speak out.
And, now at this moment, mustering that courage is the charge for each and every one of us.
So, if your favorite politician is attacking George Soros or the “globalists,” or a member of Congress from your party is embracing Holocaust deniers, you must stand up and tell them to stop. And do so even if they profess love for Israel up and down.
If your allies in a range of social justice causes or commentators on our news channels demonize the Jewish state and deny the Jewish people the same right that they demand for others, then they need to know that they can no longer be your ally.
If your favorite social media platform continues to refuse to remove anti-Semitic garbage from its site, then vote with your clicks and deactivate your account.
And as we do this, let’s not lose sight of what it is we are saying or standing up for.
We are speaking up to stop prejudice – not to score political points.
You see, in these moments, the Jewish community must be united. Yes, we have our differences. Of course, we will argue, and argue, and argue about them. But we should not allow some to exploit this moment for partisan gain.
Because when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism we…must…be…united.
Now, I know this isn’t easy. It’s not pleasant to tell a friend or a fellow traveler that they are wrong. It can be hard to pull out of a group because of the bigotry of its members. And it can be painful to break up a relationship because of someone’s beliefs.
But this is a small price to pay when we remember the price that Jews have paid throughout the ages.
Indeed, as we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, we owe it to them to we stand up for our values now.
Because we know from our history how the story ends when good people stand down. We have seen the cost of silence. We have paid the price of passivity.
And so we will be vigilant and demand that our allies and friends be better because the fight against anti-Semitism isn’t just our fight. It’s their fight, too.
And, just the same, the fight against racism, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Muslim bias, and homophobia – as a proud Jew with so much privilege, these are my fights, too.
In this moment we will be for ourselves, but also, we will be there for others
Because now is the time to act.
Now is the time to stand tall.
Now is the time to get to work.
Because Never Is Now.