Opening Remarks: The ADL 'Never is Now!' Summit in San Francisco

Remarks by Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League
  • November 13, 2017

San Francisco, CA, November 13, 2016

Good morning everyone. Thank you for being here.  I am grateful that you have all joined us this morning.

At the ADL, we’ve been fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism for more than 100 years. But until last year, we hadn’t created an open venue for dialogue about the issue, and so we launched the Never Is Now! conference last November. And as it happens, with all the troublesome rhetoric on the campaign trail and the spike of hate crimes that surged after Election Day, the timing just felt right.  

And yet, part of me hoped that we wouldn’t need to reconvene this year.  

That the awful, ugly, jarring specters of bigotry and division would jolt the world back to its senses.

That common decency would reemerge once the new president-elect transitioned into office.  

That white supremacists would be marginalized.  

That inveterate anti-Israel detractors would be called out and curbed on campuses.

I was wrong.

That didn’t happen. In fact, in many ways, one year later, things are worse than we could have imagined.

Just this weekend, thousands of people in Poland, who are part of a nationalist youth movement, marched for a White Europe with “Clean Blood.” This group has been holding marches since 2009 and had struggled to attract a few hundred people. But in the past three years, it has become one of the largest nationalist marches of its kind anywhere in Europe, and Saturday’s crowd was estimated at 60,000.

Thousands of people marching with torches with a message of hate! So how are we going to reverse these tides—both abroad and right here at home?

First, we need to accept a hard truth – we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. We have to come to terms with where things stand today.  

To be clear, hatred against Jews is not new. There’s a reason why it’s often described as the oldest hatred. Over generations, good people were able to push prejudice out of the public square and into the shadows. But today, it’s out in the open—in our schools, on social media, and everywhere in between.

According to law enforcement, hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions continue to make up the majority of faith-focused hate crimes in the America.

In the first nine months of this year, we tracked nearly 1,300 anti-Semitic incidents. Like the family in New York, whose home was spray-painted with the word JEW on the front door. Or the sixth grader in California taunted by his class with cigarette lighters, chanting they would “burn him like they did in the Holocaust.”

These are just two anecdotes, but there are far more stories that add up to a whopping 67 percent increase over the same period last year.

Second, we must fight this bigotry with everything we’ve got – for the safety of our communities and for the country we love.

As many of you know, ADL does this by tracking white supremacists and anti-Semites through our Center on Extremism and sharing information with law enforcement. We train the FBI along with city and state officials on hate crimes and implicit bias.  We reach 1.5 million kids every year through our anti-bullying programs. And those are just some of the highlights.

Third, we have to admit that anti-Semitism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A spike in anti-Semitism means a spike in all forms of hatred.

It’s no coincidence that the rise in anti-Semitic incidents corresponds with an attempt to implement a Muslim ban and people accusing refugees of being Trojan Horses.

Earlier this morning, the FBI released its annual hate crimes report. It confirms that, for the second year in a row, we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes nationwide.  Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 19 percent. And race-based crimes are the most numerous—with more than 50 percent directed at African-Americans.

Like it or not, when it comes to intolerance against minorities, there is tremendous overlap. Those who hate Jews tend to hate other minorities as well. And those who hate minorities tend to hate Jews. That’s why it’s critical for our community to work in coalition with others.

At the start of the Civil Rights Movement, there was a belief that Jewish people didn’t have a common cause with the men and women putting their bodies on the line in the streets of Birmingham, integrating lunch counters in Greensboro, and registering rural voters in Biloxi.

But groups like the ADL stepped forward at a time when it was not popular and filed a number of amicus briefs, marched in cities across the country and pushed for change.

Unfortunately, we don’t even need to look back that far to see how intertwined these causes are. In Charlottesville, men with torches claimed to be rallying to preserve “Southern Heritage” and soon were shouting Nazi-era slogans like “Jews will not replace us.”  It was a reminder that racism and anti-Semitism are weeds that spring from the same poisoned soil.

That’s why those who say we should only be standing with ourselves are sleeping through history.  The fact is, we’re never going to be able to effectively fight cruel intentions unless we stop compartmentalizing our compassion.  

It’s not just that Jews have a moral obligation to make sure that what happened to our ancestors never happens to another group of people… though we do have that obligation.  

It’s that if we don’t shout when a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy is detained by immigration agents…

If we don’t go to an airport and protest an unconstitutional travel ban…

If we don’t speak up in support of transgender people serving in our military…

If we look the other way in the face of intolerance, we are saying that our lives matter more than someone else’s.

That’s not Jewish. It’s not American. And it’s just not humane.

This conference is called Never is Now!, and last year, when we named it, it was a reminder to evoke the phrase “Never Again,” that timeless warning and call to action.

For us, “Never Again” always has meant that we would never again allow the hate that led to the Holocaust to take root. As Jews, we would never stand idly by in the face of bigotry when our future was uncertain.  

But for others in this country, uncertainty is not an abstraction.

Uncertainty is a reality for 800,000 DREAMERS, who live under a constant cloud of deportation.

Uncertainty fuels the gears of institutional racism that has persisted for generations.

Uncertainty is the consistent condition of LGBTQ youth, who every day fear bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We cannot afford to ignore their uncertainties just because we are not the victims. If we’re going to ensure that never again has real resonance, we need to fight all of this.  And fast.

That is why ADL has joined our allies in the courts, halls of Congress, and through public campaigns.  

But one of the most important places we’re going to have to prosecute this fight now is right here in Silicon Valley.

Technology reflects the values of those who use it. It’s not a magic wand we wave to eradicate suffering or uplift humanity.  In fact, if the last year highlights anything, it’s that technology can be manipulated with devastating consequences.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook that were intended to promote community and connection have been weaponized to create havoc, bully children, and even tamper with our democratic process.

Think tanks are speculating on whether companies are “too big for democracy.” And Senator Al Franken just last week said that companies have failed to take “common sense precautions” to protect their users.  

He’s right.  And yet, while I believe Washington must be part of the solution, lawmakers can’t move faster than Moore’s Law.  In a world with 60 billion messages a day processed through Facebook alone, we must admit that the velocity and volume of online hate exceeds anything that any single piece of legislation or congressional subcommittee can hope to overcome.

And that’s why we are convening here in the Bay Area today. We need to engage directly with the entrepreneurs and executives who are building our brave new world.

Many of the people sitting here in this room spend their days creating worlds that don’t yet exist, building products we didn’t know we needed, taking us to places we didn’t know we could go, and most importantly, designing a future better than most of us ever could imagine. But too often, when we try to be the best, the first, the fastest, we fail. When we race toward our future, sometimes we resign responsibility.

We saw this in the 2016 election, how it played out online and what happened offline.  And we see this every day in the slander and stereotypes that swirl on social media.

But this does not need to happen again. We do not have to accept a world dominated by products that extremists easily can exploit.  In fact, those same companies whose platforms have been hijacked have a huge role to play in revisiting these platforms and redesigning their products with an eye, not just toward satisfying our impulses, but also safeguarding our values.  

And there is no reason to believe that introspection will slow innovation. Far from it. Of course, creating a better future will require Big Tech to re-imagine a number of their core products and make some changes.  But I believe the vast majority of users would be willing to trade off immediacy for civility, anonymity for accountability, and chaos for community.

We already are starting to see some hopeful signs. YouTube now redirects users who request extremist videos toward content created to counter such extremism.  Instagram emphasizes kindness as a design criteria. A multi-party polling startup designed to drive compliments to its high school users was acquired recently by Facebook. By banning subreddits promoting racism, Reddit has significantly reduced hateful behavior on its site. And Twitter has partnered with the ADL, alongside Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, on a Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab to collaborate on technical strategies to stem the tide of hate.

But this is just a start. It’s not nearly enough, because if industry does not address these issues and our online civic community deteriorates further, I believe all of us lose.  Shareholder value will be destroyed if our shared values continue to erode. Companies cannot afford this outcome. None of us can.

But government and businesses cannot do this alone. Civil society needs a seat at the table. We need a new compact between legislators, entrepreneurs and advocates, between startups, senators and citizens, so that organizations like ADL and our expertise and experience can be part of the process.

Because the truth is this: No single sector can pull off this balancing act. The world is off-kilter and we need each other now more than ever.

In the past year, we’ve seen unprecedented attacks on our institutions that hold up our system, the very foundations of our democracy – the judiciary, the media, public servants, political parties, nonprofit groups – and we’ve seen a litany of insults and provocations in the news that force families to talk to their children about issues like bullying and intolerance far earlier than expected.

And yet I’m still very hopeful, because we’ve also seen people from both sides of the aisle, from all walks of life, step forward.  For example, just last month, I heard President George W. Bush give a remarkable speech and remind us that ”our identity as a nation – unlike many other nations – is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.” 

He shared these sentiments because he knows that hate has no place in our country and that we remain rooted in a tradition that calls to our better angels.  This is not Nazi Germany.  This is not Putin’s Russia. This is not Rouhani’s Iran.  America still remains the freest country on earth.  

But to realize its promise, each of us needs to participate. We have a stake in this democracy and a share of the institutions that make it work. And we have to fight to ensure these bodies are healthy and prepared for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

So let’s build on this moment, not just with resistance, but with a commitment to make this next chapter about renewal.

The very word “renewal” forces us to confront, not just what we fight against, but also what we fight for. I’m talking about reinvesting in the constitutional system and social contract that already makes the United States the greatest country in the world.

How do we do it?  Each of us can find our own way, but for starters, you can –

  • Renew your commitment to a robust democracy by registering to vote;

  • Renew your commitment to an independent judiciary by enthusiastically serving on a jury of your peers;

  • Renew your commitment to a free press by writing an op-ed or letter to the editor;

  • Renew your commitment to public service by taking the Foreign Service exam or applying to national service;

  • Renew your commitment to civil society by volunteering for a nonprofit or giving to a cause you care about;

  • Renew your commitment to pluralism by attending an interfaith Seder or hosting an intergroup Shabbat;

  • Renew your commitment to tolerance by speaking up for others when you see or hear slander, whether it shows up in your Twitter feed or at your Thanksgiving table.

This renewal starts here and now.  All of us are going to renew our spirit today and re-engage our civic muscles at this conference.

And we will ask you to refuse to stay on the sidelines when others are marginalized for how they pray, where they’re from, or who they love – even if it does not appear to be your cause.

Because that is not who we are. That is not who we will become. Not now, not ever. Never.  

And so we say, the renewal starts here because Never Is Now!

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