Remarks at ADL's 2021 Never Is Now Summit on Antisemitism and Hate
November 9, 2021
Remarks as delivered.
Thank you all for joining the 6th annual Never is Now conference.
As we meet, the world’s nations are gathered in Scotland to address one of the most pressing and existential crises facing our planet: climate change.
The first warnings that carbon emissions may be accelerating the warming of the planet were made way back in 1988. And, over the years, scientists, activists and politicians rang the alarm bells.
Some steps were taken, but the rate of emissions kept going up…“once-in-a-century” storms happened every few years and many dismissed them as flukes. Meanwhile, the climate kept changing...and now in our time, it is all rapidly accelerating.
You might ask: so, Jonathan, what does this have to do with antisemitism?
Let me explain.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen things, like all of you, that I never would have imagined.
We’ve been shocked. We’ve mourned. We’ve worried about the future. And in thinking about anti-semitism in America and around the world, I actually find myself coming back to climate change.
You see attacks of the far-right are like the hurricane bearing down on you right now. Immediate and deadly, we need to protect ourselves and our community from such lethal threats. But what also worries me, more and more, is the antisemitism taking shape on the left. Which is more akin in many ways to climate change: slowly, subtly, but surely, the temperature is increasing.
Often people don’t perceive the shift or choose to ignore it even when they were once uncommon storms. But the environment is becoming more hostile, and the conditions threaten to upend life as we know it if we simply sit back and do nothing.
My friends, we must contend both with the storms in front of us -- and with the changing climate of intensifying anti-Jewish hate. We can’t allow politics and polarization to prevent us from seeing one side or the other. We can’t just point fingers at those with whom we may disagree or turn a blind eye when prejudice festers even among our friends.
This is not an either/or issue but a matter of both/and.
Because make no mistake: unlike virtually every other issue in American life, antisemitism knows no partisan bounds. It needs to be fought aggressively whether it comes from the right or the left. It must be confronted even if that means taking on old friends and long-standing allies.
Remember this: neither a Trumpified Republican Party nor a Corbynized Democratic Party is good for our community -- or, frankly, for America.
Last month, I took a trip to Europe, which had me thinking of the first time I went there as ADL CEO back in 2016.
At that time, I was struck by the prevalence of police cars outside shuls in the UK or metal detectors at a Jewish museum in Brussels. And, I was stunned to meet members of the French Foreign Legion who were stationed in front of a Jewish day school in a Paris suburb. And, the leaders across Europe who echoed antisemitic tropes seemed to me like a strange vestige from a land that invented inquisitions and pioneered progroms.
Unfortunately, now it is all too familiar and frightening -- and frankly hits far closer to home.
I mean, after Pittsburgh and Poway, what shul in America wouldn’t have an armed guard?
After tiki torch-lit marches of neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us,” what Jewish school or community center wouldn’t erect taller fences or install metal detectors?
And, after Brooklyn and Times Square, what Jewish person wouldn’t tense up at the sudden sound of footsteps behind them even in broad daylight?
After the thirtieth time a politician compares the state-sponsored genocide of six million Jews to mandates to wear masks indoors...or when a major news network gives an hour to its top demogogue to run a special on the threat of George Soros, who doesn’t start to worry?
And so, as I stand here in Washington DC...where the Capitol was the site of a violent insurrection earlier this year.. led by right-wing extremist groups, let me be crystal clear -- these are lethal threats to our democracy, potentially cataclysmic forces that could destroy life as we know it. And we must protect ourselves.
Indeed, ADL has identified more than 50 individuals who were involved with the attack who have direct ties to right-wing extremist groups.
And, as we saw on January 6...or in Pittsburgh three years ago...and as the ADL Center on Extremism literally tracks daily, these threats from the right are like category-5 hurricanes bearing down on us, threatening to bring immediate violence and overwhelming harm. In the face of this, we do need to both defend ourselves and work to combat it aggressively.
And yet, at the same time, we also must contend with intensifying antisemitism on the left which, as I previously said, could be compared to climate change. Slowly and steadily, the temperature is rising. Surely, there are occasional storms, but too often people choose to ignore the signs, or deny that there is a pattern, that anything is changing. But, by any measures, the metaphorical temperature is climbing, and the conditions are worsening, and it's a situation that threatens to upend life as we know it.
What is taking hold is, at its worst, a belief that all Jews somehow are oppressors -- part of a white establishment that has exploited racial and ethnic minorities for generations.
Now, this would come as a big surprise to my grandparents who fled Europe for their lives - only to come to this country and experience discrimination. Or to Iranian or Ethiopian Jews who came more recently but also seeking refuge from vicious persecution. Or to say nothing of the growing numbers of Jews of color found in every one of our communities… including my own family.
Now, it is crucial that we realize that despite all the laws on the books and the hard progress that’s been made, there is still discrimination against African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslims, and other minorities in our country today.
But to claim to fight for justice for all, yet ignore the Jewish experience is not just wrong. It’s dangerous, an ugly form of historical revisionism motivated by malice.
The same goes for using the lens of American race relations to try and explain the complex and completely unrelated Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It makes no sense. Yet, voices on the left -- growing louder and louder -- are embracing these views. Yes, the climate is changing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there certainly are things that the Israeli government has done that deserve rebuke. But, criticizing the actions of a government is categorically different than deeming it illegitimate because of wildly inaccurate claims that it is instituting “apartheid” or leading a “genocide.”
It is fundamentally different from calling for its eradication either by explicitly or implicitly supporting a so-called “one-state solution.”
Slandering Israel as “settler-colonial” or “white supremacist” is flat-out wrong on the facts and little more than a deliberate effort to conflate the Jewish State with the misdeeds of others in order to degrade its support and condition the public for its demise.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Denying the right of Jews -- alone among all peoples of the world -- to have a homeland is antisemitism. Singling out just the Jewish state for condemnation while ignoring others, is prejudice.
And, unfortunately, these positions appear to be increasingly popular.
It explains why last month Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist, announced to the world that she would not allow an Israeli publisher to publish her latest novel in Hebrew. Yet interestingly, she had nothing to say, no protest to offer, about the prospect of her novel being published in China or Russia or Iran, where her previous works also have been printed.
Or recall just a few weeks ago, when a so-called progressive organization right here in DC called for the removal of Jewish groups, such as tthe National Council of Jewish Woman from a broad coalition advocating for DC statehood because the Jewish groups were perceived to be “Zionist.”
ADL pushed back. It became news all over the country. Yet scores of progressive organizations that have partnered with ADL or other Jewish groups for decades said nothing, not even a tweet.
Because being anti-Israel is popular. It is trendy.
Ask your sons and daughters away at college.
They will tell you of the professors who would rather preach their politics than teach their classes. Or the student governments who propose resolutions supporting the BDS movement.
Or of the university presidents -- who are quick to jump on any other sign of bigotry-- but could barely bring themselves to condemn the hate directed at Jewish students on their own campuses earlier this year during the conflict in Gaza.
And, we all remember those tense weeks in May.
During this time, we also saw how this changing climate indeed can produce raging storms.
Jews walking down the street in New York City attacked in broad daylight.
Jewish diners enjoying a sushi dinner in LA, assaulted on the street.
ADL tracked a dizzying rise in antisemitic violence during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Incidents began a steep upward climb on May 11 as the military operations were initiated. We logged 251 incidents from that date through the end of the month, and that was an increase of 115 percent over the same period in 2020.
In the face of these threats -- the immediate violence of a bomb cyclone and the intensifying threat of climate change -- we...with your support...are acting.
Now, we know there is no “silver bullet” so instead ADL is taking a whole of society strategy to heal our collective wounds and stop the spread of hate.
First, we are working closely with the current Administration and allies in Congress from both sides of the aisle to implement our PROTECT plan, a comprehensive agenda to take on domestic terrorism, antisemitism and hate.
We are advocating for our ideas on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And ,the White House just released the first-ever National Strategy on Countering Domestic Terrorism, and its a plan that tracks closely to ADL’s recommendations. And on Capitol Hill, we secured the passage of new hate crime legislation to address the rise in anti-AAPI hate and we continue to push for an increase in funding for the Non-Profit Security Grant program to protect our community’s institutions.
Even as we fight for our issues, we continue to also support others in need. I was proud that ADL incubated and then launched The Asian American Foundation earlier this year, sharing what we have learned over the past century with the AAPI community. I’m delighted that Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP has joined me as co-chair of the Sports Leadership Council so we can explore how to use athletics to overcome intolerance and elevate hope. And ADL has educated thousands -- from Latino communal groups and relevant consulates -- to address the rise of hate crimes directed at people living in the US who hail from Central or South America.
Beyond these efforts, we have accelerated our work to reform social media companies on whose sites antisemitism and hate is spreading.
I think it’s appalling that it took the bravery of a handful of whistleblowers to remind the world how Facebook’s leadership continues to ignore this problem and put profits over people. They misled the public about the spread of information that led to January 6th. They said that they were doing everything they could to stop hate on their services, but ADL disproved their claims with our analysts’ findings and with independent studies, and now we know from their own internal research that they knew they were not telling the truth.
We recognized the critical role Facebook was playing in fomenting extremism years ago. It’s why you heard from Sacha Baron Cohen at the last in-person Never is Now Conference. It’s why we organized the Stop Hate for Profit campaign in 2020, a coalition of civil rights groups that motivated Coke, McDonalds, Starbucks and more than 1,000 of the most prominent brands in the world to pull their ads from Facebook.
Our coalition managed to wring a series of concessions out of the company for the first time in Facebook’s history – from hiring an executive to oversee civil rights to classifying Holocaust denialism as hate speech to ejecting extremists off the platform once and for all.
Now third, we are emphasizing partnerships at ADL like never before, working hand-in-hand with the rest of the Jewish community to serve our shared interests.
For example, ADL partnered with Hillel to help prepare students for the rising tide of antisemitism on campus, and that partnership is poised to grow. We have collaborated with the Reform and Conservative movements to serve as a resource for them to assist their institutions from synagogues to summer camps, day schools to youth groups.
We are also now working with the Community Security Service that supports more than a hundred orthodox shuls across America.
And our major investment in Integrity First for America, the non-profit bringing landmark lawsuits against neo-Nazis and white supremacists who were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, has borne real fruit as the trial is going on right now.
These are all meaningful steps forward for the Jewish community. But really, they are the consequential actions for the entire country.
Because, as you know, hate often starts with the Jews, but it doesn’t end there. It inevitably leads to more xenophobia, more racism, more homophobia...more hate.
That is why despite all the challenges -- from the right and the left -- that we have discussed at Never is Now, do not forget that we have allies. We have friends. We have neighbors who know they cannot turn a blind eye.
That’s why our fight is their fight, and their fight is our fight.
We see it in the work of Mohammed Al Samawi, who received the Daniel Pearl Award earlier today. Mohammed is the founder of The Abrahamic House, an inspiring interfaith community space that builds bridges between individuals of different religious traditions one by one.
We see it in the non-Jewish members of Parliament in the UK who stood up to the seething antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn and today are working hard to save the Labour Party.
And we see it in the broad coalition of allies who came together for our Stop Hate for Profit campaign in 2020.
Working in concert with others is the only way that antisemitism and hate can be beaten back.
We must work together, see our common humanity, and resolve that never is now.
Thank you for joining us. I hope to see you -- in person -- next year.