The calls to stop antisemitism once and for all were loud in the weeks and months following the attack at the Tree of life building. Vigils were held where speakers decried Jew-hatred — as well as hatred directed against other marginalized groups — and urged diverse communities to work together to fight it. Countless panels of experts were convened to discuss the history of antisemitism, its sources, the politics behind it and its proliferation online. Books were written. Webinars were broadcast.
Has anything changed since October 2018?
The reports of rampant antisemitic rhetoric, vandalism and violence, both in this country and abroad, continue to appear daily in Jewish media — although those same stories are often absent in secular sources. Headstones are overturned at Jewish cemeteries, or Jewish students on college campuses are harassed for supporting Israel, or politicians slip into antisemitic tropes. Or worse: Jews are physically attacked on the streets of New York, at a café in Los Angeles, in the heart of Squirrel Hill.
This week, a major global summit with the lofty goal of eradicating hate convened at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown (See story on pg. 1). World-renowned experts participated as keynote speakers or panelists, waiving their typical fees because of the urgent nature of the problem.
“They want to see things get done, they want to see the needle move,” one of the organizers of the summit, Laura Ellsworth, told the Chronicle. “They don’t want to just come and talk and go back to their desks. This is structured in such a way to drive change and check in at a future summit and see if you accomplished things.”
The aim is noble, even as we remain skeptical of its achievement — at least in the current divisive political climate, where those on both the right and the left often ignore or downplay antisemitism, and other manifestations of hate, coming from their own camp. Even leading into this summit, critics on both the right and left condemned the selection of some of the speakers for their purported complicity in proliferating hate. Notably, those critics were silent when it came to the speakers with problematic histories from their own side of the aisle.
A major theme in Jewish historian Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book, “Antisemitism Here and Now,” published just months after the attack at the Tree of Life building, was that both those on the left and the right should be “discomforted” by the antisemitism in their own ranks.
“That discomfort should be caused by an acknowledgement on everyone’s part that extremism and anti-Semitism are not found only among people on the other side of the political spectrum. As long as we are blind to it in our midst, our fight against it will be futile,” Lipstadt wrote.
We are encouraged that the organizers of the summit are charging its participants with spending the next year working on specific “deliverables” to combat hate, which will be evaluated at next year’s summit. But we hope those charged with finding solutions are wise enough to open their eyes to the many sources of hate and are willing to work to address all of them.
Perhaps this summit will be the one to make a difference. At the very least, maybe it will be a good first step. PJC