“When people are harassed and harmed in the streets, darkness prevails over light,” said Lisa Armony, chief impact officer and Rose Project director at the Jewish Federation of Orange County, in her introduction to a one-day immersive program called “Driving Out Darkness: Orange County Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate.”
Three hundred diverse leaders from all sectors of Orange County participated, including civic, government, nonprofit, faith-based, education, media and law enforcement.
“Each of us needs to be an agent for driving out darkness by spreading light.”
Armony coordinated the program to bring together national and local leaders to educate the community about the history of antisemitism and its current and complex manifestations. It was also designed to explore the relationship between anti-Semitism, other forms of hate and threats to democracy, as well as to provide tools and develop strategies to combat anti-Jewish and other forms of hate and engage with stakeholders to leverage collective resources to foster lasting partnerships and collaborations.
According to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, attacks on Jews fuel attacks on others. Thus, anti-Semitism cannot exist with democracy. What begins with Jews never ends with Jews. Anti-Semitism—the hatred of, and bigotry toward, Jews—is at historically high levels everywhere while other forms of hate crimes and incidents have also spiked in recent years.
Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center. a national hub for innovative responses to anti-Semitism, authoritarian movements and violence, offered the opinion that the world is going through great stresses.
“Shifting demographics are causing anxiety,” he said. “The far right is telling us it’s an existential threat, and the Jews are behind it. On the left, people are tapping into an anti-Semitism that already exists in the form of anti-Zionism. Anti-Semitism impacts other communities and causes real-world violence. It provides easy answers to complex issues by using tropes and creates an easy catch-all that people can use to suppress hatred.”
“Marginal communities are always vulnerable,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism. “Anti-Semitism is unique but universal.”
Part of the problem, according to some speakers, is that there is not one definitive Jewish identity. Judaism, according to Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, is not just a religion. It is an ancient civilization that has survived, and people who are part of it prioritize ritual, culture, values, national identity or some combination. Anti-Semitism can target them all.
He added that while Israel faces a complicated situation, adherents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement cross the line when they say Israel has no right to exist.
“After World War II, there was a dramatic drop in anti-Semitism,” Saperstein said. “Cultural constraints made it difficult to express racist or anti-Semitic views in the second half of the 20th century. Now there is a significant increase in hate crimes, thanks to the internet and social media. Now anti-Semitism is capable of taking on its own life.”
Dr. Liat Franco, a member of the Law Department in Zefat Academic College and a lecturer in the Law Department of Haifa University, shared the results of a survey about online usage among children and young teens. She related that children are online earlier in life, more than ever (5 to 8 hours per day) and have several social media profiles each. They are negatively affected by it.
“TikTok is the fastest growing app, with 1.5 billion active users, mostly children and teens,” Franco said. “It has unique features that make it especially troublesome in terms of hate speech and violence. Interviews with 31 children in Israeli schools showed that they believe online videos encourage acts of violence, and they are afraid to tell their parents about it.”
Segal said that some people are dedicated to disseminating hate speech online, and kids are helping to promote content that leads to violence. In real time, groups harass Jewish people and livestream it. They promote anti-Semitism and violence in real time while raising money.
While the conference concluded that there is no perfect solution to counter anti-Semitism, it ended on a high note with positive news about legislation to make high-tech companies accountable for promoting hate and grants to prevent hateful activities.
“We have to believe in our power to change the conversation,” Ward summarized.
Ilene Schneider is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.