Fostering Understanding in Our Community: Examining the Antisemitic Core of the White Nationalist Movement and its Local Expressions
Eric Ward & forward by Daniel Meisel
A national expert on the relationship between hate violence and preserving democratic institutions, governance, and inclusive societies, Eric brings nearly 30 years of expertise in community organizing and philanthropy to his role as Senior Fellow for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project and Western States Center’s Executive Director. Since his civil rights career began in the late 1980s, Eric has worked with community groups, government and business leaders, and human rights advocates throughout the country to expose and counter white nationalist hate groups, protect vulnerable communities, and make our democracy more inclusive. In addition to his work at Western States Center, Eric is the co-founder of Funders For Justice and serves as a board member for The Proteus Fund and Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), a nonprofit agency that provides artists with strategy and support for their activism and philanthropy. A contributor to the Progressive Media Project from 2008 to 2014, Eric has been quoted and cited extensively by national media and is the author of multiple written works including “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.”
Cornel Morton: Good evening. Welcome. My name is Cornell Morton and I serve as president of the Diversity Coalition, San Luis Obispo County. And on behalf of the board of directors, I'm very pleased to welcome you to tonight's program. Tonight's presentation is part of a series that we've titled Fostering Understanding in Our Community. And we are in for a very informative and very stimulating dialogue tonight on very top timely topics, as it turns out. In fact, tonight's presentation is titled Examining the Anti-Semitic Core of the White Nationalist Movement And Its Local Expressions. We have two outstanding guests with us this evening, Dan Meisel and Eric K. Ward. Dan will share a few opening comments and some commentary. Our featured speaker, Eric, Eric K. Ward will follow Dan. It goes without saying that these programs are not produced or arranged in isolation from opportunities to collaborate and opportunities to work with others throughout the county.
We are so grateful to our co-sponsors, to our collaborators and without them, much of this would not be possible in that way. We want to thank the Ben the arch program and congregation Beth David, two of our co-sponsors tonight. And we are indebted to each of them. Many of you are already familiar with the history of the coalition I've shared before, how we came together or how this group came together. As it turns out 10 years ago. Now back in March of 2011, when a number of citizens throughout our county came together to support a family, a Black family that had been victimized by a hate crime. And we are indebted to those individuals. Many of them still very active with the coalition. And so we want to be certain to recognize them. And in that way, this fall, in fact, on October 21st at the Seacrest Hotel. October 21st the coalition will celebrate its 10th anniversary. We invite you to join us. Stay tuned to the website, you'll see additional information coming forward.
There'll be a number of opportunities for us to learn more about how the coalition came together. There'll be a film, by the way, featured, No Restrictions Apply, a film produced by Jamie Lewis and Courtney Hale that deals with the issue of discrimination in housing, redlining to be specific, in SLO County. So please make note of that October 21st date and plan to join us. And we hope that you can do that. I want to mention as well that on our website, diversityslow.org, at the top of the page you'll find a tab that features the previous speakers that have been a part of the series. Those speakers are available for presentations throughout the year. Kathy Minck, our education chair, is your contact person. And when you take a look at that tab and information there, you can get additional information, those of you who are interested in the videos, those of you are interested in other resources and we are sharing those videos as well with you so that those of you who missed programs in the past can find those on that particular site.
I mentioned the October 21st program, we were again inviting you to join us. I want to mention as well something that came to my attention recently. On this coming Saturday, over at Montana de Oro, there at the Spooner Ranch House, Saturday, October 21st from two until 5:00 PM, a program titled We Are Not Strangers Here, African-American Histories in Rural California. We are Not Strangers Here, African-American histories in rural California. That exhibit, which is on display from two until 5:00 PM at the Spooner Ranch house is a exhibit that illustrates much of what many of us I think would be interested in, especially around the history of this county and its relationship to the African-American community.
The location I mentioned earlier is a Schooner Ranch House. It will be outdoors and the panel discussion will begin at 2:00 PM. So I invite you to consider attending that program as well. I'd like to introduce our speakers now. I mentioned that we have two guests with us tonight, and we are so fortunate to have these two individuals with us. Their calendars I'm sure are very busy, and so we are very much very grateful that they're there with us. Let me begin with Dan Meisel. Dan will share, as I mentioned before, some opening comments, and I'd like to share this with you about Dan. Dan Meisel is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League's office that serves San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura counties.
ADL is a national organization focused on anti-Semitism, extremism, civil rights and educating adults and children to counteract prejudice and bias. Before becoming regional director, Dan chaired local and national ADL volunteer committees focused on narrowing racial and ethnic gaps in educational opportunity and achievement and addressing unfair disparities in school discipline and incarceration of youth. Dan is also a writer and a producer of film and television. He was previously a first amendment and general litigation attorney in the Bay area. He is currently living in Santa Barbara where he grew up. Welcome, Dan.
Eric K. Ward. Eric is executive director of the Western States Center. He is a nationally recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence and preserving and inclusive democracy. In his 30 plus year of civil rights career, he has worked with community groups, government and business leaders, human rights advocates, and philanthropy as an organizer, a director, a program officer, consultant and board member. The recipient of the Peabody, Facebook Futures Media Award, Eric's widely quoted writings and speeches are credited with key narrative ships. He currently serves as executive director of the Western State Center, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and ace Forward, and co-chair for the Proteus fund. Eric is in high demand as a speaker and media source, and he is the author of multiple written works credited with key narrative shifts, including quote "Skin In the Game, How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism." He has been quoted in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the LA Times, Washington Post, ESPN, NPR, BBC, Rolling Stone, and numerous other media outlets and regularly publishes on Medium and the Oregon Way blog.
Eric is working on a forthcoming documentary about whiteness and race in America, and he is an aspiring singer-songwriter under the name of Bulldog Shadow. Bulldog Shadow. Welcome Eric. Thanks to both of you for being with us. We are again, indebted to you for this time. And we're looking forward to an interesting conversation. Obviously there'll be an opportunity for Q and A. And so those of you who are interested in raising questions or sharing comments, please use our chat mode for that and we will respond to those questions. So Dan, I think you're going to start us off. Welcome.
Dan Meisel: Great. Thank you for that introduction, Cornell. And for the invitation from the Diversity Coalition to contribute to this important conversation. I'm honored as well to be the warmup act for Eric. He's graced many ADL panels with his deep knowledge of these issues that we're going to be discussing this evening. My role in this event is to provide some statistical context for tonight's conversation and some sense of local impact and response. The response may come into Q and A. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Anti-Defamation League, it was formed in 1913 to address anti-Semitism. And in the additional words of its mission, to secure just and fair treatment to all, and the belief that no minority or marginalized community is safe unless all communities are safe. All such communities. It's long been a leading authority on identifying and responding both to anti-Semitism and to other forms of extremism and bigotry.
Responding effectively requires an understanding of the breadth and aggregate trends involved in the problem. So ADL annually collects data through surveys, through reporting of incidents by community members, and from the FBI's annual report of hate crimes. ADL's produced an annual audit of domestic anti-Semitic incidents since 1979. These aren't only anti-Semitic hate crimes, but anti-Semitic incidents reported to us by community members, by the media or law enforcement, and confirmed by ADL staff. I doubt you'll be surprised to hear that in recent years, anti-Semitic incidents occurred with alarmingly growing frequency. In 2015, we received 942 reports of such anti-Semitic incidents. That figure rose 34% in 2016 and more than doubled by the end of 2017, the year of Charlottesville, which by the way occurred four years ago, last week. Reported anti-Semitic incidents dipped only slightly in 2018 and then rose to the highest level ADL had ever recorded in 2019 with just over 2200 anti-Semitic incidents reported. There were still over 2000 incidents reported last year.
Now some of this growth could be attributed to increased reporting because of increased concern, but our audit team does not believe that accounts for a vast majority of the dramatic rise. The rise in reported incidents has not surprisingly led to feelings of insecurity amongst Jews in the United States and elsewhere. 63% of American Jews recently surveyed by ADL feel that their own communities are less safe than they were a decade ago. 77% are more concerned now about anti-Semitism generally in America, and 75% are more concerned about anti-Semitism abroad, where global anti-Semitism has been on the rise as well. The rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents also coincides perhaps on surprisingly with a dramatic rise of extremist bigotry of other kinds. In 2019, the FBI reported an increase of hate crimes in both frequency and severity with hate crimes based on race, religion, and sexual orientation at the top of the list. It was the highest year on record for hate crime murders.
ADL also tracks distribution of white supremacists and nationalist propaganda. To give you a sense of that trend, in 2017, there were just over 400 reported incidents of flyers and stickers related to a supremacist and nationalist ideology. In 2018, there were 1200 incidents. In 2019, there were 2,700, and in 2020, there were over 5,000 such incidents. Interestingly, 92% of the propaganda that I just mentioned in 2020 was distributed by just three groups, the Patriot Front, the New Jersey European Heritage Association and the Nationalist Social Club. We're talking tonight about anti-Semitism emanating from the right namely white nationalist movements. But I think it's important to mention that anti-Semitism exists and emanates from the left as well. During the Israel-Hamas-Gaza conflict in May, ADL recorded 115% increase in anti-Semitic incidents compared to May of 2020.
Incidents of violence against American Jews and the breadth and vitriolic nature of online attacks blaming Jews generally for the actions of the Israeli government were unprecedented. Far more of the incidents we encounter come from the right than the left, particularly with respect to violent incidents. But as I expect Eric will explain in greater detail, anti-Semitism from the left is fundamentally no different from anti-Semitism on the right. And both extremes tend to spread misinformation and embolden those less extreme to action. And that is where we tend to see impact in our region. On this issue of local impact of the anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 nationally, 16% were committed by extremist movements or groups of people that supported those narratives. That's not an insignificant number, but it does mean that 84% were committed by people not affiliated with extremist movements. And that speaks to the mainstreaming of action. I can't say we're experiencing a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes or beliefs, but I can say we're experiencing a rise in anti-Semitic action.
In the Tri Counties region we have reports of extremist group activity from time to time, including hateful flyers or flyers promoting extremist groups in downtown areas and on college campuses. We haven't been flooded with reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the last few years, but we have seen a dramatic increase recently. Last year in our region, so Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo counties, we had only seven reports of anti-Semitic incidents, but this year there've been 20 reports so far. They include a rise in swastika graffiti, t-shirts referring to the Jew flu, anti-Semitic, Zoom bombing of religious events and government meetings, and anti-Semitic rants from neighbors against other neighbors. A majority though of those who sought our help in 2020 were facing a range of issues other than anti-Semitism. We received a marked increase in reports of racist and other types of identity-based hateful conduct in person and online.
And we've seen a marked increase in particular of two types of incidents. One, the hateful and threatening content online directed at groups and individuals advocating against structural racism, and two, vandalism of or threats in response to signs expressing support for communities of color. Reports of anti-Semitism in San Luis Obispo County included one and possibly two swastikas spray painted on the property of a Jewish fraternity affiliated with Cal-Poly University. Images of swastikas and a Nazi uniform appearing on the Facebook page of an elected official in reference to the democratic party and its leader, and reports of anti-Semitic hate symbols etched in playground equipment. We also received disturbing reports in San Luis Obispo county of overt racism, including a Latino man verbally harassed with racial slurs by a passing motorist, a reportedly racially motivated attack on a mixed race couple in Pismo Beach, and a note with a racial slur left via a break-in at a residence of a Cal-Poly student.
To prevent and address these events and attitudes, we need to understand their sources and why they all too often go unchecked. With respect to anti-Semitism, part of the reality is a lack of awareness of what Judaism is, who Jews are, what anti-Semitism is, and how systemic anti-Semitism works. You can say similar things with respect to racism. So it's a wonderful idea for the Diversity Coalition to invite Eric here, to address the nexus of these two phenomenon. From better understanding we can fashion better collective response. And with that segue, I turn it over to you, Eric.
Eric Ward: Thank you so much, Dan. It's such a pleasure to see you and thank you for that opening and setting the context. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is happening every day around the country and around California. Just to bring this home, right before this presentation began, there is breaking news where the Los Angeles district attorney's office has announced that two Torrance police officers have been charged with felony vandalism and conspiracy charges for painting a swastika. And 13 current officers are under investigation for exchanging racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic messages. This is the reality we find ourselves in, in the United States. And often I'm asked how did a African-American who is not Jewish come to believe that anti-Semitism was a important issue to be tackled? My story actually starts in California. I'm the third generation of five generations of Los Angelians. My family came out to Los Angeles in the early 1900s after fleeing a lynching that had occurred in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, the lynching of Marielle Thompson who actually survived her lynching.
My family moved out at a time of a great wave of Black migration west to work in the shipyards and the airplane factories. And that's where my family grew up. I grew up uniquely at a time of desegregation, particularly the desegregation of the Long Beach Unified School District. Now desegregation at the time meant being giving a bus pass. And we took the city bus across town to the junior high school where I would then have to walk another five or six blocks to school. Now as a twelve-year-old, my back and forth to school once getting off that bus meant being inundated with racist threats and rhetoric. These weren't other kids, these were adults who were driving back and forth to work possibly. Or perhaps they were high school students and college students on their way to Cal State Long Beach who felt a permission to shout at a young 13 year old things like, "Go back to Africa," the N word, make threats, rev their engine.
That's what it meant for me to go to school in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade for three years. And it had an incredible influence, to a point where I decided that it was important to stand up against bigotry. That it was an important value, and not to allow people to be bullied. I wasn't alone in that. I also, why we talk about some of the horror of desegregation, there were also opportunities as well. Many of us got to know each other across lines of religion, gender, and class status for the very first time. Now, remember we're junior and high school students. And when you're in junior and high school and high school, the last thing kind of want to do is to stand out. But the one thing you want to do is you want to be close knit with friends and with community. Network is critically important at that age.
So it's interesting. I never told my mom, I never told a teacher that this was happening. And it happened to lots of students. And I talked to other students now and we share those stories. But the opportunity we found was in music. We built an identity that at least competed with the identities of our race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class status. And that music identity meant everything to many of us. It was the rise of punk rock. Soon I was in a band that went on to become known as Sublime. Some folks from Southern California may know that band. I was the lead singer before it changed its name to Sublime. Great times in Southern California. But that was my growing up. Then we began to notice something at our shows, that individuals began showing up sometimes wearing swastikas. And again, not for shock value. They were sending a message. And the message they were sending was that not everyone could belong in that scene.
And many of us were left with a decision. Did we try to defend this music scene that many of us had put energy and effort that belonged to us? Or did we walk away? That is what I found myself in, in the midst of the Southern California music scene in the seventies and eighties. Now these groups were violent and they were racist. But for the most part, we just thought they were bullies. We did not understand that there was more to it, and that they wanted to show up and physically attack us. Then I moved to Eugene, Oregon in 1986 with other friends. And I often say that this was a moment of growing adulthood and awareness. I remember I had two friends who were moving up to Eugene, Oregon to attend the University of Oregon. And they asked me if I wanted to move up with them. These are friends I had grown up with in high school, they're still dear friends to this day.
And I remember responding to them, "Hell no. Why would I ever leave Southern California and moved to Eugene, Oregon?" And I'm sure I didn't even pronounce Oregon right at the time. And if you could have looked in my brain, if you could have pulled back my head and looked in what you would have seen going on in my brain visually was San Francisco, a lot of trees, and the Space Needle, which wasn't even in Oregon, but in Seattle, Washington. I simply had no image of what Oregon looked like. I had never been to Oregon. I hadn't learned about Oregon in school. I had never seen a documentary on Oregon. I simply didn't know what it was. And because I didn't know, and I didn't have any information, I began to fill in my knowledge with myths and things I may have seen on TV that I thought might resemble Oregon. I remember now with embarrassment asking my friends if they thought Oregon had electricity, or if it had running water. Was there McDonald's? Was there-
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Eric Ward: Or if it had running water. Was there McDonald's? Was there MTV? Remember, this is the '80s. And I asked those questions not to throw shade, not to be insulting, but I really didn't know. And what I thought Oregon looked like resembled something more like Little House on the Prairie, from the 1800s. I imagined rural rusty roads and wagons. I simply had no idea to comprehend the place I was going. I often say that's how prejudice works. And we should remember that. Prejudice often causes us to fill in blanks when we don't have information and facts. And then we rely on that false information day in and day out to make life choices about our own behavior, behaviors of our community and behaviors of our society.
Luckily, though, I was brave. And I moved up to Oregon anyway. And when I got up there, I learned that, yes, there were places that were rural, that there were places where wagons were still used by some folks. But that Oregon didn't look like anything that I had imagined. But I had to take that courageous step myself to figure it out. Imagine if I had clinged on to those prejudices. If my mom had asked me, "What does it look like up there?" And I saw with my own eyes, had electricity and paved roads. And it was cities just like any other state. But by clinging on to my stereotypes, people would have thought less of me.
But every day we cling on to stereotypes about where we are and the things we know. And it is not only around movements, but also the ways we come to understand the world. When I moved up to Oregon, someone had moved up just ahead of me. And this is really the beginning of this story. His name was Richard Butler. He also was from Southern California. Unlike me though, he was older. He was retired. Former World War II veteran, and was a pastor. He had retired from Hughes Aircraft and decided to relocate his church from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest.
Unlike Oregon, he went a little bit more Northeast to a place called Hayden Lake, Idaho, where he opened up his church, Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nation. Now the Aryan Nations taught three things. The first was that Jews are the literal children of Satan. The second was that people of color were subhuman. And the third was that white, northern Europeans were the lost tribes of Israel.
Now this may seem ludicrous in 2021. And it probably seemed very ludicrous to me in 1986, 1988. But the truth is that those ideas weren't so extreme as we thought at the time. It simply had not been that long since mainstream churches had taught that Jews were Christ killers or the children of Satan. It hadn't been that long in US history, at the time, less than 50 years, that people were taught that black people were inferior, not fully human. And of course, as we come to know now, it wasn't the first time that other religions, faiths, societies had tried to usurp Judaism.
British Israelism had long been felt, and it had an influence both on white supremacy and other forms of organized racism that we'll talk about in a bit. British Israelism, in short, sought to replace Jewish people with those of European descent or other communities, and made a distinction between real and false Jews. Meaning that the real Jews were always these small grouping of folks who decided to claim Judaism, and that the false Jews were actually those who had grown up or converted to the Jewish faith, culture and peoplehood. It was this Aryan Nation that was active in the Pacific Northwest. They had a goal at the time, to create an Aryan homeland, an all white homeland that was free of people of color and Jews altogether. And that Homeland would be based here in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho and the states that touched on it.
This is the environment I moved up to in Oregon in 1980s, in the mid '80s. But it wasn't just rhetoric. It also included action. There was the bombing of churches in Senegal, the murder of a Jewish talk show host by the name of Alan Berg, who regularly debated Holocaust deniers who associated with the white nationalist movement at the time, on KOA Radio. He would take them on and debate them on their antisemitism. One night, so angry with him, they waited for him to arrive at home and gunned him down in his driveway. But there was also the murder and beating death of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student. Ethiopian student who was coming home with friends one night from community college, where they were attacked by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads who beat him to death with a baseball bat.
These are merely two of dozens and dozens acts of violence that occurred here in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, much of what the country is experiencing now, much of the Northwest was experiencing this nearly 30 years ago. What's different, of course, is the scale. But it is in this period that antisemitism became important to my analysis. This is pre-internet. And for those who weren't around in the pre-internet day, one of the things you should know is [inaudible] Google, there was no Safari. That's how people communicate. There was no email or very little access to email.
And so, how the white nationalist movement advertised itself and publicized and recruited was mainly through flyering. They would post flyers in a community as a warning, and both as a signal. Now, these flyers, we would collect them to try to understand how to respond to this white nationalist movement and it's violence. We built broad-based coalitions where you could see Republican farmers sitting next to purple haired, Mohawked, punk rocker. We didn't agree on everything. But we did agree that violence and bigotry had no place in solving the complex issues that we face as a community and as a nation. Simply, we needed to draw a clear moral barrier against bigotry.
I wasn't alone. Hundreds of organizers and organizations, local government, state government, law enforcement, business, and community activists came together and formed over 120 local human rights task forces in the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. That included groups like mine, but also groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, groups across the political spectrum. It may be hard to believe in this time, but conservatives, liberals, Progressive's, and even elements of the left came together to respond to that moment in the Pacific Northwest.
One of my jobs was to collect those flyers and try to learn what information we could from that flyer distribution and from the flyer content, were they targeting an individual or a community? Where they seeking to threaten, or were they seeking to recruit? But regardless of what the intent was, the thing we always knew was that those flyers always signal an escalation of tactics, typically violence or vandalism. For you see, white nationalists always grow tired of simply putting up flyers or posting memes. Eventually, they try to grow further.
As we were collecting the flyers, I noticed something very interesting. That the flyers were vilely racist, homophobic, anti Muslim, targeting the homeless, targeting immigrants, targeting Latinos, targeting our family members within the LGBTQ community. But no matter how racist or bigoted these flyers were, I noticed that there was always an antisemitic caricature on these flyers. It didn't matter if they were targeting black folks. It didn't matter if they were targeting the LGBTQ community. It didn't matter if they were targeting Muslims. There was always a character caricature, an antisemitic caricature of a Jew, or symbols such as the star of David. Typically, always positioning Jews as the puppet master and people of color and other marginalized communities as their puppets, usually on string. There would be references to slogans like the Zionist occupational government or the international Jewish banking conspiracy, or beware the globalist. No matter how bigoted these flyers were, no matter who they were targeting, it became clear that antisemitism seemed to be part of the focus.
I often tell people that I came to understand antisemitism not because of a kumbaya moment, though I wish I had that story, not because I was being an amazing ally, though sometimes I do get there. But I came to understand antisemitism because there was a movement afoot in my region, in my community, that was engaging in deadly violence. And it was targeting black people. It was targeting Latino, targeting Asian, targeting the homeless, targeting gays and lesbians, targeting immigrants, targeting Muslims. And if we hoped to respond to this movement, we needed to understand what the driver was. And that is what led us to antisemitism. You see, the white nationalist movement is a social movement. Just like we witnessed other social movements. The environmental movement is a social movement. The women's rights movement is a social movement. The labor movement in this country is a social movement. The white nationalist movement is also a social movement. It is a movement though that is not grounded in inclusion, but exclusion.
What is it's origins? Well in short it's origins' is this. The white nationalist movement arises as a direct reaction to the success of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Let me say that again. The white nationalist movement in the United States is birthed out of a direct reaction to the victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Let me explain really briefly. Previous to the 1960s, white supremacy was the unchallenged rule of law in the United States. White supremacy was based off an idea called white superiority, that on one end of the spectrum were white people who were superior based off of their perceived genetic makeup, basically the color of one's skin. And on the other end were black people, who were seen as inferior based off the color of their skin. And in between the spectrum were other community groups, other folks of color, ethnic groups, religious groups that could ebb and flow within that paradigm. But that was the established paradigm. Then in the 1950s and '60s, along comes the 1960 civil rights movement.
Now you might say, Eric, why are you saying the 1950s? Because if we remember, the 1960s civil rights movement that we often refer to had most of its major victories in the 1950s, whether we're talking about Rosa Parks, Little Rock, Brown vs. Board of Education or other. This is the important thing to understand about social movements. There is no hard beginning date. And often, when we think of a movement, what we're thinking of is its peak. By the time we witness a peak, usually social movements have excelled in influencing conversation nationally. So too was it with the civil rights movement.
Along comes the civil rights movement, black led, Jewish and other allied, who challenged successfully the idea of white superiority as the single lens upon which we understand our society. It broke the back of white supremacy, at least as the rule of law. Now I'm not here to say white supremacy no longer exists. As an African-American male, I can attest each and every day that white supremacy very much exists here. But what I'm saying is that it was contested terrain.
Now imagine for a second, you believe in white supremacy, the idea that white people are superior in every way, and that people of color can be exploited for the benefit of white society. You didn't have to be taught that. You were socialized in that way across generations. You see black people as inferior. Now imagine for a second, you wake up and realize that you've lost, politically, you've suffered the most significant political defeat against people you see as inferior. How do you explain that? Do you suddenly just say, "Well, I guess I was wrong. Black people must be equal after all."? Well, after seventy-five years, I can tell you that is not what we have decided as a society. It's still a contested conversation. The fact we argue about whether we can even say a basic thing like black lives matter is a measure of how far we still have to go.
But we have come a distance nonetheless. And what we did, shocked those who saw black people as inferior. But they had to come up with an answer for why they lost. And they borrowed from things they had learned. Perhaps they had come across it in a newspaper, from the Dearborn Independent published by Henry Ford. Or perhaps as veterans in World War Two. They came across the many copies of the story in Europe. What they decided was that they couldn't have lost against black people. For them, that was impossible. They must have lost to something else. There must have been another reason. And here starts the first evolution of the white nationalists' a big lie. They borrowed from a book and a narrative called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It was a fake narrative developed by Russians Tsar's police in the early 1900s, because Russia was scared about the spread of democracy in Europe. It purported to tell a story of Jewish elders who gathered in a cemetery at midnight to plot the takeover and the destruction of European Christiandom.
When we hear the terms white genocide, or Jews will not replace us, or replacement theory, in this country today, it derives directly from this fake narrative called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It was spread through Eastern Europe. It was spread through Western Europe, particularly France, during the Dreyfus affair. And then, as Russia began to face its own trouble, and folks began to flee, the protocols made their way to the United States where Henry Ford, a rich industrialist, was so taken by The Protocol that he republished them under a series of essays called The International Jew.
The protocols taught that Jews were part of a global conspiracy to destroy European Christiandom through the takeover of politics, the economy, culture, and other avenues of society. It purported to list a number of examples, tropes, Jews controlling the financial systems or both, running capitalism and communism because the contradictions didn't matter. The bigotry did. It is the protocols of which Americans were exposed to by Henry Ford. But Henry Ford was so taken by them and their implication that he also influenced Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany awarded Henry Ford its highest civilian award. And, taken by the protocols as well, issued at least two dozen copies during its lifetime. It is those protocols that drive primarily antisemitism in the United States today, and the white nationalist movement.
The white nationalists movement, as I said before, decided it didn't lose to black people, that it lost to a Jewish conspiracy. It's often why I say antisemitism isn't just at the core of white nationalism. It is the core of white nationalism. And it is so central to white nationalism that I believe, as a racial justice activist, that black people and other marginalized community will never obtain race equity in this society if we're not also active in the struggle to uproot anti-Jewish hate. Amongst 21st century white nationalists, Jews are cast in the same role they have always filled for anti-semites, as the absolute other, demon stirring a pot of lesser evils, and a driving force behind white dispossession. At the foundation of the modern day movement is the explicit claim that Jews are a separate race. And their ostensible position as white is argued by the white nationalist movement to be the greatest trick that the devil has ever played.
Jews, despite, and indeed, because of the fact they're seen as white, are often placed by white nationalists as an enemy race that must be exposed and eliminated. It is that fantasy of invisible Jewish power that explains how black Americans, as I said before, a race of supposed inferiors, could orchestrate the end of Jim Crow, how feminists and the LGBTQ community could upend traditional gender roles, and how immigrant workers and even poor white people could mount a challenge to economic inequality.
Folks often ask me, where is the antisemitism in the white nationalist movement? My response is that it's everywhere. When the Tree of Life shooter said Jews were committing a genocide against white people, he was using language that was intimately familiar to his fellow white nationals. It is such rabid antisemitism that is the framework in which the entire movement functions.
Listen, it is not just Jews who pay the price of antisemitism in American society. Whether we are talking about Charlottesville, whether we are talking about an individual who walked into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened up fire, or an individual who walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, targeting Latinos, or an individual who walked into a synagogue in Pittsburgh or in Poway, opening fire, or a shooter in Poway. Sorry, I just said Poway, in Gilroy, California. Regardless of the targets, we all need to understand that it was antisemitism that drove each of those activities. In each of those cases, the murderers believe that they were in an existential war with the Jewish community. We see this day in and day out.
It is not an exaggeration to say that most mission oriented hate crimes in the United States are largely driven by an antisemitism. That means most of the victims of these mission-oriented hate crimes are killed not only because of racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, but also because of antisemitism.
In short, antisemitism may be more dangerous to the non-Jewish community than the Jewish community itself. I often tell folks within the racial justice and human rights movement, that we have to understand that to refuse to deal with any ideology or domination is to abet it. Fighting antisemitism cuts off the animating force of white nationalism for the sake of all of our community. Fighting white nationalism is a serious threat.
I'm not here today to debate whether antisemitism is worse on the left or right. Any rational person understands that the outcomes of antisemitism in this country are most viscerally expressed by the white nationalist movement and those who revolve around them in this society. But I'm also here to say that white nationalists don't come to our communities or into our society bringing antisemitism with them. They merely organize the antisemitism that already exists. If white nationalists are tapping into antisemitism, it is because antisemitism exists within the larger society, including on the left. Does it function in the same exact way? Of course, there are differences. Within the white nationalist movement, Jews are seen as a racialized other, as something wholly different than human beings. We certainly don't see that to the degree in the left, that we see it-
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:48:04]
Eric Ward: ... see that to the degree in the left that we see it on the right, but antisemitism functions in different ways on the left. It positions Jews as a nefarious other and at a level that we do not treat other communities or other people. Why? Because it draws off of the antisemitic tropes that runs so freely in our world. Folks often ask me, "How prevalent is antisemitism at the cultural, political and societal level?" It's easy to track it in hate crime, but how easy is it to track in society? Well, the challenge is really there for us because most antisemitism, just like racism, is unconscious and usually embedded in stereotypes and tropes that we often don't even recognize as stereotypes and tropes.
You remember when I began this conversation about my move to Oregon filled with stereotypes because they were the only information I had so I constructed a whole vision of what Oregon looked like? Well, this is what happens in terms of antisemitism. There simply has not been enough conversation on antisemitism in order to inoculate those who are vulnerable to it. And who is most vulnerable to antisemitism? Is it the most wealthy in our society? No. Antisemitism wasn't created for them. Antisemitism, like all forms of bigotry, play a role in our society and the role of antisemitism is to place Jews as a buffer between the haves and the have nots in a society in order to give the have-nots a scapegoat, a place to take out their frustration within a society.
Is that new news? No. antisemitism has been used that way now since the 1800s and folks can point to earlier forms of Jewish hatred that did the same thing. What we have to understand, when we see antisemitism within the black community or the Latino community and we say, "Why is it more prolific in those communities?" It's because antisemitism is functioning in the way that it was created, as a distraction to the actual problems that we need to face in a society. We hear antisemitism each and every day. We just don't often recognize it. We hear it when people are talking about globalism. We hear it. When people talk about the east coast establishment. We hear it. When people talk about academia or intellectuals. We hear the terms of antisemitism as the same way that we hear it. When folks are talking about the Black community, we just don't recognize it. Trust me. When someone says welfare queen or affirmative action baby or thug, I know exactly what they mean and I know exactly the frame that they are adopting.
But when people talk about globalism, when people talk about replacement theory, we pretend that it's not antisemitism and that is the weakness of antisemitism on the left and within the racial justice movement. We have our work cut out for us because we have a long way to catch up. For many years, antisemitism was not part of the national discourse, not within social movements and not within larger society. Folks often say, "Well, but we do talk about the Holocaust." Now, I think that's the beatable how much the Holocaust is talked about, but talking about the Holocaust, as important as it is, is not the same as talking about antisemitism, right? Imagine, by point of comparison, that we only discussed racism through the lens of lynchings in the 1920s and 1930s. Imagine if we only measured the severity of racism in America in comparison to lynching through the waves of lynchings that we faced in those periods, we would fall short.
In the same way, we often measure the severity of antisemitism in comparisons to the Holocaust and pogroms and it is insufficient to understanding this issue. Why? Because bigotries evolve and change over time. How it might've looked in the 1920s is not how it might look today. In the same way, racism of the 1920s is not racism of 2021. So we have to open up space and our understanding of antisemitism and we have to understand that it is in the broader society and that there are elements of the left and within the racial justice movement that have adopted antisemitism largely within the conversation of Israel and Palestine, largely within the frames of Zionists.
Here's the problem, though. If you're not well-versed on antisemitism, you are going to make stumbles within, you are going to make antisemitic stumbles. You can't help it. In the same way, as if one doesn't come to understand racism, you're likely to say or do things that will be considered racist. When those things happen, though, do we treat everyone like Louis Farrakhan or David Duke? No. We have to understand the difference between those who fall mistakenly or unconsciously within antisemitism and those who seek to do it intentionally in order to build power. With the former, we need to be more patient and engaging and with the ladder, we need to begin to build the coalition to hold them accountable.
At the end of the day, antisemitism isn't going away. It is not just merely a set of individual behaviors. As I said, it is an ideology that explains the world to far too many people and it is a coded ideology that is not always expressed in overt antisemitism. People don't often use the international Jewish banking conspiracy as a trope today, but we still talk about the international banking conspiracy and wink and nod. There is much work ahead of us and we should stop worrying about whether antisemitism is on the left or right and start worrying about antisemitism regardless of where it exists, regardless of whether it looks different because we can't tackle it on one end of the political spectrum and be successful without tackling it across the political spectrum.
That means understanding that antisemitism is a form of racism. It places, Jews as a racialized other. That means the fight against racism is also the fight against antisemitism. We don't defeat racism without tackling antisemitism in this country, but neither can we successfully tackle antisemitism without seeing it as part of the struggle for racial justice. Thank you. Dan, I'll turn it back to you or others.
Sara Conn: All right. Thank you. I'm Sara Conn with the coalition and I'm just going to field some questions. Thank you so much for being here with us tonight, though, Eric, and also, Dan, thanks for spending your evening with us, with your expertise and your experience and your anecdotes. We usually have a pretty robust Q & A, so please, everyone listening and attending, please put your questions under the Q & A tab and we'll go through those.
First of all, you mentioned, Eric, at the beginning of your talk that prejudice develops when we fill in these gaps in our knowledge with misinformation. How do we, especially in the age today of social media and the internet and all that misinformation out there, how do we fill in these gaps with the correct information?
Eric Ward: Yeah. Look, it is hard to contain the big lie and social media platforms have made that even more difficult. And we have to understand that whether we're talking about the big lie surrounding the debate around critical race theory or whether one should get a vaccine or whether the election was stolen or whether Jews are helping Muslims and refugees invade the United States, the list goes on. At the core of this is always the idea that there is a secret cabal someplace plotting right and planning. And I often say, what we have to begin to do is to begin to prepare leaders to understand conspiratorial types of thinking, the conspiratorial style. That's the first thing.
In our leadership development programs, whether we're talking about elected officials, whether we're talking about the heads of nonprofits, whether we're talking about business leaders, we need to engage more fully in helping people understand the components of conspiracy. It's a pretty basic set of steps and I think all of our organizations could really lean into that work and it would make a difference. People look still to their leaders, thought leaders, community leaders, for direction and validation around issues. And when we can't say, when we can't deconstruct that, it leaves our communities and constituencies more vulnerable. So that's the first step.
The second look, I just want to give credit to groups like the Anti-Defamation League, Muslim Advocates, Southern Poverty Law Center, Color Of Change. I know I'm leaving other amazing groups out of that, but I want to just recognize the hard work that they all have been taking on not over the last year, not over four years, but over eight years, really pushing these social media platforms to be more responsible. And I don't think they're asking for very much. Basically, what they're asking for is that social media platforms should have to abide by the same rules that media platforms have to abide for, CNN, Fox news, CBS, The Oregonian, The Los Angeles Times, they all have a set of rules that they have to abide by where they can't just throw up big lies.
I just watched recently, shockingly, the demonstrations that have been taking place outside of a salon in Southern California, the We salon where there have, in the last three mobilizations individuals have been stabbed, journalists have been attacked. This salon is being targeted over anti-trans and anti-masking zealots and I want to say that I've watched social media platforms promote the lie that a trans person exposed themselves. Look, the Los Angeles police department has come out and said this is untrue, but yet, I can find it posted over and over again on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, despite everyone knowing that it's untrue. And it has created violence and I just want to say this: social media companies say they can't do anything. The Anti-Defamation League and others say, in fact, they can. I believe these national groups, you know why? Because if I post a video of a song, these media companies will take it down within 30 minutes. If they can take that song down, they can take down lies off the internet. They just choose not to in this moment and it's a hard one to confront until these companies become as responsible as we are asking individual citizens to be.
Dan Meisel: At a very basic level, when we were responding to incidents of bias, the bottom line, I mean, the foundation of response is two elements: you want communal condemnation and you want meaningful engagement and the nature of the communal condemnation and the meaningful engagement are totally dependent on the facts of the situation, they dictate how you determine that communal condemnation and response. And the engagement can mean education, it can be informing people about these things that they are ignorant of.
The problem with the online space is that they are not only creating, but they're financially incentivized to create the opposite, which is to draw people into these silos where they don't experience a diversity of condemnation, they experience only like thinkers and they experience validation. They experience amplification from these algorithms that invite others to join who may be impressionable or looking for information.
They do it in anonymity and with privacy, so it's the exact opposite structure that you'd want to create to redirect or to respond to negative behavior with correction and information. So that has been really the impetus behind our effort to have social media platforms not only accept responsibility for regulating the content on their site, but to concede that there are mechanisms they couldn't put in place to improve their structures to help identify this hate that is occurring. And possibly, we need to amend this protection that they have that Eric referenced from any liability for this information that they're not simply publishing, they are amplifying for their own financial benefit that is resulting in this polarization in addition to the amplification of hate.
Sara Conn: Someone asked, "When you're talking about antisemitism on the left, who is the left that you're referring to?"
Eric Ward: Yeah. Yeah. Typically, the way that the political spectrum is set in this country, when we're talking about the left, we're specifically talking about folks who hold an opposition to capitalism. Now, look, everyone gets thrown in there. Again, we have stereotypes. An example of that is when the anti-sematic attacks and murders were happening in the New York area who were targeting Jews, largely, the Orthodox Haredi communities, and we all know of the, of the horrific shooting that occurred in Jersey City. We know the machete attack that happened in the Brooklyn area. We're aware of some of these other stories that happen. And what was interesting is, because the perpetrators were black, they were immediately assigned to the left. Now, I want folks to stop and think about that.
Apparently, being African-American in this country is the equivalent of being the left. Now, the thing is, these folks weren't they were indeed Black, but they weren't out of the left. These were a far right zealots who also adopted their own version of British Israelism. They were anti-Semitic folks who were authoritarians, who don't believe in progressive politics or left politics, but saw Jews as usurpers and these were a segment of the Black Hebrew Israelites.
So when we're talking about the left, politically, we're typically talking about folks who hold anticapitalist positions, but often, how it gets explained is anyone who is identifiably not a Nazi who holds antisemitic views. So that often includes elements of the human rights movement, racial justice movements in this country as well or just individuals of color.
Sara Conn: Any comments, Dan?
Dan Meisel: Just that I think there's a distinction, or you may see a distinction between, specifically when we're talking about Israel and Palestine, that some of the attitude that comes from what we're referring to the left is actually a Palestinian nationalism that is a distinct from a civil rights framework. So I'm often careful when it's coming from a poor Palestinian perspective to question, well, are they relying on antisemitic tropes? Are they challenging Zionism in a way that crosses a line into antisemitism? But I don't know that it's appropriate to refer to that nationalistic perspective as the left. And yet, there is a larger portion of the civil rights community that have adopted the cause, have adopted the concept of intersectionality and that, I think, is more the framework that we're talking about when we're talking about the left and human rights concerns and yet employing the same tropes and blaming Jews generally for the conduct of the Israeli government, that is, in our mind, antisemitism from the lens of a more left civil rights perspective.
Sara Conn: There's a question along those lines, "What role does antisemitism play in our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?"
Eric Ward: Oh. It plays a significant role for far too many people. Not always consciously, though. So folks aren't always aware of it. And in the same way, folks aren't always aware of their anti-Black racism. We're not all conscious of these things and there's lots of studies, from all kinds of sources, including the military, law enforcement offices, not just from the left that reinforce that we sometimes function unconsciously in our bias. And in the same way, I don't think we can ignore that one of the main tenants of unconscious antisemitism is the idea that Jews are somehow nefarious, are up to no good, to use straight talk. And this shapes, I think, in this society, too much of non-Jewish interaction with the Jewish community and it's why we often see the Jewish community get held to standards that other communities simply aren't held to.
And I've seen this within the racial justice piece, and I'm not talking about internal discussions around Jews of color, which is a really critical piece within the Jewish community, I'm talking about a larger perception of how non-Jews see the Jewish community. It is often framed that somehow the Jewish community is more racist than other communities and we hear this over and over again, but the fact is that that rarely registers true. And somehow, the other one is that the Jewish community is more reactionary than other communities and that's simply not true in terms of data.
So there's something about unconscious antisemitism that, and usually through the most common tropes, that position Jews in a way, that always places them at a disadvantage and always in a position of having to justify either their self-interest or their existence simply in a way that other communities don't have to do. And that's unconscious antisemitism, in my opinion, and it certainly plays out in the conversation around Israel and Palestine.
Dan Meisel: The only thing I'd add to that, a wonderful answer, is that we are in a world of binary framing of conversations. If you're not with us, you're against us. And we see that play out in discussions in the Israel, Hamas, Gaza context of if you support Israel, if you're a Zionist, you must be unconcerned with human rights. You must be, you can only be on one side of the equation. And the answer is, we need to dig more deeply into these complex questions. We need to discuss nuance. We need to have not multiple truths, but we can have feelings that are in conflict with each other that we need to work through. We just need to address these issues with greater complexity than that binary framing.
Sara Conn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). "Early in the 20th century, the Jewish community, especially from the Northeast US and particularly Jewish women, helped American Blacks in the south. Could you describe the pushback against Jews for their efforts in Black freedoms?"
Eric Ward: Yeah. It's an interesting history, and again, much more nuanced, you know, than, by way of example, we often hear the story that one day, one day Rosa Parks, as a Black woman was tired and on that one day that she just happened to be tired, she refused to give up versus seat on a bus and was arrested and lo and behold, like manna from heaven, the next day, everyone just knew to stay off the buses. And not only did they know to stay off the buses, but they knew like through osmosis to give a ride to one another for an entire year. And then at the end of the year, the Montgomery Bus Association just realized segregation was bad and ended it and everyone lived happily ever after. that's how we're taught the story of Rosa Parks.
Now, we all know there is a much more deeper, richer, inspiring story then that. Rosa Parks didn't just one day not give up her seat. She wasn't the only person to not give up her seat. She wasn't the only person arrested. And she was a long time organizer in her community. She and others strategized around a campaign to challenge racial segregation. They were very well equipped and it was significant to the launch of the civil rights movement. We were also told myths of the civil rights movement in lots of different ways. In one, we're told that Jews were essential to-
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:12:04]
Eric Ward: One we're told that the Jewish community was essential to the coalition. On the other we're told that Jews weren't that significant. Well, both of those actually aren't true. There's versions of truths to that. The truth is that the Jews were significant to the success of the civil rights movement, and there's nothing wrong with saying that, right? And we're not just talking about the 1960s period, but we're talking about the 1940s and the 1950s, right? The 1970s and '80s as well.
But what we're also saying was we also have to be honest. The entire Jewish community didn't show up for that civil rights fight, right? The Jewish community is taking credit for a smaller subsection of that community. A subsection of which many got a lot of heat, right? Herschel took a lot of heat for his leadership within the civil rights movement. A lot of communal leaders got a lot of heat for their sympathies and support.
So there's much more of a mixed story there in terms of the Black-Jewish relationship within the civil rights movement. Can I add one more really quickly? Because this is going to blow everyone away. The Jewish community now acts as if it had no self-interest in the civil rights victory and that's also not true. It's often painted that Jews showed up, those Jews that did show up merely as allies. But look, there were three cornerstone victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, right? The Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act.
And then the one we never talked about which is the Immigration Act, right? The Immigration Act ended white supremacy in immigration policy. White supremacist policies that had been put in place that prevented Jews from fleeing to the United States. Fleeing Europe to the United States that turned back Anne Frank and her family.
That was one of the three cornerstones. It's called the three cornerstones of civil rights movement, right? That was a Jewish victory within the civil rights movement. That was also a national victory within the civil rights movement.
And so we have to understand, it wasn't just Jews came to help black people. There was a segment of the Jewish community that found its own self-interest. And that is what made up the 20th century civil rights movement. It was a powerful coalition of Black and Jewish civil rights activists who were concerned about creating a society where everyone could live, love and work free from fear.
But what gets painted today is some paternalistic idea that Jews showed up for Black people, and now Black folks need to pay the Jewish community back. Think about that kind of statement, when in fact what we need to be constructing is the 21st century civil rights movement in this country. And just as Blacks and Jews were significant to the 20th century civil rights movement, they are essential to the 21st century civil rights movement as well. They will have different issues, they will have different tensions, but the thing we understand now is that anti-Semitism has to be on the table of that 21st century laundry list of issues that we need to contend with.
Sara Conn: Yeah. Thank you. Eric, you've talked about what you call Inclusive Democracy. How can goals for Inclusive Democracy impact our opposition and activism against anti-Semitism?
Eric Ward: Yes. So Inclusive Democracy, I should explain, right? Inclusive Democracy means transparent, accountable government that includes, that recognizes that all of us have to have a society where we can strive and have opportunity. It is basically an idea that no one gets left behind as American society continues to evolve and grow. And that equity is one of the defining values of that society.
That's what we mean by Inclusive Democracy. I think it's important in terms of, how do we use that lens in struggling against anti-Semitism? One is is I think there's a call in here that needs to happen. Again, I'm not Jewish, so this is not really my call, but I think the Jewish community in terms of the issue of anti-Semitism has to figure out who is it trying to call in, and who is it trying to just hold accountable?
So I suspect when David Duke says something anti-Semitic, you're probably not trying to call him in, though I might be wrong, I don't know. But you're probably not trying to call him in. You are probably trying to signal and create a moral bearing. But is that the case with everyone else, right? Is it that everyone who makes an antisemitic comment gets cut off in terms of the moral barrier.
That may be the case, but I got to tell you if I didn't work with everyone or every organization that did something racist, well, I'd have very few folks to work with. Right? And there'd be very few rooms that I'd probably find myself in. So we have to give ourselves, I think like Dan said, there is a path here towards productive engagement that is going to be exhausting. So let me say, it's going to be exhausting, you're going to be frustrated, and it's going to get more messy, just like when you clean your room and you decide you're going to clean your closet, your room gets more dirty at first, but then clean. That's what's happening right now around the engagement of antisemitism.
People look at the conversation on the left and say, "well, oh my God, there's so many more antisemitic things being said." Well, I think we're just noticing more. Right? And it's getting unpacked and we're talking about it. It's actually a good thing that we're beginning to see and notice these things and we're figuring out how to lean in. So that's the first piece of Inclusive Democracy. What is actually productive engagement, and who are we trying to draw a moral barrier against hate?
The second thing that I think folks can do, is we need to pay attention to local state and federal government. And we have to keep the pressure on. We have to keep the pressure on elected officials to speak out forcibly against antisemitism regardless of where it comes from. It's really, really important because it signals that it's a critical issue to our society.
The third is this. We should stop focusing less on who is an antisemite, and more on what is antisemitism? Is it antisemitic when elected officials get up and start talking about globalists because they know a portion of their base understands that that's a code word, right? Is it antisemitic when Jews keep getting used by political movements as a buffer or as a tension because they know it will lift up them and their stories in the press if they attack Jews. Right?
These are kind of the questions we need to begin to dig into. Those of us who are truly concerned about antisemitism. And we have to figure out how we are going to cut off the oxygen to the use of antisemitism in order to build political power. And that means campaigns, campaigns that people join nationally and join at the local level that are educational and accountable.
Dan Meisel: I like your point about, "It's working with the institutional structures that we have. Challenging the faults of these structures, but not undermining the legitimacy of these structures." Because what we find is when we undermine the legitimacy of our democratic institutions, that's when conspiracy theories flourish, that's when fear flourish, and that's when, usually it's marginalized and minority communities that bear the brunt of of the blow back.
And so yes, we're particularly concerned when we see people in positions of public trust, expressing antisemitism, expressing racism, because that speaks directly to who is managing the levers of a government that we want to trust, that we need to trust. And so we don't endorse candidates. We don't reject candidates. And we try not to use words of, "So-and-so is an antisemite," and "So-and-so is a racist." And instead, "This comment was antisemitic. This comment was racist." So that we're in a mode of education and calling it out where it is not just as a rebuke to the speaker, but as an education to a larger audience, whether the speaker was intentional or not. The reception of that message is what's important by those that are out there, that may be more impressionable.
Eric Ward: That's right. I think everyone should belong to the local... You should belong to a local chapter, either the ADL in your community, a racial justice organization. You can't do it as an individual. There are things you can do as individuals, but let's be clear, this is a larger problem. I don't think I have to make the case. I used to have to argue with folks that antisemitism was a problem, less so after Charlottesville, I think folks started agreeing with me there. And I used to have to argue that white nationalism was a real concern, but I think after January 6th, I think folks hear me. So I hope folks hear me on this one, right? We actually have a chance to get out ahead of antisemitism. I don't have to look... The Anti-Defamation league can tell you better than me, right? This is not an aberration, this is an arc.
And we've seen anti-Semitic arcs through history, and I'm not here to say this is horrifying arc and we all need to hide, right? That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that antisemitism gets used as an ideology to recast the way we see our world. And it typically gets used in moments when people want to collapse democratic practice and at a time when to do so is best done through the othering of other folks.
It is usually used as an attack on democratic practice. It's usually used as an attack on modernism, right? All the worlds or countries ills get placed right on the backs of the Jewish community, and it always signals more physical attacks and not just against the Jewish community.
So we really do have an opportunity, I'm just going to tell you as a person who has tracked the white nationalist movement for three decades, and as was an African-American attended far right gatherings, paramilitary gatherings where white nationalists were in abundance, we have a chance to get out ahead on this issue of antisemitism. We have a chance to turn the clock on it, but we have to enter this not as partisan. Not just being concerned about antisemitism on the left or antisemitism on the right, we have to come in saying that it's time to untwine antisemitism from civic life and from the political process. We can do that.
Dan Meisel: And I see a question in the chat about ethnic studies, which is one of the arenas where these conversations are occurring. And I think the answer is that we have to treat public and private schools as an engine, as one of our best opportunities to conduct these conversations with trained leaders of these conversations. And it's possible to have these conversations in non-partisan ways. It's possible to have them within the context of an ethnic studies class or as a supplement to the ethnic studies class if antisemitism is the part of that district's or that school's Ethnic Studies curriculum.
I get concerned about resolutions like we just saw in Paso Robles that specifically pull out particular teachings and say, "Teachers cannot teach this. They cannot have this conversation in the classroom." It can be interpreted to mean that students can't talk about their own ethnic background and how it has informed them and their perspective on these conversations.
So what we need to do is broaden these arenas to have these conversations and make sure that we're providing those who are facilitating and leading these conversations with the training that they need so that these conversations are facilitating meaningful exchange of perspectives, not indoctrination, that they're non-partisan, but they're informative, and they're teaching kids to think critically and to be knowledgeable about these issues.
Sara Conn: I think we have time for just maybe one or two quick questions. I'm going to wrap it up at about 7:30 so I apologize if we didn't get to your specific question, but we covered a lot of ground so hopefully we still answered your question, even if I didn't get to your specific one. A couple of people are mentioning Zionism, can you talk about the connection between antisemitism and anti-Zionism and maybe define Zionism?
Eric Ward: Yeah. Well, I can't define Zionism. I'm not an expert in that area. So I'll let Dan define it and also speak to this. But what I'll say is, look, can a person be anti-Zionist? Yes. And I can come up with some specific examples of why that is. And a person can just not like different forms of nationalism. Right? So yes. But that's not what I think we're talking about. What we're talking about is when Zionism gets placed as something nefarious in comparison to other forms of nationalism. And what I mean specifically is when Zionism or Israel becomes stand in or substitute for the word Jew, right? That is when Zionism for me and critiques of Israel begin to cross the line into antisemitism.
The other thing I'll say really quickly. It doesn't mean, I'm a human rights activist, so I have strong opinions about human rights policy and human rights treatment. What I'm saying here though, is something very different. Which is, "If you too care about those issues, it behooves you to be stronger on antisemitism. When you stumble into antisemitic comments and tropes you weaken your own arguments, your own discourse."
And that's why I think it's critically important. But look at the end of the day, what I'm here to tell folks is we almost lost our democracy on January 6th. And if you don't understand how close we were, despite notes and information coming out from Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, military leaders who were deeply concerned about what was transpiring, you probably won't believe me, but I'm here to tell you that antisemitism drives the narrative that got us to January 6th, and put lives at risk, not just in DC, but around the country.
And I'm here to say, look, if we don't tackle antisemitism, we're going to be facing way more January 6th that will make that look like a picnic. And I don't know how to be any more blunt as a person who has spent time with white nationalists. There aren't out there playing cosplay, costumes, because they're having a festival. They're out there practicing what it looks like to overthrow a democracy. And it's time for us to begin to close ranks, and understand we're going to have some big disagreements, but there is no room for any form of bigotry, including antisemitism, in building the necessary movements and communities in government relationships needed to respond to this threat on democracy. Then I'll let you speak a little bit more directly to that.
Dan Meisel: Well, your answer was, was wonderfully what we should be talking about. Zionism refers to really the right of self-determination of the State of Israel to be a Jewish state. And there's a political conversation that would take a lot than the minute we have left here to address that. But it really is, it's the use of the conflation of Zionism with bigotry of Jews or accusation of bigotry on the part of Jews that that's where the conversation is that's relevant for this evening. And I think that's what Eric addressed so eloquently there.
Sara Conn: And I know we got to go, but I just want to hit this one last question probably for Dan. I know there are people on this meeting right now, and people locally who have experienced antisemitic incidents in the last few years, what do we do? How do we report those?
Dan Meisel: You can go to adl.org, or you can go to santabarbara.adl.org. And there is a button there that you can report an antisemitic incident. In fact, you can report any incident of hate. We produce an audit of antisemitic incidences and not of the reports, but we respond and provide support to the other reports that we receive.
And so when you report an incident, then we follow up and see what support we can provide, and if we can't provide it, who we can refer you to. And there are a number of organizations. Bend the Arc is one, Jewish Federation in San Luis Obispo. The Hillel at Cal Poly, as well as ADL. Were all organizations that are there to provide support in response to antisemitism and to provide education about Judaism, antisemitism, structural antisemitism. So welcome your call at any point to discuss what you're experiencing in your area.
The report is important because that helps us collect the data, and the data is what helps us come up with policies to advocate for that will create meaningful change. You need that aggregate data to see trends, to help create effective, meaningful responses in the grander scheme.
Sara Conn: I'll shoot it back to our president Cornel Morton to say some final words.
Cornel Morton: Yeah. Thank you. Can you hear me? I guess I'm unmuted.
Sara Conn: Yes.
Cornel Morton: Okay, great. Start video. All right. Anyway. Hey, I just want to thank you, each of you. I want to start with... Just let me wait a minute, I'm sorry. There we go. Okay. Yeah. I want to start by just acknowledging how very important this conversation is tonight. As Sarah just mentioned locally, as you know, we've experienced a number of incidents and behaviors that can only be described as hate crimes and can only be described as antisemitic. And the conversation is important because I believe it helps all of us to know more about what we're dealing with and to quite frankly, to form greater community. I appreciated Eric's comments about Inclusive Democracy, for example, and how important that is as a reminder that we're all in this together as we move forward.
Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Kathy. Kathy has been instrumental in making certain these programs are available. She is our education chair, and I want to acknowledge her as well. I want to go back very quickly to mention that the program that I cited early on, on this coming Saturday, August 21st, out at Montana de Oro, is a panel discussion at two o'clock that includes Cheryl Vines, co-founder of the NAACP county. So county NAACP and Judy Drake, who spent 45 years plus in the Cal Poly library. I mentioned already Dan Krieger. I also want to raise just two things. One of the issues that I know we deal with very often is interpretations around free speech. And I just wanted to toss that out. I know we didn't get into that very much, but we have to deal with that. And we have to find better ways, I believe, in confronting and turning back toward those who are filled with hate. The inability, if you will, to you use so-called free speech rights as justification for their hate.
And then lastly, I just want to thank all of the folks who tuned in tonight and to encourage all of us to continue to work as hard as we can, and to be as active as we can in addressing these issues. Thank you so much. I mentioned too, by the way, real quick, October 21st Seacrest Hotel, where we'll host our anniversary, our 10 year anniversary.
We are going to honor three individuals. Sadly they've passed on, but Dr. David Kann, who was professor at Cal Poly for a good number of years, very much engaged in social justice work in our community. Dr. Khan. Adam Hill, former county supervisor, and Rudy Xavier, our past emeritus president, who was an executive with the Xerox Corporation.
Those three individuals among many others, but those three especially will be honored on that evening. So thank you again for your participation, and we look forward to seeing you at, or at least experiencing perhaps Zoom before October, but certainly by October 21st, we will be in person at the Seacrest, and we're looking forward to seeing you there. Thank you and good night.