Journalist Jonathan Weisman and former Sen. Harry Reid at panel on anti-Semitism at UNLV April 11. (Photo: Dana Gentry)
“I’ve been involved in political life in Nevada since 1963,” Harry Reid told an audience gathered for a discussion of anti-Semitism Thursday at UNLV, noting he crisscrossed the country during his time in a variety of offices, including Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. “Never in all my travels did I hear a single slur that was anti-Semitic. I’m not foolish enough to believe it wasn’t out there, but I never saw it. Sadly, it’s here in Nevada.”
Reid noted recent anti-Semitic incidents in Las Vegas — and what he described as a “rash of anti-Semitic events” at UNR.
“Spray painting with swastikas. Kill all the Jews,” Reid recounted.
“We’ve seen this, sadly, close to home. Bernie Sanders came and visited with Landra and me a few weeks ago and he left to give a speech for a gathering in Henderson. It was a large gathering, and there in front of that gathering was (a picture of) Bernie with a great, big swastika,” Reid told the audience.
“I believe we must, whether it’s a concert, a ballgame, whether it’s a party at your house, or your family,” Reid admonished the crowd. “When you hear anti-Semitism and hate, speak out against it. Don’t let it go. It’s raised its ugly head all across America now and we have to do something about it.”
New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman says he grew up like many Jews of his generation – not a particularly good Jew.
Weisman gained interest in his religious heritage in 2016 when he was the victim of a prolonged, anti-Semitic cyber-stalking campaign he describes as an “onslaught.”
A book ensued – (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.
“People often ask me if I’m scared. I wasn’t,” he says. “But I am scared. After Charlottesville, after Pittsburgh, after Christ’s Church, you should be, too.”
The path to whittling away at prejudice, be it racial or religious, may wind its way through the Thanksgiving gathering.
Gone are the days of tolerating the uncle who can be counted on to spout intolerance at holiday gatherings, says history scholar and author Deborah Lipstadt.
“We have to become the unwelcome guests at the dinner party,” says Lipstadt, who Reid called “one of the foremost experts on the Holocaust.”
“You can’t ignore it at Thanksgiving dinner. When you hear something, you’ve got to say something. Not to change the minds of the people saying it but to telegraph, especially to the young people, that this is not tolerated,” Lipstadt told the audience.
“Take it seriously. Until recently it’s not been taken seriously,” she said.
Lipstadt called anti-Semitism a “conspiracy theory, a pre-judgment” and detailed tropes about Jews:
- They are clannish and push themselves into places where they are not wanted
- They are capitalists or communists
- Money will somehow be involved
- Their power exceeds what they should have
- They have keen intellect but are smart in a nefarious or diabolical way
- Jews have cosmopolitan ties that cross national boundaries in a way that makes them more loyal to each other than to non-Jews
- They make themselves unrecognizable. “Like a demon, you can’t recognize him but he’s behind the scenes pulling the strings,” Lipstadt said, noting conspiracy theories about George Soros, the financier, as an example.
“It’s the oldest hatred and it has morphed,” she said of anti-Semitism.
“Today we are seeing anti-Semitism from the right and the left and there’s a terrible tendency for the left to see it only on the right and for the right to see it only on the left,” Lipstadt said. “They have a blinder over one eye. They are seeing the anti-Semitism but in a political context that reaffirms their own belief. This is a disaster.”
“The view of some progressive Leftists is to see it through a prism and the prism has two facets: wealth and ethnicity. They look at the Jew and they see a white person who is privileged, even though many Jews are not privileged. It doesn’t matter,” she said.
“Then there are the anti-Semitic enablers,” she said. “Jeremy Corbyn on the left. Donald Trump on the right. Their failure to condemn anti-Semites, it’s the wink, wink, dog whistle anti-Semitism.”
“President Trump, last weekend in this city, called Bibi Netanyahu ‘your prime minister,’ Weisman said of the controversial statement made by Trump to Jewish Republicans.
While condemning stereotypes served up from the right, Weisman warned that anti-Semitism on the left is real and condemned comments from Congressional members who invoked “tropes so well-worn of Jewish money, of Jewish foreign policy, they are too redolent to sweep under the carpet.”
He said the “gutter-bigotry of Louis Farrakhan should be condemned like David Duke.”
On the topic of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Weisman said holding Jews responsible for a government in Jerusalem is “collective punishment,” akin to holding “a woman in a hijab” responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashogi.
Lipstadt said the bar of what’s acceptable has been lowered because of the Internet and the failure of leaders to take a stand.
The way to confront bigotry, he said, is for African-Americans, Muslims, and Jews to create alliances.
“Calling out bigotry in the age of Trump has become controversial,” he said. “I believe calling out the enemy isn’t controversial. It’s critical.”
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