Speaking Out

‘It started with words of hate’


Enough is enough … or is it?

Are Americans waking up to the disturbing resurgence of antisemitism to the point where they’ll stand up to those trying to make it open season on Jews?

Or will the millions who are indifferent to, or even embrace, antisemitic rants by the likes of entertainer Ye (formerly Kanye West) continue their hateful view of the Jewish people, pushing us closer to the unthinkable?

On Twitter, Ye called for “death to Jews.” This is just one of the recent events demonizing Jews by people who – like the Germans during the rise of the Nazis, in the 1930s – want someone to blame for the country’s problems.  

Ye, in a Twitter post (since deleted) to his millions of followers, wrote that he was going to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Most companies, including Adidas, eventually cut ties with Ye over the post, but his Twitter account remains. (New Twitter owner Elon Musk said Ye’s account was restored before he took over.)

And such despicable expressions of hate are only the tip of the iceberg:

  • During a University of Florida versus University of Georgia football game on Oct. 29, “Kanye is right about the jews” was projected on the outside of one of the end zones at TIAA Bank Field, in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • In late October in Los Angeles, antisemitic banners were displayed over the 405 Freeway.
  • In Massachusetts, similar banners were spread across overpasses on highways in Saugus and Danvers in September. In October, swastikas were found on a family’s lawn in Stoneham.
  • In November, basketball player Kyrie Irving, of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and formerly of the Boston Celtics, was suspended by the Nets for tweeting about a film that includes many antisemitic tropes and denies the Holocaust.

Ye and Irving’s words returned to the spotlight on Nov. 12, when comedian Dave Chappelle devoted his lengthy monologue on “Saturday Night Live” to the controversies.

He first read this statement: “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms. And I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.” Then he added a series of jokes that made me extremely uncomfortable and had me doubting his sincerity: “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time,” he said right after his statement.

By the end of the monologue, it was hard not to conclude that Chappelle was joining those who have either defended Ye and Irving or who have thought that way too much has been made of their hurtful and harmful words.

If you think hate speech is no big deal, you’re wrong, because such talk often leads to violence, as it did, tragically, four years ago, when the deadliest attack ever on American Jews resulted in 11 being killed during a Sabbath service at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Holocaust survivors, including those who survived Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” are adding their inspiring voices to the warning against hate speech. During Kristallnacht, on Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis and Germans terrorized Jews in Germany and Austria, killing at least 91 and vandalizing 7,500 Jewish businesses and temples.

Their voices have been raised as part of the #ItStartedWithWords campaign, which is being undertaken, according to the Associated Press, by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a digital-education project that gives survivors a chance to reflect on the moments that led to the Holocaust.

“It started for me when I was 8 years old, and I could not understand why my best friends were shouting bad names at me,” Auschwitz survivor Eva Szepesi, 90, told the AP.

Greg Schneider, the conference’s executive vice president, said in the same AP story, “with the growing prevalence of Holocaust denial, distortion and hate speech on social platforms, the core message behind the ItStartedWithWords campaign becomes even more important: The Holocaust did not start with camps, ghettos and deportations; it started with words of hate.”

Indeed, that was precisely the strategy that the Nazis used in the 1930s as they targeted everyone not considered a “pure” German. That created the atmosphere that led to Jews being denied their basic rights, having their property seized and being deported to concentration camps across Eastern Europe, where 6 million were slaughtered. (Another 5 million non-Jews were also executed by the Nazis in their drive to “purify” Germany.)

Those determined to stand up to a revival of such vile hate include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is Jewish. A nonprofit he founded aired an ad during the Oct. 30 Patriots-Jets NFL game that condemned hate speech targeting Jews and encouraged non-Jews to speak up.

The 30-second spot from Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism said: “We hear you today. We must hear you tomorrow. There are less than 8 million Jewish people in this country. Fewer than are watching this ad. They need you to add your voice.” The ad ended with the hashtag: #StandUptoJewishHate.

Kraft, in a statement to AP on the dramatic rise in antisemitism, said: “I have committed tremendous resources toward this effort and am vowing to do more. I encourage others to join in these efforts. My hope is this commercial will continue to enhance the national conversation about the need to speak out against hatred of all types, and particularly to stand up to Jewish hate.”

Antisemitism, of course, isn’t new; Jews have been targeted for centuries. When I was growing up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and ’60s, it was still commonplace for Jews to be excluded from many organizations and workplaces. My father was denied employment at the Boston Globe because, in the ’50s, you could ask prospective employees their religion. He was told the Globe didn’t hire Jews.

Now, 77 years after the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, neo-Nazis are using the same rhetoric, and with Holocaust survivors down to a precious few, it seems as if most Americans have forgotten what happened inside those camps.

That’s why American Jews will continue to be worried, if not frightened, until a majority of Americans say enough is enough to people who insist on demonizing them.

Think it can’t happen here? Many Germans who didn’t speak up when Hitler started persecuting the Jews thought it’d never happen there, either.

LARRY KESSLER (larrythek65@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at https://larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.

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