Unnerved by a rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it.
“It’s all over the world. It’s nationalism, it’s the internet, it’s all kinds of things,” Reid told reporters prior to the 90-minute event. “Regardless of where it comes from, my theory is that we have to speak out against hate. Whether it’s in a ballgame, whether it’s at a concert, whether it’s in your own family, we cannot let this go on.”
He brought in two experts, author Deborah E. Lipstadt and journalist Jonathan Weisman, for the “Anti-Semitism in America” conference. The talk occurred only a month after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at the University of Nevada, Reno. Since 2017, there have been other similar hate crimes at the university and at UNLV.
“We’ve seen this, sadly, close to home,” Reid told attendees inside the Richard Tam Alumni Center.
Reid took care not to muddle the issue with partisan blame, and Lipstadt and Weisman also agreed anti-Semitism exists on both the right and the left, although the white nationalist movement across the world has been noticeable for its violence.
About recent violent episodes, including the shooting that killed 11 in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Lipstadt said, “this is a fluid situation” and underscored the importance for a country to actively reject tropes about Jews.
“If it accepts that conspiracy theory (stereotypes of Jews), then it will accept all kinds of other conspiracy theories,” she said. “And then democracy is in danger.”
Weisman pointed to the weaponization of the internet as giving ground to anti-Semitic ideology: “It used to be that you had to go out and seek this stuff.”
And both agreed that uncivil discourse among political leaders around the world, including President Donald Trump, has lowered the bar for what is acceptable as rudeness that can suddenly devolve into hate.
Reid said he will take a “wait and see” approach on how his fight against anti-Semitism evolves, adding that he believed Holocaust education among young people was key and that he hoped others would join the effort.
So far, others have. Top Nevada school officials, Gov. Steve Sisolak and six lawmakers, including four in Congress and both Nevada senators, wrote letters welcoming attendees and denouncing anti-Semitism.
In a video posted to Twitter, Sen. Jacky Rosen called the discussion timely “because there is no doubt that anti-Semitism is both on the rise around the world and right here in our own backyard.”
FBI statistics show hate crimes rose nationally 17 percent in 2017 and anti-Semitic crimes, specifically, were up 37 percent. That’s the latest data available.
Rosen vowed to be a leader in the fight, noting how anti-Semitic ideology has crossed into mainstream America after being long considered only a part of extremist groups and political movements in Europe.
“In large part, the source of this new wave of anti-Semitism is coming directly from some actors in our own political system,” she said. “And this is simply unacceptable and it is something that we must call out and we must confront.”
Rosen helped re-introduce a bipartisan bill to upgrade the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. She attended the envoy’s swearing-in ceremony Thursday.