WASHINGTON — Recent instances of hate speech, vandalism and a mass shooting at a synagogue prompted former Sen. Harry Reid to sponsor an upcoming event in Las Vegas to explore and discuss ways to stop anti-Semitism, which appears to be on the rise.
“I felt it was time for me to speak out against this hate,” said Reid, 79, in an interview with the Review-Journal on Monday. “There is far too much hate in the world.”
During the interview, Reid also gave his reaction to a jury’s decision against him Friday in a lawsuit against an exercise equipment company and spoke about changing social attitudes in the controversy surrounding his friend, former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Reid, who retired from the Senate in 2017, spoke in detail about his efforts against anti-Semitism.
Reid said growing up in Searchlight, he remembers his uncles returning from World War II and learning later of the importance of the Allied victory, which ended Adolf Hitler’s reign in Germany and the Holocaust.
During his years as a politician, traveling the state, Reid said he does not remember any prevalence of hate speech or attacks against Jewish residents.
Recently, though, Reid said there have been acts of vandalism at college campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, and he cited the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the mass shooting at a synagogue last year near Pittsburgh as evidence of a rise in anti-Semitism.
“Why is this happening, because people are not speaking out against hate,” Reid said.
Reid and the UNLV Boyd School of Law will hold a discussion on anti-Semitism in America at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Richard Tam Alumni Center on the UNLV campus.
The event is open to the public, but registration is required.
Speakers at the discussion include Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”
Also speaking is Jonathan Weisman, New York Times deputy Washington editor and author of “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” a book on how to fight anti-Semitism in America.
Reid said he picked the speakers based on their books.
The forum comes as recent instances of anti-Semitism have engulfed the presidency, Congress and the body politic.
President Donald Trump was criticized for failing to condemn white nationalists after the 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” followed by violence that left one woman dead and others injured.
And a white supremacist was arrested and charged with the deadly October shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue outside Pittsburgh, which left 11 dead. Trump called the mass shooting an act of anti-Semitism and “pure evil.”
This year, the House of Representatives voted on a resolution denouncing bigotry after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., one of two Muslim lawmakers elected last year, made comments interpreted by Democratic and Republican leaders to be anti-Semitic.
Democratic leaders backed off a resolution that identified Omar by name, and Trump has sought to use that controversy to cast the rival party as one that has abandoned Jewish voters, a possible wedge issue in the 2020 election.
Trump sounded that theme this past week during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting in Las Vegas.
Reid refused to criticize the president.
“I have gone out of my way,” Reid said, to prevent Thursday’s forum from becoming “an anti-Trump rally.”
He also would not criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or Democratic leaders on their handling of the anti-bigotry resolution.
“My entering into the fray at this time would add nothing,” Reid said.
“Anti-Semitism is not Democratic, Republican or independent. All three have to join together and speak out against it,” Reid said. “Even in your own family, don’t let it go unchallenged.”
On other topics, Reid said Biden is a friend and noted changing social attitudes for a controversy that has embroiled the likely Democratic presidential hopeful, who has been criticized by women for making them uncomfortable with unwanted touching.
“I served with Joe for 34 years. Joe has always been who he is,” Reid said, describing the former vice president as affectionate and friendly.
“I think it’s time the Joe Bidens of the world and the Harry Reids of the world need to understand that young people don’t like their space invaded,” Reid said.
On the decision Friday by an eight-member jury to reject his claim that a device called the TheraBand made by Hygenic Corp. of Ohio was faulty and responsible for an accident that left him blind in one eye and forced his retirement in 2017, Reid said he would not “second guess” the jury.
“They thought they did the right thing,” Reid said, adding that he was “glad I brought the suit” against the manufacturer that could prevent further accidents with the machines.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal is owned by the family of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.