By Mark Moskowitz | Anti-Defamation League Southeast Regional Director
As we approach the High Holidays, we can’t help but think about the key issues of the day for the Jewish people. Obviously, the issues of Iran, Israel’s security, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus, and, of course, global anti-Semitism are matters of immediate and deep concern.
While there have been some steps to address the serious challenge of anti-Semitism both internationally and within the United States, including the stirring rejection of anti-Jewish hate by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and some other world leaders, the anti-Semitic incidents and violence worldwide during this year seem unparalleled in the past decade.
These are big issues to address and will require a comprehensive set of actions through policy enactment, education, advocacy and more. It can feel overwhelming. Where does one person start?
As we prepare for the Days of Awe, we are instructed to think about how we have missed the mark. What actions have we taken that have hurt others? Were there times we did not act when we should have? What words have we spoken that we want to take back? This is one place to begin.
ADL education programs emphasize the concept of the pyramid of hate. The words used in our living rooms, our workplaces, on the floors of Congress and in the news have consequences. They directly affect our ability to sustain a society that ensures dignity and equality for all.
Bigoted rhetoric and words laced with prejudice are building blocks for the pyramid of hate.
Biased behaviors build on one another, becoming ever more threatening and dangerous toward the top of the pyramid.
At the base is bias: stereotyping, insensitive remarks, belittling jokes and noninclusive language. It sets the foundation for a second, more complex and more damaging layer: individual acts of prejudice, including bullying, slurs and dehumanization. The next level of the pyramid is discrimination: institutional acts that prevent people from being treated fairly in employment, housing, economics or public services. When this is allowed to go unchallenged, it can sanction bias-motivated violence, including hate crimes like the tragic shootings in Charleston earlier this summer.
In the most extreme cases if left unchecked, the top of the pyramid of hate is genocide.
Just like any pyramid, the lower levels support the upper levels. Bias, prejudice and discrimination — particularly touted by those with a loud megaphone and cheering crowd — all contribute to an atmosphere that enables hate crimes and other hate-fueled violence.
The most recent hate crime in Charleston is just one of too many. In fact, there is a hate crime roughly every 90 minutes in the United States today.
That is why ADL in August announced a new initiative, #50StatesAgainstHate, to strengthen hate crimes laws around the country and safeguard communities vulnerable to hate-fueled attacks. We are working with a broad coalition of partners to get the ball rolling.
Laws alone, however, cannot cure the disease of hate. To do that, we need to change the conversation. We would not suggest that any one person’s words caused this tragedy; the perpetrator did that. But rhetorical excesses by many of us give rise to a climate in which prejudice, discrimination and hate-fueled violence can take root.
So think about your words, and pledge that in 5776 you will do more to counter the types of speech and behavior that allow the pyramid of hate to flourish.
ADL is available for you and your congregation as a resource. We can provide your adult groups with a speaker on global anti-Semitism and assist your educators, school-age children and parents through our Confronting Anti-Semitism and Words to Action programs.
We wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.