8 More Actions Against Hate

Image: 15 people demonstrate, holding up banners with hearts. 

In American Hate: It’s Time to Speak Up I listed 7 ways to act against hate in America. Since then, more possibilities have crossed my radar, and I want to share them with you. Understand that some of these are time limited: act now, or be too late.

  1. Urge Congress to Stand Firm on White House Leadership Appointments. This week President-Elect Trump named Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor. As an editor and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon promoted white supremacist ideologies including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. The Religious Action Center has provided a form that will help you look up your senators’ and representative’s addresses and send a letter protesting this appointment.
  2. The 2016 Election isn’t over yet! Louisiana still hasn’t voted on a Senator and the Democrat in the race has a good chance to win. His name is Foster Campbell, a rancher, who was was elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission with more than 78 percent of the vote in 2008. According to Jonathan Walczak writing in The Hill: “Electing Foster Campbell is the most immediate way to rebuke President-elect Trump. A Campbell victory would mean a 51-49 split in the Senate. This is the last best way to make a difference in 2016.” To help, first go to  www.fostercampbell2016.com and check Mr. Campbell out. If you can support him with a donation, no matter how small, it will help. If you know voters in Louisiana, call and remind them to show up and vote in the runoff on Dec 10.
  3. Read this Sally Kohn articles in the Washington Post: This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter. See what applies to you and run with it.
  4. Support the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). It is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants. Again, visit the website, read their materials, and donate if you can and if their goals sound right to you.
  5. Subscribe to your local newspaper and to publications that don’t preach anyone’s party line. The “Fourth Estate” is an essential part of a healthy democracy, and our has been sadly weakened by the advent of “free” online news sources. When you pay for your newspaper, online or offline, you are paying journalists to ask questions and dig for answers. The good ones annoy politicians of ALL stripes. Personally I subscribe to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and SFGate, the news source for the SF Bay Area. There is no more important investment you can make in the functioning of our democracy than to hire some good watchdogs.
  6. Volunteer and/or give financial support to Planned Parenthood. Republican plans for the Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court do not bode well for women’s access to reproductive medical care, birth control, and legal abortion.
  7. Join a synagogue, if you haven’t already done so. Ask about their social justice programming. Combining your energy with that of other Jews makes for more effective activism.
  8. Educate yourself. Listen to minority voices online, in print, and in person. Don’t assume you know what’s best for African-Americans, Muslims, women, poor people, Native Americans, incarcerated persons, LGBTQI, or disabled persons. They aren’t stupid, even though institutionalized racism has taught those of us with privilege to think they are. Don’t assume that your minority status makes you an expert on someone else’s needs. In short, don’t talk – LISTEN.

What are you doing to fight hate in America? If you are a member of a minority, what have you seen that worked?

American Hate: It’s Time to Speak Up

Image: Storm clouds gather over a landscape. Photo by Unsplash at pixabay.com.

Friends, I want to make you aware of something happening right now in the United States. This is something that transcends politics; whether you voted Trump or Clinton or 3rd Party or not at all, it concerns all Americans of good will.

More than 800 journalists have received hate mail and/or death threats via Twitter and other social media outlets over the past year, and the pace has escalated since the election. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report:

The top 10 most targeted journalists – all of whom are Jewish – received 83 percent of those 19,253 tweets. The top 10 includes conservative columnist Ben Shapiro, Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman, and CNN’s Sally Kohn and Jake Tapper.

More than 2/3 of these tweets were sent by only 1200 Twitter accounts, out of the 313 million accounts currently active on Twitter. Twitter has deactivated 21% of the offending accounts; the ADL is in conversation with them about the others.

Language in these tweets is overtly anti-Semitic. In an Atlantic article by Emma Green, she reports:

Beyond hateful language, users often photoshop journalists’ faces into images from the Holocaust, like Jews lined up to get food in concentration camps or lying in bunks in barracks. Users might share cartoons that depict ugly stereotypes about Jews, showing them with big noses and surrounded by piles of money. The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, was one of the handful of most frequently targeted journalists. In June, he wrote about some of the tweets he’s recently received, including a cartoon of the U.S. “Jewpreme Court,” a picture of money coming out of an oven, and a tweet that asked, “Why do Jews get so triggered when we mention ovens?”

There are death threats as well, as well as threats against the families of the journalists. This is not the kind of speech which qualifies for the protection of the First Amendment. Specific threats have been brought to the attention of law enforcement and I hope will continue to be pursued as the crimes they are.

Among the bios of the 1200 source accounts, the words that appear most frequently are “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative,” and “white.” The Trump campaign has not endorsed or supported this language; troublingly, though, it has not repudiated the anti-Semitic language and behavior of supporters, either.

I am aware that Mr. Trump has Jewish family members. I’m not sure why he does not take the anti-Semitic language of his supporters more seriously.  History teaches us that this kind of hate never stops with just one small group of people. I assure you that if Mr. Trump and his administration do not discourage this hate fully and quickly, we are going to see things in America no decent American ever wanted to see. 

It might start with “just the journalists,” “just the Jews,” “just the Muslims,” or “just the black activists.” I assure you that it will not stop there unless we put a stop to it now. We are seeing a rapid escalation of this language, plus acts of violence, and there is no time to waste.

What can we do? Here are some options:

  1. Send a strongly worded message to Mr. Trump directly (@RealDonaldTrump) asking that he repudiate his supporters’ hateful words and behavior and that he order them to stop it now. If you voted for him, please say so.
  2. If you are a Twitter user and you see hate speech against any group or a threat to any person, report it. Here is a set of directions for doing so. Don’t shrug it off. Twitter has been slow to respond to individual incidents, so it is important that your report be available as support to other reports. For other ideas, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry.”
  3. Send supportive messages to any journalist whose work you appreciate. All of them, not just the Jews, are feeling threatened these days.
  4. Send supportive messages to anyone you know who might feel threatened by the outcome of the election. Tell them what you are doing to work against hate. Don’t tell them, “It’s going to be OK.” The rhetoric during the election was very threatening and incidents of actual violence against minorities have escalated since the election.
  5. If you see harassment or bullying of any kind in person, intervene before it escalates into violence. Read What Should I Do If I See Bullying? for an effective, psychologically sound method for intervention. Know what to do, so that when you see it you will know how to act safely and effectively.
  6. Support the Anti-Defamation League. Read their website. Sign up for their newsletters. Stay informed. ADL is not a partisan organization; major supporters include Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, lefties and right-wingers.
  7. Support the Southern Poverty Law Center. They track the hate groups behind many of these threats, and provide valuable information to law enforcement. Read the article on that website entitled White Supremacists Think Their Man Won the White House.

When I was ordained in 2008 I never dreamed that I’d have to write an article like this. Not here, not in the United States of America! I beg you to choose your course of action and follow through on it.

What Should I Do if I See Bullying?

Image: “Bully” artwork by John Hain via pixabay.com

How many of us would feel confident intervening if we saw one person yelling slurs at another person? It might be someone harassing a woman in a hijab, or toughs pestering a disabled person, or kids teasing a fat person. What can we do that won’t make matters worse? What can we do to de-escalate the situation?

When someone sees others bullying another person and fails to intervene, it’s called “bystander syndrome.” It is specifically forbidden in Torah, in Leviticus 19:

לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor – Lev. 19:16

What should we do, especially if we are nervous about intervening? This is something that has troubled me.

A wonderful woman, an artist named Maeril, addresses the solution to bystander syndrome in a cartoon specifically aimed at Islamophobic harassment. Her advice is solidly based in psychology, and its purpose is to de-escalate the situation. It would translate nicely to many other situations, however, and I plan to practice it the next time I see someone being mean to someone else. As with anything else, it will get easier the more often I do it.

I will put the cartoon in its entirety at the bottom of this post, but to summarize the steps:

  1. You see someone harassing a vulnerable person. Go to the person under attack, be as calm and collected and FRIENDLY as you can, and say hello. Sit next to them if you can. Pay no attention to the harasser(s).
  2. Pick a random topic and start chatting. The weather, a TV show, anything – something neutral and easy to ramble about. Continue ignoring the attacker; do not even look at them. They do not exist.
  3. Continue the conversation until the attacker leaves. Offer to escort the person to a safe place, but respect their wishes if they say they just want to leave.

This way of dealing with the situation is based in a psychological concept called “non-complementary behavior” – instead of “fighting fire with fire” we deal with a situation by doing something completely the opposite of the expected script. Think of it as fighting fire with water. In this case, if the attacker is yelling racist slurs at a woman, we sit by her as if nothing unpleasant is going on, and engage in a pleasant conversation, ignoring the screamer. He wanted to feel big and powerful – now he’s totally irrelevant! Even if he temporarily escalates to calling you names too (“slur-lover” etc) if it gets no reaction at all, he will begin to feel like a fool. That’s not what he wanted at all, so he’ll move on.

My pronouns assume that “he” is the bad guy and “she” is the innocent – that matches the cartoon – but harassment can come in any gender. A woman yelling at a transman is equally horrible and yes, he needs your support!

And yes, it may be that the bully won’t move on and someone will have to call the cops. At least in the meantime, the innocent person is not left alone to deal with the torture. And it really is our best shot at getting the creep to go away and leave the person alone.

I know I feel a lot better equipped to be a mensch after seeing this – I hope you do too!

maerilbullytumblr

I Think My Friend is an Antisemite!

I thImage: A cholla cactus in bloom. Photo from pixabay.com.

Someone found this blog by typing “A friend of mine turned out to be antisemitic. How do I handle that?”

Ouch. It’s never pleasant to learn about potential conflict with a friend. I am assuming that this is someone you believe to be a friend, not a boss, a casual acquaintance, or someone on Twitter. Here are some thoughts about addressing the situation with a friend:

1. Find out more. Maybe you have misunderstood. But even if you heard right, there’s more to learn. Ask, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you feel that way?” After all, maybe they hate “pews,” not “Jews.” (Sometimes it is good for people to listen to themselves, too. Your inquiry offers them a chance for self- reflection.)

2. Listen carefully. Did you hear right? Second, if indeed their words were antisemitic, find out what’s going on. Are they speaking out of ignorance or out of malice? Do they merely need better information, or are we talking about deep-set Jew hating?

3. Respect the person. Escalating to rage won’t teach or persuade. Calling names won’t help things. If they have bad info, say you disagree with their information, and offer a source for better info. Remember, this person is also made in the image of the Divine, even if they have just said something dreadful.

4. You can be honest. Tell them how you feel. Exactly what that is will depend on your emotions. “Hearing your words, I am angry / sad / hurt / speechless / etc” Again, don’t call names. This is assuming they are a friend; if so, they care how you feel.

5. If the problem is ignorance, offer information. You don’t have to be the educator: point them to a blog like this one or a book or a rabbi. Do not say, “Google it.” Google can lead to some dreadful misinformation, up to and including neo-Nazi sites.

6. If they really hate Jews, ask yourself if you can be friends. Personally, I could not be friends with someone who thought I was sub-human or evil. This also goes for someone who insists the most Jews are unacceptable but I am “different.” I’d have to tell them I was disappointed in them and then dust myself off and move on. Your decision is up to you.

7. Talk it out. Whatever the outcome, it’s an unpleasant experience. Have a chat with a trusted friend or your rabbi. A good talk will help you shake it off.

P.S. I wrote this post assuming that the person asking is a Jew or a member of a Jewish community. If you are not Jewish, these steps may also work for you. Alternatively you could say, “Dude. Do you have any idea how antisemitic you just sounded?” and see where the conversation goes from there.

Elie Weisel z”l

Elie Weisel survived the Shoah. More than surviving, he insisted that we talk about it. He insisted that our talk not be an exercise in self-pity, but that we cultivate a willingness to put ourselves on the line for any group of people denied the dignity of their own humanity. He did so himself, time and again.

Now he is gone, but his words remain.

If you have not yet had a chance to read one of Mr. Weisel’s books, start with Night. It is one of the world’s great books.

Why Bernie Avishai winces at the term “radical Islam”

Image: Bernard Avishai, Photo by Neodbg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I hope that my readers will consider what Mr. Avishai has to say. The phrase “radical Islam” is useless. It plays into the fantasies of terrorists by elevating their status, when in fact they are merely murderers and thugs who find holy texts useful for justifying evil. Thank you, Rabbi John Rosove, for your thoughtful post which I have reposted here.

Rabbi John Rosove's Blog

I take seriously just about everything Bernard Avishai says and writes.

Bernie is an Adjunct Professor of Business at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has taught at Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Dartmouth College, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. A Guggenheim Fellow, Bernie holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Toronto. Before turning to management, he covered the Middle East as a journalist. He has written many articles and commentaries for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, Harper’s Magazine and other publications. He is the author of three books on Israel, including the widely read The Tragedy of Zionism, and the 2008 The Hebrew Republic. He lives in both Jerusalem and the United States.

Bernie doesn’t shoot from the…

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Jews Rejecting Trump

Image: Rabbi Rothbaum speaks as Hazzan Wallach and Susan Lubeck hold “Jews Reject Trump” signs. Photo by Bend the Arc.

Last night I participated in a prayer service outside Republican headquarters in my home town of San Leandro, CA.  It was part of a prayer service and demonstration organized nationally by Bend the Arc – Jewish Action.

This year, the Republican candidate for President of the U.S. has made such outrageous statements about Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, and people of color that he has boosted the legitimacy of white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. He tried to avoid repudiating those organizations. His followers have targeted journalists with Jewish names on social media.

As I wrote earlier this month in Stop the Hateful Cycle:

“I believe in free speech and I also believe in the absolute necessity of challenging hateful speech, whether it is justified with a quote from the Bible, from the Quran, or from someone’s sainted grandma. It doesn’t matter how it is justified: it’s still hate. 

 לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not go slandering among your people. Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Leviticus 19:16

This verse has two parts. (1) Don’t slander. (2) Don’t stand on the blood of your neighbor.

These two commandments are side by side because they are related. Hateful speech leads to violence, and when we listen to hateful speech and do not challenge it, we stand in the blood of another human being. We do not remain clean.”

So when I got the call from Bend The Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, inviting me to participate in a rally against Trump (not for any other candidate, merely against Trump and his message) I was glad to participate. There was going to be a meeting at the Republican HQ, and we would be there to witness against racism.

We gathered outside the Republican office on MacArthur Blvd in San Leandro. Bay Area Regional Director Susan Lubeck briefed us quickly on the program and how to behave (support one another, be polite, de-escalate). The program was an observance of the yahrzeit of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman of blessed memory. They were murdered on June 21, 1964 for their voter registration and freedom school activities in segregated Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Susan had notified the San Leandro Police that we would be there, and the beat officer for the neighborhood came up before the program began, just as people were beginning to arrive for the meeting at the Republican HQ. We were careful not to block the door or create problems. The treasurer came out in hopes of shooing us away; he said they didn’t have anything to do with the national candidates. We made note of the “TRUMP” poster in the window and stayed.

Hazzan Risa Wallach led us in a nigun, a wordless hymn. We heard speeches from Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, from Susan Lubeck, and from a woman currently working to raise the minimum wage (I am sorry that I was unable to catch her name.) We also heard from Rabbi Harry Manhoff of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. Hazzan Wallach chanted El Maleh Rachamim [God, Full of Mercy] and then we said Kaddish for the three martyrs.

Periodically people would come out of the meeting and photograph us on their cell phones and make videos. We ignored them. When we began to say Kaddish, they shut the door to the office and we did not interact with them again. Periodically people driving past saw our signs (“Jews Reject Trump”) and honked in support.

It was a quiet, peaceful event (thank goodness!) and over in less than an hour.

I am grateful to Bend the Arc – Jewish Action for their organizing prowess and to Rabbis Rothbaum and Manhoff for their eloquent words. May the day come, and speedily, when no such events are needed ever again.

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