Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

Currently: 78° — Complete forecast

Solutions, not political blame, are focus of anti-Semitism event organized by Harry Reid

Former Sen. Harry Reid is not interested in assessing political blame for the global upswing of anti-Semitism in recent years.

He’s focused instead on curbing the hatred, he says, which is why he initiated a special community event on anti-Semitism this week at UNLV. Reid said the event, scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Richard Tam Alumni Center, would focus not on partisan politics but on education, solutions and raising awareness of the issue.

“Once I point fingers at anyone, it defeats the purpose of the conversation I want to have,” Reid said in an interview last week.

Reid said he was prompted into action after seeing reports of anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents spread across the nation and into Nevada. This past fall, the FBI reported a 37 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in 2017, and the Anti-Defamation League reported a 57 percent increase in hate crimes and other incidents that year.

Although the rise is often attributed to Donald Trump, Reid demurred when asked how much of a role he believes Trump has played in spurring the problem.

“Everybody knows how I feel about Donald Trump’s presidency, and I just feel it doesn’t help to try to make this event an anti-Trump event,” said Reid, who’s been fiercely critical of Trump. “I want the people who are staunch supporters of Donald Trump to come to this event. I want them to meet the people who are trying to educate others that they shouldn’t be treated differently than anyone else.”

Similarly, Reid didn’t wade into the controversy surrounding Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s heated remarks on Israel.

“Rep. Omar’s remarks have been written about time and time again,” Reid said. “This event I’m having has nothing to do, that I know of, directly to her. For me to comment on what she said and what it meant and what it will mean and what we should do about it, my conversation in that regard doesn’t add a thing to it. Everything’s been talked about ad infinitum about the remarks she made.”

Reid said he hoped the event would empower and embolden audience members to help tamp down anti-Jewish discrimination. It will feature two experts in anti-Semitism: author/historian Deborah Lipstadt and journalist Jonathan Weisman.

“What I see is people who are going into a crowd or a gathering and letting some of this hate go on without objecting to it,” Reid said. “And that’s what we need to learn to do: You can’t let it go on, wherever it is and whenever it happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s a large crowd, if it’s a convention setting, or whether it’s in a classroom or a restaurant or in the home around the dinner table or watching TV. When hate speech is brought up, when anti-Semitism is brought up, nip it in the bud. Speak out against it.”

Reid said incidents in Nevada showed that the problem needed to be addressed locally. Among them was a protester turning up last month at Bernie Sanders’ appearance in Henderson with a sign bearing a swastika. Another example came in October 2017 when multiple swastikas were found spray painted inside the Church Fine Arts building at UNR.

“Each new thing that popped up in Nevada pushed me further toward doing something,” Reid said. “And it just hasn’t stopped.”

Reid has close ties with UNLV, serving as a distinguished fellow in law and policy at the Boyd School of Law and having partnered with former House Speaker John Boehner to launch the MGM Resorts Public Policy Institute at the university.

Asked whether the anti-Semitism event might be held regularly — like Reid’s prestigious National Clean Energy Summit, which he initiated in 2008 — the former Senate majority leader kept the possibility open.

“Well, I hope we don’t need to do another one,” he said. “But if we do, I’m standing by.”