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August 22, 2019

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Reid’s anti-Semitism forum examines its rise in the U.S.

Anti-Semitism in America Discussion at UNLV

Steve Marcus

Deborah Lipstadt and Jonathan Weisman take questions from the audience during a discussion of anti-Semitism at UNLV Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Anti-Semitism in America Discussion at UNLV

Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid hosts a discussion on anti-Semitism in America at UNLV Thursday, April 11, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Throughout former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s decades-long political career, blatant signs of anti-Semitism were rare. That has changed nationwide, including in Southern Nevada, Reid says.

The alarming increase in anti-Semitism in recent years was the impetus for an event on anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate Thursday, organized by Reid, the UNLV Boyd School of Law and the Nevada System of Higher Education. Held at UNLV, the event featured two experts on anti-Semitism: author and historian Deborah Lipstadt and New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman.

Reid gave opening remarks at the event, saying that he has seen and heard about more anti-Semitic incidents in the past few years than any other time in his life. Studies released last year by the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based organization that fights anti-Semitism and bigotry, and the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, both reported an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and Europe, respectively.

Reid noted that Nevada is not immune from this trend, citing multiple incidents involving anti-Semitic graffiti recently reported at UNLV, UNR and elsewhere in the state. Images from two of those incidents were displayed on posters in the room, including one of graffiti that said, “kill all the Jews.”

Reid called on everyone to take a stand against anti-Semitism and hate.

“I believe that we must, whether it’s at a ballgame or a party at your house or just with your family, when we hear something said, speak up against it,” Reid said. “Don’t let it go.”

Lipstadt’s remarks touched on the unique nature of anti-Semitism as compared to other forms of bigotry as well as its relationship to other kinds of hate, including racism and misogyny.

Anti-Semitism, she said, can be viewed as a conspiracy theory, as it is based on the false notion that Jews are conniving, clannish people who control the world. Anti-Semites also often adhere to the notion that Jews are helping people of color get ahead and, in the United States, are responsible for immigration from Latin American countries — baseless claims that highlight the connection between anti-Semitism and racism.

“We see it all around and we see it consistently,” Lipstadt said.

A modern manifestation of the conspiracy theory, Lipstadt added, was peddled by members of the far-right and President Donald Trump last fall: the notion that Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros “paid” those who protested against the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Both Lipstadt and Weisman added, however, that anti-Semitism is prevalent among politicians across political spectrums and across the world.

Although Weisman said that the rise of the alt-right and the far-right worldwide poses a much greater threat to Jews, he believes that some critiques of Israel from those on the left are anti-Semitic. In particular, Weisman said that the notion of “collective punishment” against all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government has become increasingly common.

At the same time, he acknowledged a generational divide among American Jews. Some young Jews today, such as Weisman’s college-age daughter, do not feel the same level of attachment or appreciation for Israel, he said. For this reason, he said that distinguishing between anti-Semitism and fair critiques of the country is important.

“Making young Jews answerable to Israel will drive them away,” he said.

When it comes to fighting against anti-Semitism, Weisman and Lipstadt agreed that understanding how the form of bigotry operates and calling it out are important first steps. They also noted that with the advent of the internet, it has become easier for anti-Semites and racists to be inspired by other acts of bigotry and to organize together, a phenomenon that must be fought.

Lipstadt further urged members of the Jewish community and anyone committed to combatting anti-Semitism to recognize its connection to other forms of oppression and to stand against all forms of hate.

“The way to confront bigotry is to create alliances,” he said.