Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Continued conversation is key in fight against rise of anti-Semitism

Former Sen. Harry Reid says he hopes there will be no need to hold another anti-Semitism event like the program he organized this month at UNLV. But if the need persists, he says, he’ll stand ready to act.

That’s good to hear. While it’s commendable of Reid to believe that society can put discrimination against Jews in our past, the sad reality is that anti-Semitism has been on the rise globally in recent years and shows few signs of abating.

Our community — all communities — benefits from discussion on this despicable form of bias. And for someone of Reid’s influence and stature to lead such a conversation gives the issue the gravity and exposure it deserves.

This isn’t some distant problem. Several incidents of anti-Semitism have happened in Las Vegas in recent years, including a man being caught on video carving a swastika into a pillar at a local synagogue during services, a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada and graffiti found near UNLV.

In Reno, hateful graffiti was discovered at a UNR residence hall the same day as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in November 2018, anti-Semitic posters were found near a synagogue and more graffiti was found last month at the Church Fine Arts building.

Similar incidents have been occurring in a rash nationwide, fueling a 37 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in 2017, as reported by the FBI.

In last week’s event, Reid smartly steered the focus away from partisan politics, not blaming either the left or right for causing this outbreak.

Instead, the conversation focused on education and solutions. Author and historian Deborah Lipstadt and New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman offered explanations for the outbreak, and presented recommendations on how to stop it.

Contributing factors, the two said, include the rise of the alt-right and the proliferation of inflammatory and false material on the internet. While anti-Semites once had to seek each other out, they now can plug into an abundance of sites and social media groups promoting conspiracy theories and white supremacy.

But while the two experts agreed that right-wing extremists had contributed significantly to the problem — and had been fueled by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric — they stressed that anti-Semitism transcended party lines.

Parties aside, the issue goes back to a centuries-old false belief that Jews are secretly conniving to control the world’s political and economic systems. Among the modern outcroppings of this conspiracy theory is a misbelief that Jews are aiding illegal immigration in the U.S. 

Lipstadt and Weisman said steps to fighting anti-Semitism include understanding its origins, calling out discriminatory remarks and information wherever it surfaces — in conversations, on the internet and elsewhere — and battling racism in all forms.

Reid put it well: “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. Don’t let it go.”

The UNLV event, held at the Boyd School of Law, was a step toward stopping the spread of the hate. While it’s an open question as to whether it will become something more than a one-off, it’s reassuring to know that Reid is remaining watchful of the issue.

The former senator has done so many remarkable things for Southern Nevada and the state at large that it’s hard to know where to start listing them. But his focus on anti-Semitism certainly ranks on that list.