By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Children’s Defense Fund
“There is an epidemic of hate facing our country. We’re seeing a rapid rise in antisemitic rhetoric and acts. Let me be clear: Words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud. They are literally screaming them.”
These are the opening remarks Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff gave at the start of the Dec. 7 White House roundtable on combating antisemitism. Mr. Emhoff was joined by Biden administration officials and leaders from more than a dozen Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, whose most recent data show the past year had the highest number of antisemitic incidents on record since the ADL began tracking them more than 40 years ago. This has continued a sharp rise in harassment, vandalism and violence against Jewish people, homes, schools, community centers, cemeteries and synagogues and places of worship that began in 2016. Though the conference was planned well in advance, there was obvious symbolism to the fact that it took place just days after former President Trump welcomed Kanye West (Ye), who has very publicly espoused his antisemitic beliefs and admiration for Hitler, and white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes to dinner at his Florida home. As current White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice said during the roundtable, “There’s nothing more vicious than what we are seeing today out of the mouths of our leaders, our public figures, our celebrities, our elected officials.”
President Biden summed up his own views after that dinner this way: “I just want to make a few things clear: The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure. And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides. Silence is complicity.” But far too many other leaders continue to show a willingness to condone and ignore this dangerous rise in antisemitism and the people who endorse it. Many of these leaders have shown the same readiness to condone, ignore, or even endorse anti-LGBTQ violence, attacks on Asian Americans, white supremacy and domestic terrorism and hatred in other forms. We are reminded again that these leaders and celebrities cannot be the role models we hold up for our nation’s children. Adults and parents must be determined to be the loudest voices in their children’s lives and to show by example that it is inexcusable to tolerate bigotry of any kind in order to fight this epidemic of hate.
In the letter I wrote to my three sons as they were approaching adulthood that became the center of the book The Measure of Our Success, I said: “If parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out . . . Don’t tell, laugh at, or in any way acquiesce to racial, ethnic, religious or gender jokes or to any practices intended to demean rather than enhance another human being. Walk away from them. Stare them down. Make them unacceptable in your homes, religious congregations and clubs. Through daily moral consciousness counter the proliferating voices of racial and ethnic and religious division that are gaining respectability over the land.” Thirty years later this advice has become even more urgent. We have seen again and again how swiftly condoning bigotry and hatred moves from jokes or name-calling to physical attacks and violence against entire communities. Some of the political leaders who practice this easy bigotry and hatred themselves then profess shock and sympathy when it is followed by violence, as happened again after the mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ nightclub on Nov. 19. Children are watching this hypocrisy. Children are also often the targets of other children’s and adults’ prejudice and hatred, and it is up to the rest of us to act to break this cycle.
In my letter to my own sons, I also wrote: “I hope you will always recognize your rich dual heritage as the special gift and blessing that it is; know deep within yourself who you are; and draw strength and pride from the legacies you have inherited from two peoples – Blacks and Jews – who have survived the worst persecution the world can offer. That in recent history these two peoples were slaves and not enslavers, were segregated and discriminated against and were not segregators and discriminators, is an achievement to be proud rather than ashamed of if you take seriously, as I do, the first principle of every great religion: to treat others as you’d like to be treated. It is the only ethical standard in life you need.” This was very personal advice to my children, but all children must be taught and then continually reminded of this simplest and highest principle. Many adults today are not displaying it, but this remains the great ethical standard all children and adults need.