Thank you, Meredith, for that very kind introduction. It is a pleasure to join the ADL and the Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) for this important – and timely – event, honoring both Jewish Heritage Month and Asian American-Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The rise in hate against both the AAPI and Jewish communities over the last few years is all too familiar to everyone here. From micro-aggressions in the streets of our cities, to more significant physical attacks, to mass shootings, we have seen discrimination fester and spread at an alarming rate. The litany of places that have witnessed antisemitic attacks in the United States in the past three years is known to all of us: Pittsburgh, Poway, Colleyville, Jersey City, Monsey, and virtually daily on the streets of Brooklyn, and the AAPI community has been targeted in Atlanta, in New York, in San Francisco, and many other cities and towns.
I am thankful to Tema Smith, Carly Pildis, and others at the ADL who understand that experiences of antisemitism and other oppressions are not monolithic and often intersect. And that shared historical experiences and traumas can unite us in the fight against hatred at a time of growing extremism that impacts marginalized groups globally. I deeply value our discussions and learning together over the years.
And the JACL, your important mission to secure and safeguard the civil and human rights of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, and all communities who are affected by injustice and bigotry, help to create a society that honors diversity and promotes the important values of equality and respect. I am most grateful to the two sponsoring organizations for bringing our communities together for important conversations like this.
My mandate at the State Department as Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism means that I focus mainly on countering hatred of Jews globally. However, as we all know, antisemitism cuts across ideology, religion, politics, and nations. Often it is seen along with rising hatred and intolerance directed against members of other ethnic and religious groups and vulnerable communities. As such, Special Envoy Deborah Lipstadt and I work closely with the State Department’s Ambassador- –at -Large for International Religious Freedom, as well as our colleagues working on the Biden Administration’s broader human rights agenda.
At a time of growing extremism around the world, it would be short-sighted for us to examine anti-Jewish or anti-Asian hatred in a vacuum, as we must understand that such extremist ideology in all its forms is a threat to all Americans. We must work together to break the silos of fighting hate one by one and stand united against this threat.
The growth of antisemitism and other hatreds undermines the strength of democratic institutions and promotes societies that are less equitable, just, inclusive, and peaceful. The rise in hatred against Jews and all minority communities is a fundamental challenge to the promotion of democratic principles, human rights, and good governance. The lesson of history is simple: a society that tolerates or enables antisemitism is one that cannot preserve a healthy democracy that fosters respect for the human dignity and fundamental freedoms of all.
We saw this most recently in the so called “manifesto” of the Buffalo shooter, who senselessly and tragically took the lives of 10 innocent Americans. The manifesto, which I put in air quotes as to not give any legitimacy to the racist and antisemitic rantings it contains, touts nearly 30 pages of antisemitic language, memes, and graphics. At its core is replacement theory, the belief that there is a so-called “white genocide” being waged, white people are somehow being “replaced,” and that any means necessary must be used to supposedly “save” white America.”
Those who believe in replacement theory often think of the Jew as the puppet master, the group responsible for pulling the strings from behind the scenes, manipulating situations for malign purposes. This is a classic form of antisemitism, in which the antisemite punches up. Jews, the antisemite is convinced, are richer than, more powerful than, and more able to control matters than “the rest” of us. They revile the Jews, but they also fear them. And it is this fear of the Jews’ putative ability to control society and cause harm to the non-Jewish world, that determines for the antisemite that the Jew must be fought assiduously.
I recently read a frightening statistic from a study conducted by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, that 1 in 3, or roughly 32% of Americans now believe that a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with a group of immigrants, a core tenet of replacement theory. Another recent study, by The Asian American Foundation, similarly found that 33% of Americans believe that that Asian Americans are more loyal to their country of origin than to the United States. Despite the fact that in Buffalo, the target of the shooter’s victims were African American, the attack was on all of us, on all minority communities, and on the values and ideals that underpin our democracy.
Naturally, we may have many strongly held differences of opinion on a range of different topics. There are many lines of division – religious, generational, financial, and political – but it’s essential that we stand united in the fight against hate. We are too often divided by the color of our skin, whom we love, how we identify, and the way that we pray or don’t pray. When it comes to combating hate, we can’t allow our divisions to further calcify and impede concerted action.
As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zecher tzaddik livracha, said, when speaking about how he saw Jewish peoplehood: “We may not agree on anything, but … I don’t need you to agree with me, I just need you to care about me.”
It is precisely dialogues like this, which bring together incredible, diverse communities, that show we care for the wellbeing of one another, and that will unite us and make us stronger in the fight against hate. Together, we will continue to fight for a day when attending a grocery store, going to school, showing up for work at a spa, or attending synagogue does not, in fact, require an act of courage.
Thank you to the ADL and the Japanese American Citizens’ League for hosting us all here tonight, and Meredith I turn it back over to you for the next part of the evening.