August 11, 2021
Many American Jews, who not so long ago thought Jew-hatred was a threat faced by Jews elsewhere in the world but not here at home, are suddenly waking up to new realities. AJC CEO David Harris has been in the center of this fight for well over four decades, first in Europe and now in the United States. Under his leadership, AJC was the first Jewish organization to call out the resurgence of Jew-hatred in Europe in 2000-1. Join us to hear from Harris, a lifelong Jewish activist, on ways to fight back against this alarming trend, including the need to strengthen Jewish pride.
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Daniel Silver: Good day. Welcome to Advocacy Anywhere, powered by American Jewish Committee. Advocacy Anywhere is AJC’s digital platform that enables you to engage with AJC’s global expertise, content, and advocacy from wherever you are. AJC CEO David Harris has been on the front line in the struggle against antisemitism for well over four decades, first in Europe, and now in the United States. Under his leadership, AJC was the first Jewish organization to call out the resurgence of Jew-hatred in Europe, in 2000 and 2001. We are delighted to have him with us today to discuss ways to fight back against rising Jew-hatred in America, and the need to strengthen Jewish pride. David Harris has led AJC since 1990, and has been described by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres the Foreign Minister of the Jewish people. Moderating today's conversation is AJC Chief of Staff to the CEO Jillian Laskowitz. After we hear from David and Jillian, we will take your questions. You may email your question to email@example.com, that's questions plural, or use the q and a feature in Zoom. Jillian, the floor is yours.
Jillian Laskowitz: Thank you so much, Daniel, and welcome back to our global audience and to you as well, David.
David Harris: Thank you.
Jillian Laskowitz: David, I know antisemitism for you and your family is a very personal story. So, can you start us off by telling us a bit about your own family's history regarding antisemitism.
David Harris: Well, Jillian, look, I wish we could have a happier start to the conversation but it's obviously important to frame the conversation. So yes, for my family and me antisemitism is not an abstraction. It's not something we've read about in the history books. It's not something that happened to my great-great-great-grandfather, or so I was told in the family lore. Antisemitism for our family has been very real, very immediate, very lethal, and ever present. My mother and her family were from the Soviet Union. Before that, Russia, they fled in 1929 during the period of Stalin, because of antisemitism generated by the communists. They fled to France, where they found refuge. In 1940, the Nazis invaded, and occupied France collaborated with the French Vichy. And once again, my mother and her family were on the move. For 17 months trying to hide and escape from the Nazis, and to find refuge in neutral Spain and Portugal. So, for my mother and her family, they experienced antisemitism both from the far right, Nazi Germany and its allies, and from the far left. It was an antisemitism that was not social or superficial. This was an antisemitism that targeted Jews and sought to kill Jews. My father was born in Budapest, Hungary. He was raised in Vienna. He was in Vienna during the Anschluss in 1938, when Nazi Germany occupied Austria. And my father, who at the time was in the Institute of Chemistry, doing work on the synthesis of the heavy hydrogen atom. As a teenager, I might add, suddenly found himself on the streets, shining the boots of Nazi officers, until he was able to flee. He has a long wartime story, but he survived. He came to the United States after the war, but again, Jillian to the point from my father antisemitism was not something you read about or saw in the movie or experienced on social media antisemitism for him was a question of life and of death. And my wife, whom I met in Rome, Italy, in 1975, came from a family of eight children who had lived for generations, for centuries in Libya, in North Africa. as part of the Jewish minority. In 1967. They were threatened with death by mobs in the streets, looking for Jews. They were lucky. They went into hiding for several weeks. They were given safe passage, out of Libya, with the help of the Italian ambassador. My wife never returned to Libya. There are no Jews left in Libya today, not one. So again, for my wife, like for my mother and father, antisemitism was real. It was immediate. It was potentially lethal. They were out to kill Jews. And it goes on, Jillian, because much of my work when I was younger, brought me back to Europe, specifically to Rome and Vienna, where I spent three years working with Jews who were able to flee from behind the Iron Curtain overwhelmingly from the Soviet Union, but also from other Soviet satellite countries. And each of them, each of them, and I worked with literally thousands and thousands of families, each of them had stories to tell about antisemitism, how they experienced it personally. Whether at work, whether on the streets, whether in trying to go to school. And also, many had experiences from the Second World War, from the Nazi onslaught. And then the collaboration by some local forces in Ukraine and the Baltics and elsewhere, that were again, targeting Jews. So, I met with literally thousands of Jews who were fleeing contemporary antisemitism. I spent time in Ethiopia, and there too I met with Jews who are being targeted by the Mengistu a regime in Addis Ababa, which was essentially communist regime. They had also been targeted for centuries by their Muslim and Christian neighbors. And these were Jews who were yearning, not just to leave Ethiopia, but specifically to fulfill their dreams and go to the biblical Israel that they had prayed to but had never seen. So there too, these were life and death issues and I'll just give you one more example, again because all of this is so it's sort of enveloped me all my life. Our middle son went on a junior year abroad program as many do. He went to Argentina. He was assigned to a family; he did not want to live in a dorm he wanted to live with a Spanish speaking family. And lo and behold, the family was called the Kupchik family. It turns out that the Kupchik family were Jews who had lost their son, and their nephew in July 1994, when the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, the AMIA building being, let's say the 92nd Street Y or the Federation building or the JCC building, was bombed by Iranian and Hezbollah operatives. 85 people were killed. And my son Michael found himself for six months living with a Jewish family who had lost their son, and their nephew, to antisemitic terrorism. So, put aside for a moment, my work with AJC, my travels to Venezuela, to Turkey, to France, go down the list, in order to meet with victims of antisemitism, with victims of terrorism. Antisemitism for u, has been extraordinarily real. We've seen it up close. And that's why I feel so passionate about the struggle against antisemitism. It kills. It kills from the right. It kills from the left. It kills in the name of jihadists. It kills, and we have to be extraordinarily alert to the dangers today.
Jillian Laskowitz: Wow, David, thank you, there's no easy way to start this conversation, but thank you for framing the personal side of it as well. So, what you just described, it helped you see what others didn't see regarding the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe, in 2000 and 2001. Can you tell us what lessons, the U.S. can learn from what resurfaced in Europe, 20 years ago?
David Harris: Well, I think it was the German poet Heinrich Heine, who himself was also Jewish, who said something along the lines of, “sometimes the hardest thing for you to see is what's just in front of your nose.” And in 2000 and 2001, my family and I were living in Geneva, Switzerland for a year. I was chairing an NGO that was affiliated with AJC at the time, called United Nations Watch. And I was a visiting faculty member at Johns Hopkins University campus in Bologna, Italy. And we began to see the resurfacing of antisemitism in a very menacing way. And I won't go through the details, I've done so elsewhere. But the point is, Jillian, that it was so clear to me to my family what was happening. And so, wearing my AJC hat, and my United Nations Watch hat, we began to talk about it. I went to Paris; I went to other European cities to talk to political leaders to help alert them. I did so as a friend because I felt that that antisemitism reemerging was not just a threat to me, David Harris, or to the Jewish community, it was a threat to Europe, to the Europe that was constructed on the ashes of the Holocaust and Jillian, it's taken years and years in some cases, if I went country by country to help wake up people to the reality. But the question you ask is not to go through that history, that's for another occasion, but rather, what have we learned there that applies here. I think the first answer is we have to make people aware. We cannot assume that people are aware, just because we saw what happened in Charlottesville, or at the synagogue in Pittsburgh or at the synagogue in Poway, or at the kosher food store in Jersey City, or in the countless street attacks against so-called “identifiable Jews,” whether in Rockland County, New York, or on the streets of New York, or most recently in May of this year, in New York and Los Angeles and other cities, people associated with being Jewish or connected somehow to Israel. We cannot make the assumption that therefore the whole country recognizes the problem. We need to serve as the wake-up call. We also have to recognize that not everyone understands, even the word antisemitism when Jews use it. AJC did a poll, some months ago, about antisemitism. And we asked Americans, their views, and 46% of the respondents, Jillian, either could not identify the term antisemitism or had vaguely heard it but could not define it. So, we can't assume one, that people recognize antisemitism because we ourselves recognize it and two, we can't assume that they understand it, even if they hear the term. Number three, perhaps more importantly, the lesson we learned in Europe is, you cannot allow people to politicize the issue. Now some in Europe, did and by the way, some in America are doing it right now. They only want to see one piece of the story, because it happens to fit their particular ideology or political partisanship. So, if they're on the right, they want to point the finger at the left; if they're on the left, they want to point the finger at the right, and so on. That's not honest. That's not serious. That's instrumentalizing antisemitism to serve different purposes. So, lesson number three is not only must we insist on depoliticization, but we have to call it out when it does happen. So, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, just after the attack in Jersey City with to Jews were killed, promptly tweeted “white supremacy kills.” When the police arrested the suspects, there were two African Americans who purported to be members of a black Hebrew group that thought that they were the authentic Jews and not others. Rashida Tlaib deleted her tweet. But suddenly, it seemed, lost total interest in who the perpetrators were because it no longer fit her political agenda. That's not serious. And number four, Jillian, the lessons from Europe include, it's not for Jews to fight antisemitism alone. This is not our proprietary battle. When we visited Sweden in the course of these last years and met with the Jewish community. At the time, as I remember, they told us that they were spending more than 20% of their entire budget as the Jewish community, not on schools, not on Meals on Wheels, not on homes for the elderly, not on care for Holocaust survivors, but on security, on security, and our point is that the fight against antisemitism must begin, not with Jews alone, but with governments, with governments, with governments that have the power of the bully pulpit, with governments that have the power of the purse, with governments that have the power of the police and intelligence and the courts, with governments that have the power of education, and messaging in schools, and civic lessons. It has to begin there. Our job, we believe, is to partner with the government. It's also to partner with civil society, but to awaken civil society more generally, to all the religious communities, to all the ethnic communities, to all the civil rights groups, to all the human rights groups, to help them understand the antisemitism is real. It's a threat to the fabric and fiber of our society. It challenges our values as a nation, and as a community, and therefore, Jews should not be fighting this issue alone. Those were some of the lessons. And the last lesson, though there were many others, that I'll mention is the battle of social media. And here, not just the back and forth between this influencer and that influencer and the comments underneath the tweets or the Facebook posts, but rather, where is the line for corporate social responsibility? And where is the line for the exercise of freedom of speech? And it's a very complicated issue in Europe. It leaned very much in the direction of even limiting freedom of speech, if it meant incitement or raw hatred, antisemitism, Holocaust denial. In America, we tilt in the other direction. But the conversation around the role of social media is one that every society has to have, and governments have to be involved, and civil society has to be involved, and tech companies have to be involved, and affected communities, like the Jewish community or the African American community, must also be involved. So, there are at least five lessons from AJC’s experience in Europe over the last two decades.
Jillian Laskowitz: Absolutely. Thank you, David. And, and last time we had you on here, on Advocacy Anywhere, you discussed “where's the outrage,” regarding the research that we've seen in antisemitism. It feels like at this moment the Jewish community is outraged, and that people are eager for ways to fight back. And I should mention you recently wrote a widely distributed op-ed in the Times of Israel, called “A Jewish Call to Action,” which listed 10 ways to fight back, and we're including that in the chat here for our viewers. You mentioned holding elected officials and institutions accountable for how they react or fail to react regarding antisemitism. So, I wanted to ask, what does that look like? What is holding these officials and these institutions accountable actually look like, in practice?
David Harris: Well, I think it means exactly what it says, Jillian, which is we cannot allow institutions, governments, local, county, state, federal, political parties, including our two major parties, Democrats and Republicans, universities, other sort of pillars of our society to equivocate as if antisemitism were a lower form of bigotry, or hatred. We would expect, and AJC would try to insist, that any act of racism, any act of homophobia, any act of xenophobia, would be taken seriously by the affected institutions, they would respond, both quickly and unambiguously, as strongly as needed. We believe that antisemitism must be treated exactly in the same way. And sometimes it is, Jillian, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes we’ve seen institutions, political parties, go down the list, who when it comes to antisemitism, hesitate, equivocate, attenuate, suddenly lump it together with every other “-ism” and phobia, as if we can't talk about antisemitism as a distinct form of social pathology, as if there isn't a thousands year-long history of antisemitism. So, we have to hold them accountable. If a political party countenances any form of antisemitism at any level. We have to call them out. We have to insist that they confront the issue. And whether it's Democrats or Republicans, we have to apply the exact same standards. We have to call on our government leaders to do the same, our universities have an uneven record, Jillian, and time permitting, we could go through examples of some universities that have really risen to the occasion to protect Jewish students and to ensure that that the university community understands that this will not be tolerated, and others have equivocated, sometimes come under pressure, as if antisemitism can be politicized say in an Israeli-Palestinian context, which somehow softens, softens the damage done by antisemitism. And Rutgers University I have to say offers a case study, in my judgment, of how not, how not to handle an issue. So, there's a lot of work to be done with our major institutions in this country, and Jews who are active in those institutions, and many are, should be calling them to account, when appropriate, and hopefully in the company of others not just Jews. Again, this should not be a proprietary struggle by Jews alone.
Jillian Laskowitz: Absolutely. David, in this piece you also mentioned the importance of showing our own Jewish pride. I know that this one is of particular importance to you, and to all of us at AJC, and this led you to write a second op-ed, “Time to Affirm Jewish Pride.” What do you mean when you talk about, you know, reaffirming our Jewish pride as it relates to the fight against antisemitism?
David Harris: Jillian I've seen through my own family experiences, through stories that have been told in my family, I've seen it through reading history that there are multiple responses among Jews at any moment in time to outbreaks of antisemitism. There are Jews who live in total denial, until the very last minute, believing either it's not real, or it's being exaggerated. Or maybe it is real, but it won't affect them because they’re somehow immune. By dint of, you know, in Germany in 1933, by dint of having earned an Iron Cross by serving in the German army in the First World War, or by dint of not wearing a kippah, or not being identifiably Jewish the way some in Borough Park or, or Monsey, or Crown Heights, or Williamsburg, are identifiably Jewish. So, there's that whole group that says it's not about me. Now, there's a group of, let's call them Marrano Jews, who essentially say we're going to hold on to our Jewish identity, but not in public. So, behind curtains, behind closed doors, you know, we’ll be Jewish. But when it comes to going out in the streets, we're going to disguise that identity as much as we can. I think there's a third response that's needed, Jillian, and I think it's quite the opposite. I think the responses is we need to become even more Jewish. And I don't mean by that, you know, if you don't today wear a kippah, you necessarily put on kippah, or if you don't have a beard, you grow a beard. I don't mean it in the sense of, you know, step up your degree of religiosity, those are very personal issues. But I mean, affirm being Jewish. Interestingly, my own family, where we have three sons and three daughters in law. Several have now chosen just in recent weeks and months, to wear a star of David, very publicly, very openly. They want people to know they are Jewish. People who have put up a mezuzah on their door, whether it's a kind of, if you will, tribal symbol or religious symbol or some combination of the two. But why would I want to hide, I'm proud to be a Jew. Just as I watch African Americans being proud to be African American, as they should be. And Muslim Americans being proud to be Muslim Americans, and that includes those who are religious and therefore are also, if you will, distinctive and identifiable. They're absolutely right. Should Jews now be whispering in Hebrew, rather than speaking loudly in Hebrew if they if they do speak Hebrew, because they’re afraid of the reaction? Absolutely not. I believe that the proper response, Jillian, and this is what I wrote in the op-ed, and this is what I fully believe, is that this is a time for us to become more Jewish. This is a time to instill in our own children and grandchildren, a justifiable sense of pride. And let me be clear, I don't mean triumphalist pride. I mean a pride that simply is drawn from an extraordinary tradition of which we are the heirs. There are other great traditions in the world, and I applaud and admire them. I happen to be an heir of the Jewish tradition, which dates back thousands of years, has contributed so much to global civilization, the very notion of monotheism, the ethical roadmap that Jews have provided the extraordinary resilience, the countless contributions along the way that Jews have made to the world, all of these for me are sources of great pride. And by the way, similarly, so is the rebirth of the State of Israel. And we may get to this later, but let me say that for me, affirming my pride in being Jewish also means affirming my pride in being a friend of Israel and a proud Zionist.
Jillian Laskowitz: And David, just to add a caveat to that, you know, we've been speaking about spinal transplants not in the medical sense but in this Jewish identity sense, so maybe you want to touch on that at some point during the conversation. But since you mentioned Israel, I’d love to bring Israel into the conversation because your fourth point mentioned embracing Israel as a way to combat antisemitism. You also mentioned, you know, learning the basic facts about Israel and the Middle East in general, so can you further explain how this all helps to combat Jew-hatred?
David Harris: There's no question that for many of the antisemites, Jillian, Israel is a big part of the equation today. Or for the neo-Nazis, it's about Jews. It's all about Jews as untermenschen, you know, subhuman. But for many, especially on the left, the far left. Israel is very much part of the conversation. And I, for one, do not shy away from those conversations. You know, I'm not going to pretend that I'm a “good Jew” who disassociates himself from Israel, throws Israel under the bus, sacrifices Israel on the altar of social political expediency in order to somehow get along. As a Jew, I believe, and I don't think it's just about me, that to be a Jew is to be associated with three things: a faith tradition, a sense of peoplehood, and a connection to a land. Those three are the essential building blocks of Jewish identity. And I'm not going to amputate the connection to a land simply because it creates uncomfortable situations, either in a classroom, or perhaps on the street. I believe that Israel, among the world's nations, has as much legitimacy, I would argue, by the way, even more than most nations. And I'm not going to, sort of, yield to debates about whether Israel should even have the right to exist. The other day, someone said to me, Jillian, you know I really don't like Israel, but you know, I support it's right to exist. And you know, I pause for a moment before responding, I hope politely, “what do you mean you recognize Israel's right to exist?” It's a fact. It's not in dispute, or debate. Israel was reborn in 1948. It emerged, all from an ancient birthright. And from a modern endorsement by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947. Following earlier endorsement by the League of Nations, the San Remo conference, and the then-British colonial government. Look at other nations around the world and tell me what their birthrights are by those standards, Jillian. So, you're telling me that you accept Israel's right to exist. It sounds absurd. If I were to say you know what, I accept Bolivia's right to exist in a conversation with a Bolivian, or I accept Belgium's right to exist in a conversation with Belgium, they would rightly look at me as if I were from another planet. Israel has a right to exist. Israel is a member of the United Nations. Israel is a global contributor. Israel today has formal diplomatic relations with six Arab countries and altogether, well over 160 -70 nations in the world. I’m proud of Israel. Does that mean that I agree with everything that Israel does? I'm a proud American, do I agree with everything America does or everything France or, or Mexico does? But I stand by Israel. I stand by Israel in its rebirth. I stand by Israel in its quest for peace. I stand by Israel its right to defend itself against those who would genocidally seek to destroy it. And I do so proudly and blessed, Jillian, as part of a generation that didn't just pray to Jerusalem, next year, l’shana haba’ah b’yerushalayim, but is living in an era where Jerusalem metaphysically may be next year, but geographically and politically is this year. And how lucky we are, 75 generations of Jews pray to an Israel which did not exist since the year 70 in the Common Era, how lucky we are. I only wish more people understood their good fortune.
Jillian Laskowitz: We are lucky. And we shouldn't have to check our Zionist identities at the door and knowing the basic facts that you've laid out can only help us against the absurd claims that we hear all the time in social situations. And, David, at AJC, we know, and we constantly say and sound the alarms, that when it comes to Jew-hatred, we need to be swivel headed, you've said this on multiple occasions you've written about it extensively. We need to be swivel headed on the sources where antisemitism comes from, which led to your next point in this op-ed that we're discussing on how to fight back. How can our audience recognize that? you touched on this a little bit earlier when it comes to depoliticizing antisemitism. Can you elaborate, just a little more?
David Harris: Absolutely. I am a strict nonpartisan. American Jewish Committee is strictly nonpartisan. Even my late and beloved mother, who died three years ago, was asking until just before her death, tell me who you vote for. And I said, “Mommy, I love you dearly, I'll tell you anything. But I'm not gonna tell you who I vote for because it's going to leak out, and it will undermine my and AJC’s role as an authentic nonpartisan organization. But what it means, Jillian, is we're going to speak out. If Marjorie Taylor Green surfaces, as a member of the United States Congress, and affiliates herself with the Republican party, and spouts all these conspiratorial insanities about Jews and space lasers, or if there's another member of the Republican Party who's going to find himself or herself in the company of Holocaust deniers. We're going to call them out. And we're going to ask the Republican Party leadership whether those individuals reflect the values of the Republican Party. Because I believe they don't. And they shouldn't certainly. And we're going to try and hold leaders accountable. We must. And similarly, and I stress similarly, when you have members of Congress who are Democrats. I mentioned Rashida Tlaib, I'll mention Ilhan Omar, who have associated themselves with antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories, had done so on social media, reaching millions of people, and the Democratic Party simply avert its eyes, look the other way, somehow pretend this is not happening, or simply offer a gentle slap on the wrist. I don't believe so. I don't believe so. I believe that political parties need to be held accountable and politics should summon the best and not the worst. And yes, sometimes there are political risks and even political costs, I get that. I'm not an Eagle Scout on these issues. But I also understand from my reading of my family history and broader Jewish history, and if you will, broader history, that if political leaders send mixed messages, the public will receive mixed messages. Aha, some forms of bigotry are worse than others. Some forces are, some manifestations are excusable, or perhaps rationalizable, or maybe even justifiable. No. No. If it's an act of racism, if it’s an act of homophobia, if it’s an act of xenophobia, if it's an act of Islamophobia, political parties have to make clear who they are and what they stand for and yes, pay the price. And, Jillian, a great case study which is very applicable is the British Labour Party, until recently, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Now, here, you had a venerable British Party, which had been led by admired politicians like Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and others, in which many British Jews for generations have loyalty voted. Probably majority of British Jews. And then it was taken over by Jeremy Corbyn, who would turns out allowed, invited, encouraged, choose your word, a kind of whole new antisemitic, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel cesspool, in which he identified his friends from Hamas and Hezbollah, in which he was found in a photo to be laying a wreath where terrorists had murdered Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. And I'm not even speaking about Jeremy Corbyn’s attitudes towards the United States more generally, for its NATO, his friendship for Iran, for Syria, for Russia, for Cuba. One of the two major parties have been hijacked. And look at what was required to try and pull the party back and look at the courage of some Labour Party members like Joan Riley and John Mann, Ian Austin, and others who at the end of the day, confronted the leadership. And when they couldn't change it, they walked away. Actually, they didn't walk away from their Labour Party values, the Labour Party itself walked away from its traditional values. But this is the kind of political courage that may be required, Jillian, in the United States one day. Jeremy Corbyn just spoke, just a few days ago, he just addressed the Democratic Socialists of America. Now, by the way, it was the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York branch that had distributed that petition to our New York City Council candidates, demanding that they not visit Israel as members of the New York City Council. Oh, and by the way, no other country in the world was mentioned in that petition. Not North Korea, not Iran, not Syria, not China, not Russia, not Venezuela, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, was targeted by the Democratic Socialists, Jeremy Corbyn just spoke to them. And guess what, a couple of American congressman were also speaking to the Democratic Socialists of America. Does that mean that they also support Jeremy Corbyn? Does that mean they also support the petition that was circulated in New York? I think again, whether it's AJC or more generally this audience, I think we need to know answers. I don't think we can look to the other way and pretend it's nothing. It is something important. And what our institutions do about it or don't do about it does matter.
Jillian Laskowitz: Truly astounding case studies. I mean, just staying on the left-wing antisemitism for a moment, because we've seen this play out also on college campuses and on social media, one of your 10 points was to focus on young Jews. So, I wanted to ask, what's your message to young Jews at this time and how can the Jewish community and AJC be supporting them in this fight?
David Harris: Young Jews who take they're being Jewish seriously or proud to be Jewish, and also a proud to be associated with Israel, who may have gone on a Birthright trip to Israel who may have done a study abroad program in Israel, or whatever, need to be supported. Jillian, they need to be supported by the larger Jewish community. They need to be supported by organizations like our own AJC. They need to be seen as being on the front lines, it can be very difficult at the age of, you know, 18 or 20, to find yourself in a classroom where a professor, is using the classroom not to teach and to open minds, but to propagandize and to close minds and to intimidate those who may have a contrary point of view and I think many of us know of very specific examples and very specific colleges and very specific classrooms where exactly this kind of intellectual bullying and social intimidation is happening. Or it can be very difficult for those students to walk across the quad and to see Israel vilified and demonized as some kind of ethnic cleansing apartheid state when nothing of the sort is true. But again, we're dealing with young people who are vulnerable, who are fragile, who want to be experiencing great college years. So, we need to support them. And one way we can support them on, is to help them before they go to college and AJC seven or eight years ago, created a high school program we called Leaders for Tomorrow. It was actually triggered by a then- high school sophomore in New York who came to see us with his mom and said, you know, AJC is worried about the college scene. I'm here to tell you that some high schools are now affected by it as well. And I have a teacher, he said, a social studies teacher. In fact, chair of the department at my prestigious private school, who will not even put Israel, a map of Israel, on the wall, alongside all the other countries of the world. So, Israel is the only country missing from the maps on the wall in the social studies class from he said, “we need help.” So, we now have Leaders for Tomorrow up and running in more than a dozen cities across the United States for the last seven years. That is meant to help those kids in high school, and prepare them for what may be on college, obviously we need to expand this greatly. So, if it were up to me, we'd be in all 50 states, we'd be in every synagogue, we'd be in every JCC, we'd be in every Jewish day school, we'd be in every after-school program, where the Jewish community says we have an obligation to our young people, but let me be clear, Jillian, this program is not simply about defensive tactics. It's not a kind of intellectual krav maga class where you learn how to fend off, you know, verbal assaults. It's even more about an earlier point you raised. It's about affirming pride. After all, why would someone go on campus and be socially isolated, or intimidated by a professor, by other students on social media, unless they know what they're standing for. If I'm going to be attacked for being a Jew, or if I'm going to be attacked for being a friend of Israel, I sure as heck want to know why being Jewish should matter to me, why Israel should matter to me. So, we start very positively, not negatively. It's not about how you fend off the arguments. It's rather creating a kind of inner sense of identity, of pride, again to use the same word, of competence, of confidence. Yes, you can be a proud Jew. Yes, you can be a proud friend of Israel. And yes, you can meet those who are proud Christians and proud Muslims and proud Buddhists, and you can hold your head up high, alongside them. And yes, you can be a friend of Israel, as there were those you'll meet who are friends of other countries. And yes, have discussions and debates, but don't fear them. Don't fear that that there's no foundation, there's a very strong foundation and agencies trying to help provide it. We're affirming Jewish identity and as you said, in some respects, we're trying to strengthen spines, or in a language we used earlier, even creating spinal transplants, so to speak.
Jillian Laskowitz: Right, and it always comes back to Jewish pride, and, you know, the young Jews right now are almost Jewish warriors, in a sense, and I should also mention AJC just launched Disrupt Antisemitism initiative to empower young Jews to come up with their own ideas to fight antisemitism, Our viewers can find more information on our social media pages on our website. But David, you mentioned earlier that Jew-hatred isn't only a Jewish problem, it's a societal problem, you've written about this as well. So, I wanted to ask you what does this look like in practice? What does this look like for the Jewish community and our partners?
David Harris: Well, let me just add one more word, Jillian, first about the last question. I, you know, I've been lucky, and not just me, but also me, I have met some extraordinary young Jews. I have met some extraordinary young Jews. I've met them in high schools. I've sat in on a lot of the LFT programs that AJC runs. I've met them at colleges. I've spent time at lunches and dinners with Jewish students on campuses. I've made a point of it, because I, first of all, I want them to know that that we have their back. Secondly, I want to hear from them. I want to hear their real-life stories, you know, like the student at Columbia University for example, who told who told us. You know, when I was a freshman, I wanted to enroll in some of the clubs and so forth at the university, they were they were all out there on the quad, sort of recruiting. And when I discovered that even the hip hop club, which was the kind of music that he liked, even the hip hop club had signed on to some BDS campaign, sort of isolating and demonizing Israel, you know, he realized this has gone way out of control. You know this is not just about friends of the Palestinians and friends of Israel, having these debates, whether in the classroom or our campus, fine, that's part of college, you meet people with whom you both agree, and with whom you disagree, and you learn from the experience, but this was about something else, this was about a kind of penetration of just about every nook and cranny of a campus and kind of pulling it into the anti-Israel crowd. So, my hat is off to these students whom I have met. And by the way, some of them are not Jewish, but understanding that gets to the next question that you asked, Jillian. Some of them are not Jewish, but understand either that Israel is a cause worth defending, Jews are fellow students who are worth defending, or they understand, at the end of the day, you know, we're all in this together. And that's my answer to your next question. I think Martin Luther King said, and I may be paraphrasing it, we all learn to live together as brothers, and sisters I’ll add, or we perish together as fools. A democratic society can be balkanized in such a way that we can say, yes, we're a democratic society but, you know, that group is exempt from the democratic rules or that group can be targeted because there's some legitimate reason to target them. We're all in this together. Antisemitism, we have been saying for years and years and years, antisemitism is a cancer that begins with Jews, but left unchecked, it will metastasize. And ultimately, it will destroy society as we know it. And that's why we believe that this should of concern, not just to us as Jews, but to all people of goodwill. Does anyone really think... let's go back to Pittsburgh, for a moment, in the Tree of Life Synagogue. Does anyone really think that if there were a mosque next door to that synagogue, and the shooter, had been able to continue shooting, that once he killed in the synagogue, that he would not have gone into the mosque and killed as many Muslim worshippers as he could have? Of course, he would have. And let's go to Charleston, South Carolina, and the attack on the AME church, which if I recall, killed nine worshippers there, African Americans. Does anyone really believe that the murderer, the racist murder who attacked that AME church, had there been a synagogue next door, and a mosque next door to that, and perhaps a Sikh or Buddhist temple next to that, that if he could have, that he would have shot up those as well? Because what he was really saying, what the racist and antisemites are really saying, is we need to practice identity politics, and you, you Jews, you African Americans, you gay people, you Muslims, you're not part of our identity politics. To the contrary, you have no place here, you are the other. So, for us, if we're serious about defending democratic values and building a just society, we have to be about each other. I'm proud of AJC’s role for over 100 years in, yes, speaking up for and defending the other, even as we were targets of antisemitism and continue to be. We have stood up and will continue to stand up against racism, legal, structural, all forms of racism, against all forms of xenophobia, against all forms of homophobia, against all forms of Islamophobia. We understand. We're in it together. And our goal is to ensure that this sort of larger community of conscience, of goodwill, will stand shoulder to shoulder, for each other and with each other because our destinies are all intertwined in this extraordinary experiment we call America. We can't decouple one from the other. If we do, the tapestry of America begins to unravel, Jillian, and history has taught us the outcome could be quite, quite ugly.
Jillian Laskowitz: Right. And as you've described, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. We really, we’re in it together,
David Harris: And we keep saying it, Jillian, and yet I'm not sure it's, sort of, it's been fully absorbed, as it should be out there. We are in it together. And people, if people think, well yes, but you know he's a Jew who looks different, who dresses different, who prays different, so maybe he kind of deserved it. Or no, No, no, once we start down that pathway. that slippery slope, we're opening up a Pandora's box we will not be able to shut it. And America as we know it will come on done.
Jillian Laskowitz: Absolutely. David, I have one more question to ask you and then I want to turn it to Daniel to collect a few questions from the audience. So, one of your final points was to draw lessons from Jewish history. We live in an increasingly ahistorical society, we know that. So, what can we do, how can we take lessons from our own history to fight back?
David Harris: How many hours do we have time for me to answer that one? Plus, you want some questions. Look, I'm a student of history who's always tried very hard to understand history as best I can, but not to become a prisoner of history, there's a big difference. But one thing I've learned is that we Jews sometimes, again to what I said earlier, Jillian, where we don't really understand, some Jews, what's going on. And I see today in some of the most vicious, virulent, antisemitic, anti-Zionist groups, some Jews who are kind of used as props, almost, you know, to kind of fend off any accusation. How can we be antisemitic, look, we have so and so here, who's one of our members or one of our supporters, people who are willing to actually, publicly endorse the dismantling of the State of Israel. And the one Jewish majority nation on Earth, a nation that occupies a vast landmass equal to the size of New Jersey. It is one little sliver of the land, is one little place where Jews can exercise sovereignty. Whereas, in our history, we know that when we have not been able to exercise sovereignty, we have lived by the will of the majority and look at the results. Look at what happened to my wife and her family. Look at what happened to my mother and her family. Look at what happened to my father and his family. Look at what happened to the thousands of Soviet Jews that I met in Rome and Vienna. Keep going across the globe and through the generations. One little sliver of land where we can exercise sovereignty, we can have control over immigration, so that there were no more St. Louis's, ships that are turned away. That there are no more Cyprus’, where the British kept more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors after the war, rather than allow them to go to Palestine, which became Israel. One little place, and even that is too much for some Jews, who are ready to sell millions of other Jews - throw them under the bus, because they can't abide even that notion of Jewish sovereignty. So, I'd love to speak about Jewish unity. I know we'll never achieve full Jewish unity. But the more unity we can achieve among as many Jews, and as many organizations, and as many denominations as possible, Jillian, to me is extraordinarily important. I learned the simple lesson at home from my mother. One day, each year, a shaliach, a kind of messenger from Jerusalem, from the Yeshiva Jerusalem, would knock on our door on West 74 street, where we lived in New York, and he would ask for funds. And he was a, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and we were not. And my mother who was a working woman, where money was always an issue in our family, always an issue, my mother worked till age 83, but always give him something, $1, $2, $3. And I remember as a child asking my mother, “Mommy, but why are you giving him money? We're not, we don't look like him and he doesn't look like us.” And she said, “one day you'll understand. Those of us who are in the Holocaust. We were all in it together. Ultra-orthodox, secular, atheist, Zionist, anti-Zionist, non-Zionist bundist, Yiddish speaking, non-Yiddish speaking, we were all in it together.” So, that was my mother's attitude. And here I am, years after my mother's death, and I can say, I understand what you taught me when I was a child.
Jillian Laskowitz: Wow, David, thank you. It really, it all comes back to Jewish pride, which is what we're discussing.
David Harris: And the Jewish Home, and the Jewish Home. It starts in the Jewish Home before you even get to the synagogue, or before it gets to organizations like American Jewish Committee, where people ask us how can you help my children, how can you help my grandchildren? We go back to the 10 points, Jillian. It begins in the home. This is what I learned, and this is what my wife and I tried to teach our children. It starts in the home, and it builds from there.
Jillian Laskowitz: Absolutely. Daniel, I think we have time for probably one audience question.
Daniel Silver: Sure, I'm actually going to sneak in two, David, if that's okay. I'll give them both to you so our first actually comes from Patricia Ecker and in Los Angeles, California, and I have to say this actually came in from several different folks are asking, I'm going to paraphrase here a bit, about the word antisemitism which you had mentioned it. Many Americans don't even know what that word means and I noticed for this session you use the word Jew-hatred. Is it really time to start having that introspective debate about the language that we use to describe discrimination against Jews? And then our last question from Josh Rabinowitz, who’s an incoming freshman at Northwestern University, who’s saying that it’s been very daunting to hear about what’s happening on college campuses, if you were to give one piece of advice to him, and other incoming Jewish college students, what would that be?
David Harris: To the first question, it's very interesting that until, not so long ago, the big debate in the Jewish world was whether antisemitism should be uppercase or lowercase, and whether it should be hyphenated or not. And while much that many of the Jewish world were having that debate that the thing, the straight line, that we were all missing was, as I said, some 46%, of Americans have no idea what the word even means or can't define it. So, that's why I think you heard Jillian using the word Jew-hatred more and more in this conversation. And I think you're going to see AJC and other Jewish organizations also referring to Jew-hatred, in order to make absolutely clear what it is we're talking about. And to Josh, Northwestern is a great university and I wish you very well there. It’s had a great president in Morty Schapiro. The one thing: Enjoy your experience while affirming your Jewish pride. Don't feel that in order to enjoy your experience you have to sacrifice on who you are as a Jew. We don't know each other, but however you affirm it, whether you are religious or non-religious Jew, whether you feel close to Israel or perhaps you haven't yet visited Israel, I hope then you will, but be who you are, affirm who you are, respect others because they are who they are, and count on them to respect you for exactly the same reason because you are who you are. And good luck.
Jillian Laskowitz: David, we're nearing the end of the hour so, as always, thank you so much for your leadership and your passion on this issue. It's a personal one for all of us and I know at AJC we're taking these lessons and will continue to affirm Jewish pride and fight Jew-hatred and try and use that word more as we talk about it, and we hope our viewers will too. So, any final thoughts David? Thank you so much.
David Harris: I’ll have to repeat, I think the moral of the story for me is, we all need to find a spine. We need to stand up, we need to be sure that our voices are heard when the institutions that we trust are equivocating or betraying us. We are the proud heirs of an extraordinary journey through history. We should draw the lessons from it. We should stand together; we should stand tall. We should stand with others for others, and we should count and others to stand with us for ourselves. So yes, keep asking, where is the outrage and answer, it's within me and my goal is now to channel that outrage constructively to ensure that we Jews have a bright and promising future in a bright and promising America.
Jillian Laskowitz: Thank you, Daniel, back to you to close us out please.
Daniel Silver: Thank you, Jillian, and David, thank you for being with us today and for talking to us through this truly alarming trend here in the United States. And for our global audience who tuned in today, or via the recorded playback, if you’d like to join AJC in the fight against Jew-hatred, please visit ajc.org for more information. As David said, this is not a time to stay silent and we need you. Thank you again for tuning in everyone, have a great day.