Amid a surge in antisemitism, Nevada activists search for solutions
Recent weeks have seen an increase in high-profile anti-Semitism, and it comes as reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and attacks against Jewish people had already reached a record high in 2021, according to the anti-hate non-profit, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). ).
Experts, officials and the Jewish community mainly trace the recent increase in incidents in the media, social media and users spreading anti-Semitic views through these networks – most notably Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), who on December 1st spoke positively about Adolf Hitler and leaning toward Holocaust denial on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ podcast.
The same day, Twitter suspended the rapper’s account after he posted an image of a swastika inside a Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish religion. The platform had previously partially restricted West’s account after he tweeted in October that he would do “3 deaths on the Jewish people”.
Jolie Brislin, the ADL’s regional director for Nevada, says the levels of anti-Semitism — and the way it’s spread online — are unprecedented. “I’ve been with the ADL for 14 years, and I’ve never seen us at a point like today, where it feels like, every moment, every day, we’re being bombarded with another incident,” she says. .
“We know that anti-Semitism is part of our daily lives. … But now, we’re seeing people with these megaphones who have been able to amplify their message.”
Brislin points out that West had more than 30 million Twitter followers before his account was suspended. “That’s twice the number of Jews in the entire world,” she says. “We have to think about how these messages are getting out, who they’re being addressed to … and how this is being encouraged.”
These issues have become even more complicated since Tesla CEO Elon Musk took control of Twitter in October and implemented controversial changes about allowing posts involving extremism, conspiracy and hate.
Earlier this year, a Senate Homeland Security Committee investigation into Meta (formerly Facebook) and TikTok’s response—or lack thereof—to the threat of domestic terrorism found that the platforms’ incentive structures “contribute to the spread of extremist content”.
In November, the Department of Homeland Security posted a regular terrorism briefing, raising concerns about domestic extremists and potential threats to Jewish, LGBTQ and immigrant communities. The bulletin was referring to the Nov. 19 shooting at an LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs (still under investigation), in which a gunman killed five and injured dozens more.
“Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs … we have observed actors on forums known to post violent, racially or ethnically motivated extremist content praising the alleged assailant,” the bulletin said, noting also apparently “the enduring threat to faith-based communities, including the Jewish community.”
The line between online hate and real acts of violence is apparently becoming clearer for government agencies and the general public. With this established, how can the community begin to respond and try to sow the seeds of hate?
Joshua Abbey, executive director of the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, says the rise in anti-Semitism and related incidents is “part of a broader spectrum” of cultural lessons and messages that ultimately create an environment for and encourage hate speech, extremism and violence. Understanding the bigger picture is essential to fighting hate at any scale, he says.
“When someone feels that their identity or their belief system is under attack, it transforms into various levels of what we call hate. And that can very easily devolve, especially in a group scenario, into acts of violence,” he says, recalling the deadly 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. “What ultimately leads to that is genocide.” he says.
As an activist, Abbey engages through educational outreach and cinema. In a short Holocaust education film he directed and released in 2020, local survivors quiz a sample of local high school students about what they know about the event, referring to the Nazis’ systematic killing of an estimated 6 million Jews between 1933 and 1945. .
“My hope is [the film] will be used in classrooms at the high school level. … Teens are more likely to listen to other teens,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of experience with survivors who have dedicated their lives to teaching about hate and intolerance, and with the goal of using themselves as an example to make a difference for future generations.”
In the film, some of the students interviewed know what the Holocaust was, and some do not. Asked “Who are the Jews?” a student replies that they are “terrorists”.
“It’s a really interesting kind of test investigation,” Abbey says of the film, adding that it highlights the importance of education in the fight against intolerance. “It basically relies on the education of young people. This is really the only opportunity for real change to happen.”
Per the ADL’s numbers, incidents of anti-Semitism increased 34% in 2021 compared to 2020. The increase in reported incidents was even higher in Nevada, which saw a 64% increase, according to the ADL.
In a letter sent to President Joe Biden in early December, Nevada senators and more than 100 bipartisan members of Congress called for stronger interagency coordination and “a unified national strategy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.”
Brislin says community-led initiatives and engagement are also crucial to stemming the tide of hate, noting the Nevada Petition Against Antisemitism and the digital campaign launched by the ADL in partnership with the Israeli-American Civil Action Network and Jewish Nevada in 2021.
“We had over 250 elected officials — from our entire federal delegation to our state legislators — community members and other organizations … signed on to this campaign to say that they will denounce anti-Semitism when they see it and will continue to take an active role in learning how to be an ally to the Jewish community,” says Brislin.
“I think that’s a strong statement to their supporters and to the members of those organizations, that the organization as a whole will not stand by and will not be passive to Jew-hatred.”
Brislin and Abbey both refer to anti-Semitism as a “canary in a coal mine,” warning of increased hatred and violence not only toward Jewish people, but also toward other marginalized groups.
“I think it’s essential that the culture, the heritage, the ideals, the values, the history of the Jewish people be more widely understood,” Abbey says. “We are not an exclusive, insular part of the community. We are an integral part and here to help build and create unity of purpose and deal with these acts of aggression that are fundamentally harmful to the well-being of all.”
Click HERE to subscribe for free to the Weekly Fix, the digital edition of Las Vegas Weekly! Stay up to date with Las Vegas concerts, shows, restaurants, bars and more delivered straight to your inbox!